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Monday, January 1, 2024

"A Few of My Favorite Things": A Dishwashing Brush and Solid Soap

On to another of my favorite gifts this Christmas, things that some folks may be curious about.

A dishwashing brush and bar of dishwashing soap

This is another one of those things I wanted to try but didn't want to spend the initial investment on, a dishwashing brush with bar dish soap. 

For a while now, I've wanted to get away from the plastic waste of bottled dish soap (the kind for hand washing dishes, pots, and pans). I really wish that the bulk section of stores would carry non-food liquids, such as dish soap, shampoo, cleaning solutions. Years ago, we had a co-op near us that did carry some of these non-food essentials. You would bring your own container in to the store, the clerk would weigh the empty container and give it a tare weight, marking the bottom of the continuer. Then after filling your container and doing your shopping, you'd take it to the register and the clerk would be able to deduct the tare weight from the total weight and calculate the price based solely on the product you bought. This store didn't last long in our area, sadly. Perhaps closer to the city, the same co-op chain's stores do better.

Even with not adding to plastic waste, shipping diluted liquids adds to the fuel consumption part of transporting items to market. A better solution, in my opinion, might be to use more dry or highly concentrated ingredients or cleaners.

In addition to the soap bar, I also wanted a brush that was made of natural materials and had a replaceable brush head. Surprisingly, there are dish brushes that don't have replaceable heads. So when the head wears out, you throw the whole brush away. This was something I wanted to avoid. And honestly, I think vegetable cleaning brushes should be made the same way. Our current vegetable cleaning brush is one plastic piece plus individual bristles. When bristles give out, I'll have to throw the whole brush away. For my next vegetable cleaning brush, I'll buy something like this dish brush that has replaceable heads.

To wash dishes, pots, or pans with a bar of soap, you need specific dish soap or all-purpose soap, not bath soap. You also need a brush, a sponge, or a rag. And you need a water-holding dish or container to keep the soap bar and brush between uses, preferably something without a lid, so the soap can dry out

How I wash dishes with a brush and bar soap

I do a quick rinse of the individual items to be washed, just before wiping with a soapy brush. I wet the brush head under the tap, then brush the head across the bar of soap a couple of times. I drip about 2 to 3 teaspoons of tap water onto the specific dish, pot, or pan, then clean it with the soapy brush. I stack the soapy items in the sink until the sink is about full. then I rinse it all quickly and place the items in a dish drainer.

It doesn't take much soap to clean most items. If a particular pot or pan is especially greasy, instead of loading a lot of soap onto the brush to begin, I will wash it with a small amount of soap, quick rinse, then rewash with a bit more soap. In addition, some pots or pans need additional scrubbing with a scrubby sponge to remove cooked on bits. The brush can "miss" cooked on spots on these pieces. Also, the brush head doesn't fit inside slim juice glasses. I still need to ash those out with a sponge or rag.

With silverware, we place all of the pieces in the dishpan with about 1 inch of water. We allow them to soak until enough accumulate to wash with the bar soap and brush in one go. Rinsing a handful of silverware at a time wastes less water than rinsing each fork and spoon separately.

It's important to allow the soap bar to dry well between washings. If the soap stays wet it will get soggy and too much soap will be applied onto the brush, wasting the soap. I keep the soap bar on a small plate next to the sink, with the brush lying to the side on the plate and not on the soap bar itself. When soapy water has puddled on the plate, I've used that liquid like I would conventional liquid dish soap, pouring a little of it off into a large skillet, mixing bowl, or pot for washing.

Some folks wash with bar soap differently that I do. They fill a sink or dish pan with hot water, briskly wave the bar soap through the hot water until the water looks a bit cloudy and is slightly bubbly. Then they wash dishes as one would usually do with liquid dish soap. This seems to work for them very well. For me, I prefer being able to wash a couple of dishes at a time as we use them and not fill the dish pan with soapy water. It also means my hands have less contact with the soapy water, which dries my skin. I still need to find some good cleaning gloves that won't irritate my skin (latex allergy).

Besides all of the above, here's a difference between bar soap and liquid soap. Liquid soap has been made to be gentle on hands and often contains moisturizers. These bar soaps clean really, really well, leaving plates squeaky clean. However, they can be a little bit drying to skin. It seems like I'm using more moisturizers on my hands these days. As I said, I need to find some gloves.

