Scotland the Baffling

I've come to love so many things about Scotland. The fish suppers, the mountains, the graffiti…

At the train station

… but I cannot get my head around THE TUB.

You're familiar with a kitchen sink, right? Into which normal people would insert a plug, fill with soapy water and wash their plates?

Over here they ignore the sink and the plug and for some unfathomable reason place a large plastic tub inside the sink and fill that up instead.




Why oh why?

At first I thought this was just a weird habit of Gareth's, but as I mingled more with the natives I discovered they were tubbing it all over the countryside. My mother-in-law, friends, colleagues…

I just don't bloody get it. What purpose does the tub serve? You've got a perfectly good contraption there already with the kitchen sink, designed precisely for the task. Does the tub have historical significance? Is it an ecological or economical thing?

I've asked Gareth many times, why do they use it?

"Because we just do."

In my quest to fit in to my adopted country I'd come to tolerate the tub over the years and had actually stopped ranting about its pointlessness every single time I did the dishes.

Then my friend Jenny was over from Australia recently. She stared in bewilderment as I turned on the kitchen taps after dinner.

"What's the go with the tub?"

"SEE!" I crowed to Gareth, "Told you it was weird."

After staying with us for a week Jenny filed her report: "I can see only one benefit of the tub. If you forget to empty a cup or saucepan or something, you can tip it down the sink. But apart from that? It's just weird."

I'm curious if the tub phenomenon is a Fife thing or if it's rampant across the land. And what about the rest of the British Isles? Rhiannon reported with great relief when she first moved to London, "No tubs down here" but we've no data for the rest of England.

So… if there's any Scots out there:

  1. Do you have a washing up tub?
  2. If yes, why the hell why?

About Shauna Reid

Ahoy there! I’m Shauna, an author, copywriter and content mentor. I love telling stories about life and helping others to tell theirs.

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112 thoughts on “Scotland the Baffling

  1. Yes, we do, and this is why:

    Before they were made of pressed stainless steel, kitchen sinks were made out of vitrified china – like a bathroom sink. If you drop a glass while you’re washing up in one of those, it’ll smash.

    And, as you say, there’s the option of pouring slops down the side (or rinsing soy sauce down it, in our household, to make the really hot water stay clean long enough to wash all the dishes).

    Also, you can save water (and the fuel to heat it) by using a washing-up bowl that’s slightly smaller than the actual sink, while still having the option of the whole sink for doing your laundry or whatever.

    Do you not find it takes forever to fill the thing if you don’t use a bowl? I can’t imagine washing up without one.

  2. But sinks ARE made of stainless steel here and now in the modern era, and hold the heat much better than a plastic tub.

    And if you organise your plates before you start washing up (which i do and it drives me batshit crazy when people don’t) you don’t need to pour stuff down the side.

    And our stupid tub is only like 2% smaller than the actual bloody sink itself so it really takes no less time or water.


  3. My granny had one!!! West of Ireland, country woman living in a city, had a plastic basin in her kitchen sink.

    I remember being told something about washing and peeling potatoes…and not blogging the sink’s drain with grease and dirt and the like as it could be tossed outside with ease when collected in the basin as opposed to lining the sink and clogging the drain…or something.

    Meh, I have a dishwasher.

    (I just noticed I wrote blogging in place of blocking, but thought it too ironic a mistake to amend)

  4. My gran here in America has one, and my mother and I both think she’s crazy. ‘Course, it doesn’t help that she leaves the water in there all day long until it’s cold and also “soaks” dirty dishes in it so that the cold water is all icky and disgusting.

    Ya know, I just realized that my gran’s family WAS originally from Scotland. Maybe there’s a connection there, hmmmm?

  5. It’s actually a common sight in Oz these days – but that’s because of the BLOODY GREAT DROUGHT we’ve been having for years. You can’t water your garden with fresh water, so every drop you can recyle and tip on the thirsty plants counts.

    In winter we don’t bother, because we generally get enough rain, but in summer, I use a plastic tub to wash up, plus buckets in the showers. The alternative is to concrete the entire yard.

    Doesn’t explain the Scottish thing though.

  6. It’s definitely not just a Scottish thing; I grew up dahn Sarf and we always had a washing up bowl – and I have one to this day (just as well really, my crap plastic sink is crisscrossed with cracks…if I left stuff soaking in it overnight, as I am wont to do, I’d wake up to a flooded kitchen!)

  7. I live in Australia and have a older ex-pom living across the road from me and she has a tub that sits in her kitchen sink. I haven’t asked her why πŸ˜€

  8. I think Cara’s put her finger on it. They threw their water out into the yard when they didn’t have proper plumbing, and kept the habit. My next question is why do the Scots think they need to put more water outside in Scotland?

