The perils of washing dishes in England

Posted on December 23, 2008 by pacificyorkshirebird

avt_kapyork_large115I wash dishes at work often – we sometimes work in community centres with kitchens because food is a great way to promote any outreach we are trying to do.  I also anticipate helping to wash dishes during the holidays here.  I have one complaint and one curiosity about washing dishes in Britain.  I’ll start with the complaint.

Why do many British people not rinse the soap off their dishes when they wash them by hand. The dishes get scrubbed and then go straight onto the draining board all soapy.  I’ve been served cold drinks in clear glasses where you could easily see the partially disolved dried dishsoap in the bottom of the glass.  Dish water gets dirty folks – I don’t care if you dry your dishes immediately, your dish towel will just collect the dirty soapy water and thus the dishes just stay dirty.

Now for the curiosity – what exactly is a tea towel?  I’ve used both fluffy cotton towels (which in my opinion tend to leave a little fluff on the dishes) and I’ve used the smoother, tightly woven stiff types of towels.  I thought both qualified as tea towels but when British volunteers work in the kitchen with me they often ask for a tea towel when they have a perfectly good clean towel in their hand.  And I did try to work out whether one type of towel was more likely to be accepted as a tea towel but it seems both types are unsatisfying to some.  So – what makes a towel a tea towel?

A quick Google revealed you can even get a Daniel Craig Tea Towel hahaha!

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What Others Are Saying

  1. potato May 16, 2013 at 6:32 am

    I’m English and I find it gross to not rinse dishes. I thought it was just the so-called chef who lives in my house (shared house) – didn’t know it was common. I don’t care how quickly you dry the dishes, they’re going to taste of washing-up liquid (dishwasher detergent in American?) – you can even smell it on them. Even worse, he just sticks them on the draining board – no wiping. Even worse than that, either he or his boyfriend smell of poo (that’s not an anti-gay comment, it’s simple fact related to that particular couple).

    Now whenever I get a supposedly-washed plate from the draining board, I at least rinse it first (though sometimes wash it properly as he’s not even good at washing the dishes even without rinsing).

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  4. Laur October 25, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    The soapy dishes thing bugs me too, being originally from Canada. I read somewhere that rates of stomach cancer are higher in the UK than mainland Europe and there was some suggestion that one cause (among others) might be excessive ingestion of various chemicals found in standard dish soap. True or not, I would not drink detergent and expect it to be good for me. It’s just grim.

  5. John July 20, 2011 at 4:33 am

    Well, the simple answer is that one is supposed to drain the dirty dish water, and replace it with fresh for each “group” of items. Glassware ALWAYS gets clean water. … and soap is clean (especially with all the additives).   Tea-towels are both types and don’t let anyone tell you any different.

  6. Blaire Allison, The Love Guru April 15, 2011 at 10:57 am

    What a great website – and a great post! I’m engaged to a British man (I’m American) and it’s comforting to find your blog and know I’m not alone with what I’ve been experiencing over here when I come to visit. LOVE IT!

  7. yankeebean December 30, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    I’ve since been rescued from having to eating from soapy dishes at the in-laws. Ever since they got a dishwasher it’s been smooth sailing…

    Nothing quite like eating your first spoonful of yoghurt and getting a teaspoon fulla left-over soap…

  8. dragonflysky December 28, 2009 at 10:21 am

    I never even thought about the fact that the soapy water is dirty when I was bothered about people not dishes – it was more because several times before I realized what was going on, my glass of water had had soap bubbles in it and definitely tasted soapy. But now that you mention it, yes, not only do I not want soap left on my dishes, but I don’t want the dirty water left either! doesn’t matter to me what the microbiologist lady said … eeek!

  9. Steve Shawcross October 14, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    You’ve got me worried now Linda: I boilwash my teatowels just once a week! I do use three towels over the week though….

    As for flannels… I just use a srubbing-brush (or a scouring-pad for tougher stains) to clean plates. Oof, I must be a right trog!

  10. Linda Trim October 14, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    I realize this reply is a bit late in the game, but it might shed some light on the failure to rinse the dishes in England. My sister in law is a microbiologist. It would be a major understatement to say she is anal about hygiene in the home; dish cloths are thrown away in 2-3 days because of bacteria. Same with flannels (wash rags). But they don’t rinse the dishes. I finally asked why. She gave me a spiel about surfactant and whatever else applied (it eluded my grasp I’m afraid), but the gist of it was that insufficient soap was left to need to worry about it. I’m like pacificyorkshirebird however, I rinse. Once in a while I pretend I am in England and try to slip something unrinsed into the drainer, then look at it, slip it back out and under the faucet it goes. Aarrrgggh! To avoid spotting you do have to wipe right away though, and I prefer the drip dry method.

  11. Steve Shawcross July 29, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    I’ve never thought about it this way, until you mentioned it.

    The idea is that the teatowel will remove the suds and traces of them, if one dries up properly with a decent one. Decent teatowel will made of a tough but absorbing fabric.

    Beforehand, you leave the dishes to drain on a rack for a few minutes to drain off the suds, after you’ve washed them.

    Hope that helps!

    • naman November 9, 2012 at 11:55 am

      ur site is too good and great work.

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  14. Karen December 31, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    I am so glad you mentioned this because I’ve noticed it too! My mother and sister both do this and so I thought it was just them. When my mother came to visit me in Florida, I NEVER let her touch the dishes, and if she did, I secretly re-washed them! Surely, the soap is full of bacteria? Yuck….

  15. Iota December 23, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    My guess is that not rinsing is a hangover from the days when lots of people didn’t have a double sink in their kitchen – our kitchens are short of space, so can’t always accommodate a double sink (although most do these days, I think).

    I’m not really an expert on tea towels, but I agree that those towelling ones do leave fluff, so I prefer the linen ones, although you have to use them for months before they become soft and absorbent. When they’re new, they’re like paper.

    Can’t believe it’s 2 days before Christmas and I’m writing about tea towels. I need to get a life.

  16. peacefulyorkshire December 23, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    Oh, and I thought I was the only neurotic one to notice this too!;)
    yes I have had many conversations with my boyfriend and flatmates in the past about not rinsing the suds off… umm, that was an awkward conversation to have with out sounding like a freak! British people… please fill us in about this matter??
    I love the Daniel Craig tea towel… only in England!
    Tea towels in UK are funnier and more interesting than American dish towels (which are apparently the same thing according to Wikipedia). Score for Britain.


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