The topic for my first guest post here on Little Homestead in the City? Washing dishes! Not the washing itself, but the organization of the dishwashing area. Many household management “experts” advocate keeping the kitchen sink(s) clean and free of dishes. They advise storing dirty dishes out of sight in the dishwasher until the washer is full and ready to run a load.

But, what if you do not have a dishwasher—and have no intention of getting one? Where do you put dirty dishes—other than in the sink or on the counter next to the sink—until it is time to wash them?

Light bulb moment! But it took moving to a new kitchen for me to figure it out. Reserve a cupboard for storing dirty dishes between washings! (Obviously, do not mix dirty dishes with clean.)

In my kitchen, next to the under-the-sink-cupboard, I have a deep, narrow two-shelf cupboard. On the top shelf, I pile the dirty dishes. On the bottom shelf, I keep dishwashing liquid, scrubbers and brushes.

Then, under the sink itself, I have room to store the dishpans and dish drainer, plus my not-very-attractive compost keeper. (Here are some nicer looking models.)

It’s a small thing—but so satisfying to have clean counters for more than two minutes after washing and putting away the dishes. Another advantage: I can save up washing the dishes until a “down time” when my brain needs rest from thinking work. But, I cannot save them too long—the small size of my dirty dishes’ cupboard takes care of that!

Yes, “a place for everything and everything in its place” really DOES work to help keep the kitchen tidy and ready for the next task.

What are some tips that have worked for you in managing your household’s dish washing—whether by hand or dishwasher?


  1. Trish says:

    Great idea! I’m looking forward to your future posts…welcome!

    • Treechild says:

      Thank you, Trish!

  2. lady brett says:

    our non-dishwasher solution isn’t as pretty, but i know us – we are fully “out of sight, out of mind” folks, so the cupboard would be a bad solution for us. instead, we have two dish drainers – one on each side of the sink. one is for dirty dishes, basically a designated stacking spot, and the other is simply a clean dish drainer. essentially an inbox and outbox for the sink.

    • Treechild says:

      “Out of sight, out of mind” is definitely an obstacle. I’ve emptied the dish pans a few times only to find I left something in the cupboard that didn’t get washed….Having the dishes in a container is a good idea because if you need the counter space in a hurry, you can just move the drainers and your counters are cleared.

  3. cindy says:

    Great idea! But…I don’t have an empty cabinet to use. My sink is cluttered and I hate it. Think I’ll go downstairs and get those dishes done right now.

    • Treechild says:

      lady brett had a good idea to stack the dishes in a dish drainer. It depends if you need counter space or clear sink space more.

  4. Karyn says:

    How do you keep that cabinet from getting too wet and gunked up with food? I have five little ones, so we just stack on the counter because that’s the spot they can reach. The problem I’m having is that I’m new to hand washing (as an adult) but have found that my electric bill went up 5.00 in the month since I started hand washing. I’m pretty bummed out because I’m assuming that my handwashing is actually less energy efficient. I use a dishpan for the soapy, cleaning water and then only turn the water on cold for the rinsing part and try to rinse quickly. I know some people use a dishpan for rinsing, but this doesn’t seem completely sanitary to me since the last dish is dunked in dirty water. Never knew it would be so complicated to wash dishes, lol!

    • Treechild says:

      Because the cabinets are old and not very fancy, I don’t mind if a little water or food gets on the shelf–I just wipe it clean after the dishes are done. Again, I try not to keep dirty dishes in there too long. But I am keeping a sharp eye out to make sure it doesn’t attract bugs.

      I’m not sure on the energy efficiency of hand washing vs. automatic dish washer. (Also, I have a gas water heater.) That’s why I try save up the dishes and consolidate the washing.

      I usually rinse in hot water in a second dishpan. If there are a lot of dishes, sometimes I dump the dirty washing water, use the rinse water for the rest of the washing and pour a clean rinse pan.

      There are many different methods and preferences. I lived in England for a few months and noticed that in some homes the dishes weren’t rinsed at all–after being washed, that is.

  5. Florence says:

    I hand wash even though I have a dishwasher. I prefer to wash dishes twice daily–once after breakfast and once after dinner. I would not feel comfortable putting dirty dishes In a cabinet- I would rather wash them and get it done.

    • Treechild says:

      I agree it is preferable to wash them as soon as possible. I was (mostly!) trying to find a way to deal with the “in-between” dishes that accumulate between regular washings or when one meal doesn’t have very many dishes.

  6. Heather says:

    What a beautiful counter you have! It looks so pretty with the blue borders all around.

    I try to fill the sink with soapy water as I cook, and then wash as I go. Sometimes I am too tired, and we just stack them on the counter till later, which makes a messy counter.