  9. People do it here, too. I have no idea why the practice continues in the modern age (it’s not as common as it was when I was a kid, btw) but it does. I remember feeling guilty about not using one when I was first out on my own and confess that — although I never use it — I have one under the sink in case the urge (guilt?) strikes.

  10. Well, I’m in London but actually finding locals rather than fellow foreigners to flat with is pretty rare so I can’t comment there.

    However, both my parents are Poms (both Geordies – south of the Scottish border) and we used our sink as a sink at home (like it’s meant to be) in NZ. That said, the destructiveness of a metal sink is a good excuse for the tub thingee.

    One thing I have noticed here is the lack of mixer taps – lots of individual cold or hot taps (illustrated well in your photo). So you either get to burn yourself directly or freeze in winter. It’s often been a thought of mine that plumbing is an alien concept in some of the UK (you still see the odd old hotel offering “hot and cold water”!) and the proof is when you see new houses with separate taps or…

    the classic, best ever – two taps going through one nozzle – but the nozzle has 2 individual channels in it – which lets you burn and freeze *together* rather than the obvious mixing approach.

    Hmmmm – bloody UK plumbing.

    Scott F πŸ˜‰

  11. I have a washing up bowl. I got it because my mother used one, and my grandma too. I never though about not having one.

    I’m an expat Brit (Saaarf London) living in Melbourne, and my Australian boyfriend thinks I’m weird having a washing up bowl.

  12. We used one for a while, but it was because our drain wouldn’t stopper properly, so if we used the sink the water would leak out pretty quickly. When we moved, we stopped doing it. (Although I will still sometimes soak things in a pan or a tub outside of the sink, just so it’s out of the way.)

  13. My uncle and aunt in High Wycombe have a tub in their sink! As did a lady I lived with in Brighton, so it’s definitely not just a Scottish thing. It weirded me out too, never could understand the rationale for an extra tub.

  14. Perhaps so they can climb a very tall tree in the woods, a Faraway one maybe, pour it down, and wash away pixies and gnomes and other Blyton-esque folk?

    Aside from Dame Wash-a-Lot, I have never heard of the tubs of the British Isles! Please continue with these anthropological observations, Shauny!

  15. Yep – I had noticed that when I went to Ireland with my partner a couple of years back and wondered the same thing. No-one seemed to be able to tell me why they did it… they just always had! I came up with my own theory that maybe sinks used to be a whole lot bigger and it was done to save water but the explanation in the first comment makes a lot of sense… I guess some habits die hard!!

  16. I can’t speak to the Scots, but growing up in the wilds of northern Maine, our “sink” was cast iron and the neighbor’s (almost a mile away) was soapstone. Both substances were death on dishes. One had to wash in a “wash pan”, ladle hot water over the stack on the “sideboard” and then dry immediately. This was done at least three times a day by my brothers and I. After washing, rinsing and drying, walloping pots, one had to dry down the iron sink to prevent rust. Soapstone had to be treated with mineral oil once a week. The “oil skin” table cloth was retreated with oil after washing and drying.

    That was daily life as a child. Fift-some years later I still have a cast iron sink in the house – but these days it’s covered by porcelain. It still requires the use of a wash pan, if you want to avoid chipping all the dishes…

  17. No, it is rampant across the entire island. I first ran across this bizarre practice when I moved to London from Canada. It makes no sense.

    The bowls are generally less than an inch smaller than the sink itself, so I cannot see how you save any water unless you’re only washing 2 cups at a time. In which case….how about you go crazy and let them sit on the counter until you’ve got a few more to do all at once??

    Then when you have to tip a bit of cold tea down the drain, you have to try and sort of fling it against the side of the sink so it doesn’t go into the bowl. But this rarely works, forcing you to run even more water into it to rinse it out. Not to mention you now have tea splashed all over the sides of the sink, not just decorously poured down the drain. God forbid you actually take the bowl OUT when you’re not actively washing up dishes; it seems to be considered a permanent and religious kitchen fixture by most people. So you either end up with a manky sink because this stupid bowl is constantly sitting in it, preventing you from giving it a good wipe every time you wash up, or you have to keep hauling it out to clean the sink (and you still have to clean the tub, too–so you’re cleaning 2 receptacles. how does this make sense??).

    I am back in Canada for almost a decade now, but I still do not understand it and it has made me rather aggravated just to remember it πŸ˜€

  18. Both of the houses I lived in in London had tubs and so did my ex-boyfriends Father who lived in Taunton. I think it’s a country wide epidemic.

