How to Use Less Water on Your Soapy Dishes

I’m always on the lookout for ways to conserve water without sacrificing lifestyle. And a few weeks ago, I figured out a really simple way to rinse my dishes with noticably less water.

For those just interested in the bottom line: just add about a half tablespoon of white vinegar per quart of rinse water. Works well in an Aquabot sprayer or with a little houseplant watering can. Vinegar cuts soap to make your rinsing much more efficient.

For those who want to know more about it: The boatyard we’re in had just gotten a new water softener and while they were getting it set up properly, the water was really, really soft. Soft to the point where it was hard to rinse your hands, rinse your hair after shampooing, and rinse the dishes. The last was the one that really got to me, since we have to hand carry every gallon of water we use about 100 yards from the “potable water” faucet. Using, and hence carrying, three times as much water to rinse dishes just irked me.

But then I got to thinking. When I’d been a kid, mom always urged me to put a little vinegar in the water I rinsed my hair with — said it helped cut the soap. Hmm . . .

I already use an Aquabot to rinse the dishes (it’s a one-quart pressure sprayer that’s fantastic for rinsing dishes — read my post about it here). I just started adding about a half tablespoon (I don’t measure) of white vinegar to the water.

Suddenly, I was using even less water to rinse dishes than I had been before the water softener was installed. And when they took it out of service for a few days while trying to figure out why it was over-softening the water, I found that I was still using less water. (Using the Aquabot, it’s easy for me to know how much water I’m using to rinse since I know how often I refill it for a typical load of dishes.)

There’s not enough vinegar that you smell it or taste it on the dishes. And I already carry a gallon or two of white vinegar with us for cleaning, so I’m not adding to the load on the boat.

I will definitely continue to add the vinegar when we’re at anchor (or in the mooring field). We do have a watermaker, but if we can run it a little less, we’re all in favor of that. It’s a 12v unit and we have substantial solar power — but we still have to watch our power consumption to keep things in balance. Fifteen minutes less of watermaker time a day does make a difference!

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18 Comments
  • James Gyore
    Posted at 25 September 2015 Reply

    Why not not just wash your dishes in a modest amount of hot soapy water and then rinse in fresh water with a touch of hydrogen peroxide?

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 26 September 2015 Reply

      I’ve never heard of putting H202 in rinse water. What does it do? I mean, it’s good as a cleaner, but normally you have to use quite a bit in wash water, etc.

    • James Gyore
      Posted at 26 September 2015 Reply

      hydrogen peroxide is commonly used in food and beverage manufacturing as a sterilising agent for ESL and UHT products. Works just as well at maintaining food hygiene standards aboard. About .02% should prove ideal.

  • Linda Way
    Posted at 26 September 2015 Reply

    What did everyone forget about using the Aquabot??????

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 26 September 2015 Reply

      I love my Aquabot, but adding just a splash of vinegar to the water in the Aquabot means I’m using even less water.

  • StarWish246
    Posted at 26 September 2015 Reply

    I live Full-Time in an RV, so our situations are often similar.

    RV’ers have found a way to use a tiny bit of water for cleaning dishes.

    You will need: 2 spray bottles

    dish soap (septic safe)

    bleach

    paper towels

    1. Wipe any remaining food residue from the pan/dish/bowl/cup with paper towels. Throw the paper towels away.

    2. Put a few drops of dish soap, and a bit of bleach in to a spray bottle. Fill the bottle with water. Close the lid, and shake the spray bottle to mix.

    3. Spray each item to be cleaned, with this spray, and let them sit for a minute of so for the bleach to sanitize it.

    4. Wipe each item with a paper towel. Respray and wipe until the item looks clean. Throw the paper towels away.

    5. Then, fill the second spray bottle with clear water ONLY. Spray and wipe the items to remove any soap/bleach residue.

    6. REPEAT.

    7 Do NOT throw the paper towels from the final (clear water) wiping away. Instead, hang them up to dry. Then, use them for the ‘dirty’ wipe of the food-encrusted items, next time.

