Here's the two big secrets about dishes: a) they aren't that difficult to clean if you get to them right away, and b) you can make the hot water and soap do most of the heavy lifting for you.
What's the big deal with hot water? It kills germs better than cold water does, and it also works with soap to remove grease and other oily residue. You don't want to find yourself eating the same meal twice, if you know what I mean. Plus if you wash and rinse with really hot water, the dishes will partially dry themselves. Anything that makes the task easier is a plus in my book.
You will need:
- some dirty dishes.
- a source of clean water, preferably tap water, as hot as your hands can tolerate.
- a sink with two compartments (aka a double sink) and a plug. If you don't have a double sink, get a dishpan that fits in the sink.
- liquid dishwashing soap (common brands include Joy, Dawn, Ivory, Palmolive, etc. Do not use automatic dishwasher detergent such as Cascade).
- scrubbing tool (see below).
- a dish drainer.
- a dishtowel or two.
- household gloves (optional if you have Super Mom-Hands or are a glutton for punishment).
- a willing partner or a hapless slave (optional, but helpful).
If you have dirty pots and pans from cooking the meal, put hot water into them as soon as you can and leave them to soak.
Right after the meal, package up and put away any leftover food if you intend to eat it later. Then take the other dishes (plates, bowls, flatware, glasses, serving dishes) to the garbage or compost bin and, one by one, scrape off any remaining bits of food. Put the dirty dishes next to the sink in this order: flatware, glasses, plates (stacked), bowls (stacked), serving dishes, pots and pans.
Set up the dish drainer. If you don't have a drain board to set it on, you can spread a dishtowel out underneath it to help catch the drips from drying dishes.
If you're wearing a long-sleeved shirt, roll up the sleeves. Wimps, put on your household gloves now.
Plug one side of the sink and fill it about a third full with the hottest water you can stand (or, if you're using a dishpan, fill that instead). Add a good squirt or two of dishwashing soap. You should see bubbles forming on the surface of the water. It's far more efficient to fill the sink with soapy water than to wash dishes directly under the stream of the faucet.
Get out your scrubbing tool. I like to use a scrubbing sponge with one rough side and one smooth side, but others prefer dish brushes or dishcloths. Use whatever floats your boat, as long as it gets the dishes clean. Dip your scrubbing tool in the hot soapy water and prepare for action.
Ready? 3... 2... 1... GO!
Wash your flatware first, while the water is piping hot. Get it right into the hot water and wash all surfaces with the scrubbing tool until all food residues are gone. As you finish washing each piece, put it into the other side of the sink (or outside the dishpan). Once you have a good pile of knives, forks and spoons, rinse the whole pile directly under hot running water, making sure to get rid of any lingering soap, and deposit them in the dish drainer. Repeat until all your flatware is clean.
Next up: glasses and cups. Clean, rinse and drain them the same way you cleaned the flatware. For glasses with narrow mouths, I recommend cleaning the inside with a dish brush. (I've tried cramming my hand into a narrow glass to try to wash the inside with a sponge. Don't do this unless you have a thing for a hand full of broken glass. And if you do, I don't want to hear about it.)
Put the plates into the hot soapy water to soak. Now check your dish drainer; it might be getting full, depending on your drainer's capacity and how long it's been since you last did the dishes. This is the point at which you should drag your willing partner (or hapless slave) into the project to dry the dishes and put them away. If you don't have a partner/slave, you're stuck doing this job yourself. Use a clean, dry dishtowel on any cups or flatware that haven't dried completely, and put them away. (NO, I won't tell you where to put them away! Figure out your own kitchen, for Pete's sake.)
On to the plates. Since you already put them in the water to soak, any stubborn food residue should have softened and be easy to remove. (See? I'm all about making the task easy.) Scrub, rinse, drain. Same with bowls and serving dishes.
Pots and pans are usually the worst part of the job -- unless you remembered to put hot water into them earlier. Then most cooked-on food should just slide out, easy peasy. Give them some special attention and maybe a little extra blast of hot water, since your dishwater may be cooling down at this point. Rinse and drain.
Dry the dishes in the dish drainer and put them away, or get your slave to do it. Shake off any water from the dish drainer and drain board (if you have one), wipe it off and put it away. If you used a dishtowel under the drainer, find it a place to dry. Rinse your scrubbing tool thoroughly and find it a place to sit where it can dry out (scrubbers left wet, especially sponges, pick up bacteria after a while and start to smell -- ick). Finally, empty the sink and, if you want to give things a little flourish, dry it all off with the dishtowel. Put the damp dishtowel in the laundry. And if you used gloves, take them off and let them dry in the sink.
Now revel in the joy of clean dishes. Spontaneous samba dancing is optional.