    As for the plumbing… I had to get my friend to flush the loo for me my first few weeks in London…

  19. Kek beat me to it… it’s something being done a bit here in Oz now too. Dish water, as long as it’s not *too* disgusting, can be poured onto a desperate plant or two to keep them going in the summer.

  20. Outside of England. Come from Sweden. Only ever washed my dishes in a tub when in summerhouses with no water indoors.

  21. I spent a year living in Orkney in the early noughties and puzzled over this long and hard myself and flat-out refused to use “the tub” (plastic vs stainless steel, which do germs like best? Hmm). Then a couple of years ago they introduced Level 5 water restrictions here in Brisbane and people started using the tubs – for recycling purposes. No one ever explained the reason why you would need a tub to me with enough conviction that I would convert, and none of the comments by the UK natives are helping their cause. Meh to the tub.

  22. I’ve noticed this in England a lot too and have always wondered why. Thank you for your investigations…although like Sara I’m still not convinced.

  23. We use a washing-up bowl here in Edinburgh, although I think it’s a British-wide thing. It uses less water and your dishes don’t break so easily. Plus, you know, if you only have a single sink, you can pile your dishes into the bowl, and remove it, before using the sink for something else, ie peeling veg.

  24. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but as a kid in the 70s I was made to use one of these washing up dishes… in Australia. My family were convict stock, so the idea has been here a while, sorry!

    I rang my Mum and asked her why and she had 2 reasons

    1) It kept the water hotter. Even though I argued that steel would, she believes it actually draws the heat out of the water and spreads it over the larger metal area. Neither of us has proof or a science degree.

    2) It saves water, but you need a round tub, not one that fits the wasteful corners of the sink itself. She was all about the corners and even suggested an experiment with 3 litres of water.

    She was very adamant about her reasoning, though no longer uses the dish as it’s a pain to have to wipe it down and store it, and good old Aussie laziness wins out in the end. Yay!

  25. Wow, my brain hurts a bit now. I have used a washing up bowl all my life. I have one in my sink now and I have never questioned it. I initially thought of the whole “able to throw tea slops and stuff down the side” argument but…I have a half sink beside the big one, so that argument fails. But deep deep in my Scottish soul is the need to use one. I don’t think I could just fill the sink. Do I need therapy?

  26. Just to add to the confusion we always washed up in a ‘basin’ as we had a ceramic sink at home in Ireland – the kind of sink that in England is called a ‘Belfast sink’ and generally can be found in houses where there is also an Aga. English people use ‘washing-up bowls’. To my knowledge no-one uses ‘tubs’.

  27. My husband’s relatives in Manchester use one. I can remember thinking that they have one so that they can use the grey water on their garden.

    That’s why you have a washing-up tub right? (Well the in-laws in Goulburn do that but that’s because of the DROUGHT.)

  28. My mum never had one, so I think they’re kind of weird and pointless. The fella’s mum did, and he thinks they’re a good idea. Cue much debate in our household, but the sink remains a beige plastic-free zone… for now.

  29. All of my family use a washing up bowl. When I left Scotland to go to Australia, I left that habit behind.

    I always used to think the plastic bowl kept the heat in better than the sink, sorry to disagree there.

    I know many people who use their washing up bowl to soak their feet in as well. So, you know, multi-purpose.

  30. Scottish here, and I’ll never give up my washing up bowl! (or tub, whatever you want to call it) It just seems scabby to use the sink empty, like you’re too poor for a bowl! It drove me a bit nuts when I lived in NZ and no one had them. AND you don’t have overflow drains down there, but that’s a whole other sink-related mystery.
    It’s useful, as has been said, for tipping away tea etc – and I also wash things in the bowl and then rinse them to the side. I hate the feel of dishes clanking against metal – the bowl just works better.
    All hail the washing up bowl!

  31. bowl, tub, basin… whatever you call it, it’s weird πŸ˜›

    that said… after using one for a few years now i DO find that the sound of dishes clanking against metal gives me the creeps, i’m with ya there Gillian πŸ™‚

  32. This is a strange one to me too. My sister in the Southern Highlands (NSW) used a tub in her sink when she first moved there for quite a while too. I always puzzled over it but never asked why (or didn’t really pay attention to the answer anyway). I just asked my mother why she did it and was told it was to save on the “pump out” fees as they weren’t on town water. Apparently the tank would fill too quickly and too often if they were forever washing up and pulling the plug on the sink. So instead they used the tub and emptied the water on the gardens outside. They also used a hose to empty the washing machine water outside.

    It makes a little more sense to me now why my sister did it but still baffles me why any reasonable city dweller would.