    My home was built in 1939 and I have a corner sink with extra deep cabinets beneath it. I may have to get a dishpan to put the dishes in under there when I am too tired to do them right away. Thanks for the wonderful tip!

    On another note: I see Dr. Bronner’s on your counter. Do you wash your dishes with that? I use the peppermint for cleaning around the house with baking soda-works better than most other cleaners. But I have not used it for dish soap yet. I love the peppermint soap in the shower on a hot day. It always cools me off.

    • Treechild says:

      Thank you for the compliment! The tiles were there when I moved in. Another task is to keep the grout between the tiles as clean as possible….

      If you can fit a pan into the cabinet space, that would be an improvement over stacking them directly in the cabinet.

      The Dr. Bonner’s is for washing hands–the peppermint smell is very refreshing! I use dish washing liquid for the dishes.

    • Anais Dervaes says:

      I know! Aren’t they purdy? I am sooo JEALOUS of those tiles I tell ya! Luv old houses, can’t wait to read more about your 1890 home makeover. Would be awesome if you did some stenciling on that there wall.. *hint* *hint* 🙂

      • Treechild says:

        Ahhh, yes! A blank wall….Maybe some Norwegian Rosemaling?

  7. Alice says:

    The oven was always the hiding place for dirty dishes when I was a child.
    I have used the dishwasher as a drying rack for my dishes.
    In order not to run water down the drain while waiting for the water to warm up. I have 2 gallon plastic jugs that I use to water the chickens. I just fill them while waitng for the water to warm up.
    As for the rinse water being dirty by the last dish. If you washed them well the water would not be dirty.
    If you use something they is biodegradable you can water plants with the water you washed and rinsed in. In the old days of soap in the wash water it was thrown on the rose bushes to keep the bugs off.

    • Treechild says:

      Thank you for the reminder about the simple things to do to save water–something I need to be much more diligent about here in Southern California. Because my water heats up pretty quickly, I just run it straight into the washing pan. Far too infrequently, I wait for the rinse water to cool and then water plants.

  8. Amber says:

    Bugs aren’t the only problem with this idea, you can get vermin as well. And even if you wipe up the area your still going to have a problem with something at sometime seeping into the wood. I don’t understand the problem with leaving the dishes in the sink until you get to them. This idea of a perfect kitchen counter just eludes me. A kitchen should be used and enjoyed. This is the problem with most things, status before substance.

  9. Joy says:

    I think a good idea is using a cheap dishpan of some sort to put the dishes in while in the dirty dish cabinet. That way, the gunk and water are at least contained. A better idea than that might be to just go ahead and wash those 3-4 pieces and put them away right away. 🙂 Thanks

    • Treechild says:

      I agree–I’ll be looking for a narrow plastic tray to fit in the cupboard. I appreciate all the feedback!

  10. Joyness Sparkles says:

    I love this idea! It does not work for us in our tiny apartment kitchen…but someday, if we have a bigger kitchen, I will keep this in mind. Thank you so much, great post!

    • Treechild says:


  11. mia says:

    I always had trouble with my mom about my washing dishes by hand. She insisted that the dishwasher was more economical. It may, or may not, be. I don’t really know. However, one thing is for sure. If you do wash dishes by hand, you are probably guaranteed to have some “quiet time” as your kids and husband will probably leave you alone during that time! It seems to be some sort of unwritten law of the universe.

    • Karyn says:

      That is true, isn’t it, lol!

    • Treechild says:

      Dish washing and drying chores were an ongoing source of contention between my younger brother and me.

  12. grizzly bear mom says:

    Yes the say using a dishwasher is more economical and more santiary but it only gives you one use of the water. After mine broke I used it as a dish and vegetable drain.

    I wash my dishes by stacking the dirty dishes in a dishpan in the sink. That way I can remove them if I want to say shuck an earn of corn. I wait to wash them when I have enough to justify doing so. I run the water in the dishpan until it’s hot, turn it off and pour off the cold in a bucket for flushing/what have you. Then I 1/2 fill the dishpan and wash. I run the rise water over the wash water to reheat it. As the dishpan fills I empty it into a bucket for resue.

    • Treechild says:

      Thanks for explaining your dish washing and water saving methods. I agree that having ready access to the sink and counters for other tasks–like washing and preparing produce–is key!

  13. Denise @ Proud To Be Frugal says:

    All I can think of is bugs and rodents and smell. If this solutions works for you then GREAT… but I could see it going bad in a big way at my house. I like the idea someone posted above about storing the dirty dishes in a dishpan in the cabinet to help contain moisture and crumbs. You can get those small wash pans from hospitals.

    • Treechild says:

      Yes, my dirty dishes cupboard arrangement is going to be modified–based on everyone’s feedback!

