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How to Survive Without a Dishwasher, Without Killing Your Roommates

Dealing with the onslaught of dirty dishes can feel like a Sisyphean task. Here are countertop dishwashers, racks, and more that make it way easier.
Ian Burke
Brooklyn, US
a dishrack and sink
Photo: Getty Images

We get it, some of you have it made—coasting through life on your parent’s oil money, living in massive mansions with dishwashers in every room. Well, we hate to break it to you, but not everyone has that luxury. Some of us, if you can believe it, wash dishes with our [gasp] hands. 

Now, for those of you living in parts of the country where realtors gift you a dishwasher just for touring a place, you might not be familiar with the concept of a cuisine sans lave-vaisselle, or a kitchen without a dishwasher. (It sounds less depressing in French.) But for everyone else, especially those carving out a living in crowded metropolitan areas, a dishwasher can be a hot-ticket amenity—one that’s often sacrificed in order to afford the endless barrage of Sweetgreen deliveries that might dirty enough dishes to make said appliance necessary. So, dishwasherless brethren, we hear you, and we’re here for you. 

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First off, dishwashers really aren’t that great. I mean, the name itself is a misnomer, since you literally have to wash the dishes before you put them in the dishwasher, according to our collective mothers. Secondly, for renters, they can tack on a good chunk of change when you pay your landlord's salary rent each month. And if that isn’t enough, there are also lots of kitchen items you wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) put into the dishwasher, such as your Good Knives, easily scratchable pans, fragile glassware, and cast iron skillets (maybe?). 

So until I have a chance to pop down to the Money Store and pick up some more money, here are some ways to make the pain of cleaning up after your big cooking projects less, well, painful. 

Forget everything we just said 

magic chef dishwasher

… And just buy a portable dishwasher! (“Dishwashers suck, actually” sounds suspiciously like something someone without a dishwasher would say, actually.) This portable powerhouse by Magic Chef is quiet, sits comfortably on a countertop, and features six wash programs. (In the market for something a little more sleek? We also love this Farberware version with a voyeuristic viewing window, or this stainless steel model.)

Magic Chef 21 in. White Electronic Portable Dishwasher, $289 at Home Depot

You’re a size queen

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Looking for a bigger, badder portable dishwasher? Look no further. This upright, stainless-steel model by GE is the perfect accent piece for your railroad apartment’s teensy-weensy kitchen. Slide it next to your perennially broken oven, or plop it next to your singular square foot of counter space. With six feet of hookup line to outlets and a water source, you’ll have no trouble literally making ends meet. (Do kitchens wider than six feet actually exist? Asking for a friend.)

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GE Stainless Steel Portable Dishwasher, $683 at Home Depot

Please remember to clean this thing

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What’s the point of doing dishes if you can’t show them off while they dry? This rack is compact, it holds pots and pans, and it’s KitchenAid, which will give off the illusion of luxury when houseguests confuse it with Breville. Plus, it has a “truly premium look,” just like you.

KitchenAid Stainless Steel Compact Dish Rack, $58.99 at Wayfair

The humble sponge 

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Stop slam-dunking your usual yellow-and-green bois directly into landfills and swap them out for these eco-friendly dish sponges. They’re cheap, they work, and—according to the product description—they’re “Mother Earth Approved.” (Can we get her number?)

3-Pack Eco Dish Sponges, $4.99, Etsy

If most of your eating is done on takeout containers 

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… You probably don’t need a full blown dish rack. Instead, get this rollable, over-the-sink drying rack for the coffee mugs you’re currently using as wine glasses. (Also, tip your delivery people, people!)

Ahyuan Roll up Dish Drying Rack, $10.10 at Amazon

Ajax could never

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Unsuspecting shoppers who read the product description might start to decant this luxe dish soap. “French lavender fields give way to light, sweet floral notes, delicately finished with subtle, earthy wood.” Let us know how it tastes?