    8. Allow the items to air dry, or towel dry.

    By using only a little bit of dish soap, there is lots less foam, but still cuts the food residue. The bleach gets in to scratches, and kills germs. This way, a little water goes a LONG way.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 26 September 2015 Reply

      Using that many paper towels could be a problem in a boat for two reasons — just not a lot of room and it may be a while between places where you can get them. Then there’s the environmental impact.

      • StarWish246
        Posted at 27 September 2015 Reply

        You buy a high quality paper towel. Then, during/after using on dirty dishes, you shake the paper towel out into the trash. You DON’T use lots of paper towels if you are thoughtful, and frugal. You have to change your mind-set to being more frugal, and getting the most out of the things that you use.
        You can use 4 paper towels for most clean-ups. And 2 of the 4 are reused. So, that ISN’T wasteful. OR, just use a cloth dish towel to dry with, and hang it to dry after. THERE – 50% less paper towels used.

  • Kristine on a Gemini
    Posted at 26 September 2015 Reply

    My New Zealand friends don’t even RINSE the dishes …….. I asked, and my friend’s mother said “No ones been killed yet.” – I use Ivory liquid and don’t over do the amount needed. Been trying the NZ method. Working good!

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 26 September 2015 Reply

      Not sure I’d try that. Soap can cause diarrhea!

      • Mike Thomas
        Posted at 29 September 2015 Reply

        Only if you eat a whole bar!
        I have never rinsed the dishes, dishwashing liquid is a surfactant which encourages drainage of liquid from the dishes rather than beading. I would be surprised if there is anything other than a miniscule transfer to food and it’s not exactly rat poison.

  • Linda Way
    Posted at 27 September 2015 Reply

    I’m so sorry – really – I hastily looked at the title and didn’t read the complete article – I see now that you talked about the Aquabot, which I wouldn’t have none about if it weren’t for you. I love all of the information that you provide. Thank you so much for caring about your readers. By the way I recently realized that a swifter duster works great for those nasty spider webs that you see in the morning dew – and a lint roller for the crumbs,etc. on the bedsheets that only bounce around when I try to brush them out while trying to make the bed. I’m sure this has already been covered on the website but just thought I would share anyway. cheers!!

  • Barbara Hunt
    Posted at 29 September 2015 Reply

    Sounds like the perfect solution. And so simple. Thank you for posting this and everything else on TBG.

  • Trish Elkins
    Posted at 01 October 2015 Reply

    My dad insisted on rinsing every dish years ago on a taste basis! It’s a hard habit to break, but I agree with the Kiwi comment that it’s probably not strictly necessary, particularly if you don’t overdo the detergent.
    The thought of using bleach doesn’t appeal to me at all. I think I’d end up using more water to be sure I’d got rid of the bleach and it would cause more than diarrhoea if ingested!
    My dad has been famous in recent years for drying his ‘clean’ paper towels on the radiator at home – I don’t think my Aussie husband would let me live that one down in a hurry!

  • Chris in Oregon
    Posted at 01 October 2015 Reply

    I have found that if you quit chasing the soap bubbles rinsing becomes easier. After washing I let the soapy dishes drain for a few minutes and the wipe them all down with a dry towel, after that I then rinse with hot water. The rinse water does not become soapy and a little goes a long way. I also pre-wipe all of the dishes before washing so my wash water is very clean and after washing I use that water to clean my prewash wiping towel.
    (I too haul water so making it last is important.)

  • LaMarr Harding
    Posted at 17 October 2015 Reply

    I haven’t tried the Aquabot. I’m told they are sold out until the first of next month.

    I did try a Hudson 2 quart sprayer for dishes, and shower a few years back, but it didn’t hold enough water and it felt heavy and hard to use. Went back to using Windex bottles for water, the best part was, they are free after you use the Windex.

    My Big Fat Greek wedding re emphasized the versatility of Windex. Cleans glass, whitewall tires, and clears up zits.q

  • Kristin Gallagher
    Posted at 22 April 2016 Reply

    I just dilute my dish soap with water to the point I still get enough suds but no sticky soap stuck to the dishes. Rinses easily. I will look into adding vinegar too.

  • Michelle Rene
    Posted at 16 June 2017 Reply

    Love the vinegar tip!

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