I’ve got two words for Water Day: Baking Soda.
We’ve refined our water consumption over the past year, thanks in largest part to our first No Impact Week experience. We take shorter showers and less frequent baths, we reuse water for plants when we can capture it, and I almost never turn the kitchen faucet to full blast because I’ve discovered a gentle trickle usually does the job in the same amount of time. We were already running only full dishwasher loads and washing our clothes in the least amount of (cold) water that will get them clean. I practice a sort of benign neglect gardening that drives my landlords (who are also my parents) crazy – If a plant can’t survive on the rain that falls upon it, it dies and its neighbors cover its grave with their healthier foliage.
But recently, thanks to one of our regular Month Less Plastic experiments, I discovered a new way to save on water: Baking soda. I clean my dishes with baking soda. I’ve read that efficient modern dishwashers use much less water than hand washing, but I think my baking soda system could beat the best dishwasher.
Take the dirtiest dish you’ve got. In our house, that’s usually our cast iron skillet after it has cooked up some of Mira’s beloved Jo-Jo’s Nettle Special, a scramble a lot like New Joe’s Special. The combination of eggs and ground beef does a good job of coating the bottom of the skillet.
If necessary, put a bit of water in the bottom of the pan or dish to soak any stubborn cooked-on food.
When the dish is ready to wash, pour any soaking water out. If the dish is dry, sprinkle it with just enough water to dampen its surface.
Sprinkle on a bit of baking soda. For a large and very dirty skillet, I use about 2 tablespoons; a dirty coffee cup takes about a teaspoon.
Get your hands in and use the baking soda and a bit of elbow grease to scour the dish clean. You’ll be able to feel the bits of food or grease or what-have-you giving way under your fingertips. When everything feels clean, rinse it under a gentle flow of water – It won’t take much water to remove the baking soda and the things it has cleaned away. Since there are no bubbles or sticky slick soap to remove, you won’t need to rinse for very long.
That’s all there is to it. I can wash an entire sink load of dirty dishes, pots, pans, and glasses with very little water thanks to baking soda. Even Jo-Jo’s Nettle Special washes right out, and without destroying the finish on my cast iron skillet.
I store my dish washing baking soda in a jar with holes hammered in its lid (a bug jar, basically). If you like, you can add drops of your favorite essential oil(s) to the baking soda. I started out with lavender and tea tree oils, but now I’m liking plain baking soda. It has a very mild fragrance that reminds me of the grapefruit soda my grandparents used to drink.
As an added bonus, you can use the dirty baking soda from your dishes to scrub your sink clean before you start rinsing everything. If you buy the largest paper box of baking soda in your local store, you’ll have everything you need to clean your dishes, glasses, sink, bathtub, shower, toilet, and more – All with no plastic packaging and less wash water used.