Washing-up liquid

I sometimes find myself puzzling about very ordinary, day-to-day things… I was talking to a writer friend today and we talked were rambling on about stuff, and we got to reminisce about childhood, and the sort of ordinary household activities we watched (and helped, I hope) our parents do. I started thinking about washing-up, it started with one of my odd topics, washing-up bowls, and I began to wonder what my mum and dad used to wash dishes with. Did they have washing-up liquid then? Or powder? Or did they grate hard soap into hot water and agitate it to make a froth – I know a friend’s mum did…

Start with Wikipedia, and this is what it says:

Washing soda (sodium carbonate) is used for dish-washing, and may be used in areas with hard water. It was used for dish washing before detergents were invented in Germany during World War I. Liquid detergent used for dish washing was first manufactured in the middle of the 20th century. Dish washing detergent producers started production in the United States in the 1930–1940’s. Teepol, the first such in Europe, commenced production in 1942.


But what did my parents use? I have vague memories of some sort of powder which was dissolved… But maybe I am imagining it or muddling it with some other product. There was something called soda which I seem to remember was in crystals, or maybe flakes – was that used for washing up? Of course washing dishes changed forever with the availability of liquid detergents which could be squirted into hot water.

I have looked through all my old cookery books, and in ‘The Happy Housewife’ by Ruth Drew, and although there are literally pages and pages, and hundreds of instructions for cleaning all manner of things, I cannot find any plain simple instructions for washing up.

Here is what I wrote about, thanks to Constance Spry, previously:


And so, it seems to me, everyone has their own methods… here are some of the things I have observed:

  • some people scrape everything left on plates into the bin, then wipe the plates with kitchen paper before washing them
  • some people use the drains from the sinks as waste-disposals, and everything which can go down a plughole does. This includes fat and grease from cooking (sometimes softened with hot water)
  • some people have both of the above to some extent – scraping off most left-overs, but letting the more liquid stuff go down the drains
  • soaking everything in hot water before running clean water, adding detergent and washing up
  • similar to above, but rinsing every item under the hot tap before washing up
  • washing up with detergent, then rinsing everything in clean water (sometimes hot, sometimes cold)
  • washing everything all over again in hot water with no detergent
  • leaving everything to soak in hot water, (after washing)
  • leaving everything to drain dry
  • drying up and polishing everything
  • washing up in a set order: glasses, cutlery, side plates, dessert dishes, vegetable dishes, plates and soup bowls, saucepans, frying pans, bakeware… for example!
  • changing the water regularly, not changing the water at all (I think this may be older people who grew up when water needed to be heated, rather than coming hot out of the tap)
  • cleaning the bowl and sink meticulously every time when finished, and the draining board, or cleaning it as deemed necessary. Sometimes cleaning everything again before washing up next time.

I came across this:


… and here is something I wrote about washing up bowls:




  1. Amy P

    Interesting! Reminds me how my dad used to tease my mum because we had a dish washer but Mum cleaned things so thoroughly before loading them in that Dad figured we didn’t even need it…

    Liked by 1 person

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