  33. Oh, and Scott, re lack of mixer taps – they DO have them over here, but just not in our shithouse little flat. hehehe.

    I wonder if people who spend ages designing poncy fancy sinks cry themselves to sleep at night because everyone’s ignoring their masterpieces for a Β£1 bit of plastic from ASDA πŸ™‚

  34. Ha ha! Yes, it is rampant throughout the British Isles, although that said, I don’t actually use one myself. Probably for the reasons you point out. It is good if you want to tip liquids away half way through the washing up though, that annoys me all the time that I can’t do that! Maybe I should get a tub…or a bowl – as we would call it!

  35. My great-grandmother used one, so I see nothing weird about it. The places I’ve lived usually had a double sink, with one side smaller than the other, so I never thought to use a tub because I didn’t need one. Now I live in an apartment that has a big single sink, so I had been considering buying one. I just haven’t remembered to stop by the store to pick one up!

  36. I have a basin (tub, bowl, whatever) … and I am so used t it, so committed to it, that the merest thought of washing my dishes in the naked sink is enough to give me the heebie-geebies – urgh, yuk! I’ve never ever questioned the practice, never imagined that furriners might find it a tad – eccentric or something …

    The great thing about the basin is, as others have said before me, is that you can pour slops down the side, rinse sauce/gravy/other yukky stuff off the plates before putting them in the water (stopping the water getting scummy and therefore removing the need to keep changing it for fresh stuff) etc etc etc. You can’t do that with just a sink, unless you’ve got one of these fancy-schmancy double-sided jobs.

    Funny enough though, my grandmother, who lived most of her life in the countryside, never used a basin. Weird.

  37. Hey Shauna – My grandmother always used the tub. That is in America! I don’t see it anymore, I think it is an older generation thing. My thoughts with the tub. You can fill it up but still rinse your dishes with out overflowing the sink!

  38. ok, sorry if anyone has already mentioned it, but if you’re renting, you won’t know what has been in that sink before you came along, will you…

  39. Yup, I use two basins, one for washing, one for rinsing. I pour stuff down the side of it, it does seem to use less water, the breakages, but in my household, just as someone is washing up the other person will want to fill the kettle or empty something down it, so one of you sighs, lifts the washing up basin out, lets them deal with whatever they are wanting to do with the sink and then the basin is lowered back in to continue the washing up – the UK multitasks and works that sink hard!

  40. hahaha, this is awesome. We used a plastic tub, too, when I was a child (and only had one sink in the kitchen). My parents are Dutch immigrants, and my mom used the whole breaking dishes excuse, as well as the pouring out crap beside the tub excuse (though it was almost the same size as the sink, so it was hard to pour stuff, anyway. I don’t use one for dishes (I don’t own any expensive glassware, anyway, it’s from IKEA). I do have two really big sinks in the kitchen (yay kitchen renos!), so I don’t have to worry about having somewhere to pour the gunky stuff. But…I DO own one. Old habits die hard, I suppose. I use it mainly for holding water when I wash the floors or whatever, so that I don’t have to keep going back to the sink, I can just bring the soapy water with me (and yes, I know that I could use a pail or whatever, as well).

  41. My Mum’s English, my Dad is Scottish, they use a tub. I have no idea why but until I read this post I never thought to question it. Perhaps to keep the sink clean ;D

  42. Plastic should definitely hold the heat better as its a better insulator than steel (which is a good conductor of heat). The metal sink will also let the water get colder more quickly as it has a larger surface area from which to let heat escape to the atmosphere. The ability to chuck slops down the sink without ruining the washing up water is another huge benefit. Cold tea getting chucked into your washing up water is one of the most annoying things known to mankind.

    Washing up bowls RULE!!!

  43. I’m American and never heard of the tub. But this was a fun diversion from the other board I’m on where we’re tearing each other to shreds politically πŸ™‚

  44. I’m with the “it’s just weird not to use a bowl” camp. Ah, conditioning.

    But as to mixer taps, it seems wasteful that you often seem to be flushing through the remaining hot to get to the cold water, or vice versa. If it’s a designer type tap with a long neck, that’s a lot of water!

  45. Well, my grandparents live in Deep East Texas (and have done their entire lives) and they have used the washing up bowls (one for washing, one for rinsing) in their sinks ever since I can remember. And my late great-grandmothers did as well. But I don’t because … well, it’s kinda stupid. πŸ™‚

  46. I’m in Nova Scotia. My parents & grandparents used basins in the sink: washing in the basin, rinsing on the side. Also enabled lifting out the basin when the sink was needed for something else. We dried the basin when finished with it, and stored it under the sink.