We've been using the soap bar and brush for about 1 week now. My verdict -- I really like this set-up. We are all more likely to wash up our own dishes throughout the day instead of leaving a huge pile for the end of the day. The process feels simpler, too. Wet, swish against soap bar, swish on dish, rinse. And the dishes feel really clean.

Will I continue when the bar soap is gone? That depends on how long a soap bar lasts us and how important it is to me that we reduce plastic waste. So, we shall see. What I do know is that there are less expensive bar soaps that work for dishwashing, such as castille soap bars and olive oil soap bars. The bar soap that I received was made locally by a small business. I like that this purchase supported someone running a business out of her home. So that's another consideration for me -- less plastic waste, less fuel used in transport to store, and on top of all of that, supporting a small, local home-based business.

Eventually I will need to replace the brush head. That's a simple job. There's a metal band just below the base of the brush head. I used a flathead screwdriver to move the band to just above the wood handle. This allowed the prongs to loosen enough to take the head out. Easy-peasy.

Those tan flat things in the top photo were also part of the gift. These are natural cellulose sponges that have been compressed. When you get one wet for the first time, it expands to regular sponge size and stays that way. I think they would make a fun housecleaning/housewarming gift, with or without a bar of dish soap and/or brush.

A side aspect of this gift that I learned -- this old dog can learn a new trick or two.


  1. I can see how this method would be appealing if you like to wash dishes as you dirty them. I had never thought about using bar soap for dishes, but I have a laundry bar that would work for that. I don't think my husband would go for it (and he washes a lot of the dishes), but I may try it. Have you tried the brushes where you can put liquid in the handle? It doesn't address the plastic issues, but works quite well from my experience.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      yes, I have used that type of brush with soap in the handle.Those are great for washing just a few dishes at a time, too.
      What brand of laundry bar do you use? Is it for special purposes or your general laundry soap?

    2. I have white Zote soap that I use for spot cleaning in the laundry. I just got whatever they had a Walmart.

    3. Thanks, Live and Learn. I'd wondered if you used this for spot cleaning. My grandmother kept a bar of regular soap (bath and hand soap) on a shelf above the washing machine. She would rub the bar on some of the stains as she sorted everything. I think she said this worked for some types of stains and not others. She had several other cleaning agents in bottles/tins on that shelf, too, some of which I'd probably not use for cleaning today as the fumes seemed a little toxic.

  2. Interesting concept! Maybe one I will consider when I'm back to doing the dishes more often. In the meantime, we've been buying the bulk containers of dish detergent (Azure Standard offers an eco-friendly one) and refilling our small one. I've occasionally also visited a refillery, but they're pretty few and far between in our neck of the woods so far.

    1. Hi, can I ask what a refillery is and how it works?

      I've been checking out Azure Standard lately. There's a pick-up location not too far from my home. I may try placing an order in the next month and see what I think. It sounds like you find them useful.

    2. Refilleries are stores where you take your own container to be refilled out of a bulk one at the store. You tare the container first (on their scale) so the weight is subtracted. We had one in our town for a while but my favorite is about an hour away so I only go when we're headed that direction. The favorite one is run by the now-grown daughter of someone we used to attend church with, and I love that theirs offers food items as well as cleaning and personal care supplies (spices, flours, oats, etc...). That one has been so successful that they now have stores in OKC and Norman as well.


    3. Thank you for the explanation, Cat. We had a natural foods co-op in our town many years ago. About half of the store was as you described a refillery. You could buy shampoo and other non-food items in bulk by bringing your own container. I still have the tare weight in sharpie on the bottom of a couple of kitchen canisters. I miss that place, but they didn't do enough business to stay in that location. I'd never heard of the term refillery.

    4. The catch for me is that the refills are often more expensive than just buying a new container on sale somewhere. It feels like a real challenge to balance frugality with zero-waste/eco-friendly options at times. Hence my fallback to the bulk eco-friendly dish soap and hand soap from Azure. I also buy bulk original blue Dawn at Sam's to refill a small bottle for various uses around the house.


    5. That's so often the truth, Cat -- making eco-friendly choices vs cost-effective ones.


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