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French Lavender Dish Soap, $5.99 at Sur La Table

You can’t afford to break any more wine glasses

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After all, you only have three. OXO products are both sick and tight, and this silicone sink mat is no exception. In addition to turning the bottom of your sink into a drying rack, this bad boy is sure to save you the headaches of fishing broken glass out of your drain. 

Silicone Sink Mat, $19.99 at OXO

We’re suckers for anything ultimate

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The “ultimate” kit comes with a sisal pot scrubber, a palm pot scrubber, three large bamboo cloths, a sisal dish brush refill, a coconut bottle brush, and a brush cleaner. Whew—we’re out of breath.

Zero Waste Kitchen Brush Ultimate Set, $55.86 at Etsy 

Dexter’s mom vibes

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All we’re saying is that if she were walking down Canal Street, people would think she was doing the whole 1950s housewife thing ironically, and very well. It’s functional fashion, folks! Wear gloves and save your hands. 

SteadMax 3 Pack Yellow Cleaning Gloves, $6.99 at Amazon

It won’t hold your golf bag, but it will hold your dish soap

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Reviewer DeLoris purchased this dual-compartment sink caddy as a Christmas gift for her granddaughter-in-law, who was “excited” to receive it. We thank you for your service, sweet DeLoris. 

OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Sink Caddy, $20 at Sur La Table

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You are not a dish

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… So have some hand soap near the sink! As tempting it is to use that crusty bottle of Palmolive on your mitts (it just feels… right) it’s probably not terrific for your skin. This moisturizing hand soap by Anthropologie is made to help smooth out the skin of gardeners (and longshoremen, probably).

Heartfelt by Anthropologie Gardener's Moisturizing Hand Soap, $28 at Anthropologie

Kneel before your one true god, this pizza kitchen towel

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We just got out of quarantine—it’s okay to get weird with it. Embrace the lame, the ironic, the sardonic. Be really, you know, cheesy. (FYI, they were out of drying towels shaped like this.) 

Blue Q Dish Towel, $13.99 on Amazon

Stop pushing bottom-of-the-sink food mush down the drain 

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We’ve all been there: Too much liquid in the soup bowl to throw into the trash, yet not enough solids to really warrant dirtying a fine mesh strainer. Instead, you just pour the dregs into the sink and hope that loose onion chunks and celery particulates won’t deal your drain the final death blow. Get a sink strainer, and save yourself the embarrassment of telling your super what a dirty, dirty boy you’ve been. 

OXO Silicone Sink Strainer, $9 at Sur La Table

Resist the urge to use paper towels 

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Oh, you dry your hands with PTs? We weren’t aware that you hated the earth—good to know. While the quicker-picker-upper might be effective, does it look as chic as this fringed, artisanal hand towel? We didn’t think so. 

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Connected Goods Livingston Hand Towel No. 0508, $29 at Urban Outfitters

Unless you want old man hands

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Are soft, beautiful hands cheugy yet? (Not sure, but we’ll keep you posted.) If you’re not acquainted, let us be the first to introduce you to Working Hands. This, friends, is the way. Loved by bartenders, cooks, lumberjacks, and anyone whose hands crack and chip in the winter, this stuff is hands down (get it) the best cream for seriously dry hands—an unfortunate side effect of constant dishwashing. 

O'Keeffe's Working Hands Hand Cream Value Size, 6.8oz Jar, $10.98 at Amazon

Hate doing dishes? Don’t

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Look, some of you are going to use Solo cups and paper plates until some poor soul takes pity on your feeble, floor-mattress soul. So, instead of waging a one-man war against the ozone layer, why not switch to a more sustainable set of disposable plates? These happen to be far cooler-looking than the average white paper jawn. Plus, they’re compostable. 

Chic Leaf Palm Leaf Plates Compostable Bamboo Plates, 40-Count, $29.99 at Amazon

And yes, you have to wash the backs of your plates. 


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