  14. cherie says:

    What an awesome Idea……….flylady says to hide them under your sink, but I get a lot of spiders……so really don’t want to go there 😀 I recently cleaned out a cupbard that I think will do the trick.

    I also am a wash as I cook person, but I have to agree that it is sooooo frustrating to find dishes scattered on the counter all through out the day. It just feels like they never get done and thats all you do!

    Thanks again

    • Treechild says:

      Thank you for your comment, cherie!

  15. Kim says:

    With a family of 6 I am trying to teach everyone to wash their own dishes as they use them, except for after dinner. Then it’s a family affair to get the kitchen cleaned up. Yesterday 10 year old son did dishes for mom.

    • Treechild says:

      Yes, I’m sure teaching your children to wash dishes will reap many dividends, both now (!) and when they are adults.

  16. H. A. Hudspeth says:

    I use to commute to work, an hour’s drive, work 8-16 hrs, then drive home. The last thing I wanted to do was house work so I saved it for my days off. My dishes usually consisted of one dish, one utensil, and one glass in need of washing per day and I hated wasting a pan full of soapy water just to clean them and use to do a weeks worth of dishes at one time.(Of course they had been well rinsed before stashing them in the dishpan.) A friend suggested that I keep dish detergent in a liquid hand soap dispenser and a sponge handy. Next came a ‘Whack my forehead, saying, “Why didn’t I think of that!” moment. Since I usually need to wash my hands after eating anyway I just washed my few dishes and put them on the drain board.

    • Treechild says:

      All these ideas and experiences are great. Thank you for taking the time to write!

  17. Jimi says:

    For me, the trick is reducing/eliminating the source of dirty dishes by eating more wraps burritos & sandwiches. I prepare 3 days worth of stuff to wrap or fill (egg salad, seafood salad, cooked/chopped veggies & smoked meats etc) & stick that in a romaine leaf or tortilla as I go. The only thing to was is your hands!

    • Treechild says:

      Two for one: saving on dirty dishes AND saving time by preparing meals in advance! Thank you for your comment.

  18. Kat says:

    I think its great to have that pristine look of clean counters and sink for longer than five minutes but for me adding a dirty dish cupboard would be adding another step to the cleaning process, a dirty cabinet that would need routine wiping. My solution is a white cloth that I salvaged with Battenburg lace trim that I drape over the sink of dirty dishes until I am able to wash them. This keeps the area visually appealing yet I do not waste water continually washing just a few dishes in order to keep the sink emptied.

    • Treechild says:

      Thank you for commenting–yet another good idea!

  19. Bonnie says:

    Putting them in a dish tub under the the sink is great. Don’t have to worry about messing up the cabinets and the tub is easy to clean. This would be great for you since you store your tubs under the sink anyway.

    • Treechild says:

      Thanks for your comment–and yet another idea!

  20. Destiny says:

    Since she is just talking about the dishes that accumulate between meals what about a small or medium sized plastic container with a lid on it sitting on the counter. You could put soapy water in it, place the in between meal dishes in it so they could be soaking and then after supper or while cooking supper you could wash them with your supper things. Since the container has a lid it would not attract bugs and you could not see the dirty dishes.

    • Treechild says:

      I appreciate yet another helpful hint! So many ideas to try to see what works best in different situations.

  21. Taheerah says:

    I hate hand washing dishes as this was my chore in a family of 11 people. That said, I don’t have a dishwasher and because I hate washing sooooo much there is a house rule; everyone must wash their on dishes after eating.

    That has made my life easier in the long run, but it was tough fetting the family to follow that rule.

  22. Chelle says:

    Hello from South Africa.

    An interesting solution for keeping things looking great. You sure got me thinking!

    I like to soak dishes and then wash per basin full and drain till dry … so this would not work for me …. but having that clean look and extra workspace is very motivating. I am looking at ideas for a more Permaculture style kitchen re-vamp and I think your idea and my needs could be mixed into a sink ‘lid’ for working on top while dirty dishes are soaking below. Dishes are in process… in place for quick processing …. hidden when desired …. and extra workspace available! OR have 3 sinks…. all with taps and a drain for quick job ….. one big deep one for soaking – with a lid …. dishes then moved to hot clean sudsy water for washing and then on to third sink for rinsing and off to the draining board at far end. It is the draining board that I would make into a cupboard. Might even just leave the plates etc there until use next time anyway! … well the every-day dishes anyway.

    I used to hate washing dishes until I got into soaking and processing from time to time. No hard scrubbing now…. and I have timed it…. always under 10 minutes. I can give 10 minutes each time to dishes! : ) I hate packing and unpacking a dishwasher so mine became a white elephant.

    Your creativity got me thinking so wanted to share! Thanks so much.

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