Every so often I get asked if I prefer dishrags or sponges for washing dishes, particularly on a boat where everything gets washed by hand. Well, my answer is simple: both!
Admittedly, both have their drawbacks. Dishrags, even more than sponges, can quickly smell sour. And sponges — particularly those with one side a pan scrubber — just seem to get “gunky” with little leftover food particles.
Nonetheless, I use them both and have developed a few techniques for avoiding the worst problems.
- Have plenty of dishrags so that you can change them often — see my article on using fewer paper towels for a few tips on buying bar rags. I keep a couple out all the time — one as a clean-up rag, and one as the dish rag.
- In Mexico, we often found scrubby sponges with an antibacterial or antimicrobial treatment. They were great for not getting smelly from food bits.
- I use a rubber scraper to get the bulk of food out of pans and off plates before washing them.
- Use rags, not scrubby sponges, for wiping out bowls where you’ve kneaded bread. The dry flour will instantly plug up a sponge and is virtually impossible to get out.
- Dry flour on the counter is best scraped up with a spatula and thrown away — then wipe up the trace that remains. Trying to wipe it all up with a damp rag or sponge creates a real mess on either.
- I do the majority of my dish washing with a rag, as they are easier to rinse stuff out of.
- I save my scrubby sponge for stuck on food that doesn’t come off with the rag. Steel wool and “Brillo” type scrubbers don’t work well on a boat in a salt water environment, rusting quickly just from the salt in the air.
- The biggest key to keeping a sponge from being “gross” is just not to get paste-like stuff on it in the first place (flour, batters, tomato sauce and the like). I never found a good way to get it out once it was there.
- I never found any real advantage to other types of “scrubbers” as they seemed just as prone to getting food particles stuck in them as the sponges did.
- I tried using several different types of brushes (dish brushes, nail brushes and so on) and the only thing I found consistently helpful was a bottle brush for cleaning out the Thermos.
- See my article on avoiding sour smelling dishrags for more tips on getting rid of the nasty smells in both rags and sponges.
When it comes to drying dishes, all the food safety experts seem to agree: air drying is best. I like this as it’s not only less work, but makes for fewer cloths that I’m trying to get dry!