    Since I have a dishwasher, I now only have a plastic basin to use when camping. But, I will tell you, for those few dishes that I wash by hand, if there’s a bowl or saute pan amongst them, I will wash those hand washables in it! I hate filling up the sink. It’s a waste of water!

  47. Soak their feet in the washing up bowl?? Ok, let’s just eat soup out of a chamber pot and have done with it πŸ˜€ I am not normally squeamish, but there is just something about that that gives me the ‘blergh’s, ha ha. I feel like a plastic tub would somehow absorb toe jam or something–I know this is probably a nonsensical notion! But I still think you can get stainless steel cleaner than plastic if you’ve had to use it for something unsanitary.

    My sister pointed out that the only positive aspect of the bowl that she ever saw was that when her flatmate’s cat PEED into it, she could take it out and use the unadulterated sink. But really, I think if your cat is peeing in your sink, you’ve got a bigger problem.

    Re: pouring out the tea slops–yes, it is annoying to have a full single sink. But why not just pour them out before you start washing up? Then you’re all ready to go.

    This is obviously a hot button issue! But using a plastic tub makes me feel like I’m camping. Besides, English kitchens were generally so small that there was nowhere to store the bowl apart from inside the sink, which then prevented you from easily using the drain or to rinse or wash anything (which I sort of feel is part of the point of having indoor plumbing, no?). You forever ended up with a half-filled bowl of soapy or dirty water sitting there, or had to keep taking it out and putting it back in. But maybe I only just had hobbit-sized kitchens!

  48. I worked in Yorkshire in the 90s, and nearly everyone there used a washing up bowl. I thought it was for people who lack the space to store dirty dishes, and who also lack the time to do the dishes straightaway. In a bowl you can let the dishes soak and then wash them whenever you’ve got time, and if you need the sink in between you can just lift the bowl out.

    My Gran used a bowl too. She never used washing up liquid, and when the dishes were done she took the bowl and added the water to the pig swill. Waste not, want not.

  49. Sorry, forgot to add that my Gran was from the Black Forest. (Where the gateau’s from.)

  50. I’m from Chicago, and we’ve used a dish tub (aka washing-up bowl) for years because in the c. 1910s-1930s apartments we’ve lived in the sinks have been quite wide but very shallow, and without drain plugs (instead they have a crappy sieve-sort of thingy to prevent food particles and such getting lodged in the lead-leaching pipes). If you want to soak something, you have to use some other type of vessel to hold the water at a decent depth. Also, I think domestic queen Cheryl Mendelson (a gentler, more germ-phobic version of Martha Stewart) recommends dish tubs in Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House because they prevent breakage.

  51. I am from Texas. My mom always used a washing up tub, but she kept it under the sink and only pulled it out after dinner. I have inherited her tactic. Until reading this blog post, it never ONCE occurred to me to just fill up the sink with water. Sounds like madness πŸ™‚

  52. …and they’re so handy for soaking your feet in at the end of a hard day…of course you have to take the dishes out first…

  53. I’m here in the US and we always used a “dish pan” growing up. It was for the same reasons mentioned by someone earlier than I. The old sinks were murder on dishes so a tub helped protect them. When my parents got a new stainless steel sink, out went the dish pan.

  54. omg, when my dad was diagnosed with diabetes, he insisted on giving his feet a soak with some drops of lavender oil in the water, and he insisted on the washing up bowl. course it became the dad’s footsoak bowl after that…

  55. Who even fills up a sink? I may soak a pan occasionally but everything of mine goes right in the dishwasher. And the separate hot/cold water thing looks dangerous.

    Tucson, AZ

  56. I live in California and this has made me laugh out loud because I had completely forgotten about the dish pan/bowl until reading this. My mom always used one and made us use it once the washing of dishes was passed on to us. I had never given it any thought before. I’ve had a dishwasher for years now, but if I ever don’t, I think I would go back to the bowl. It just seems right some how. Hmmmm…my ancestors are from Scotland….

  57. Basin. It’s called a basin.

    Now, can we please move on to the really important question: is it, or is it not, necessary to rinse dishes?

  58. πŸ™‚

    Dr G informed me that he calls it a washing up BOWL and has no idea where i got TUB from.

    I am just confused coz he calls Tupperware/plastic containers TUBS and my brain collapsed.

    As for rinsing Lesley! I don’t rinse coz i’d be chained up in australia for wasting water. if you don’t use too much detergent i don’t reckon you need to rinse.

    Rebecca – oooh someday, SOMEDAY i will have a dishwasher πŸ™‚

  59. I’m from the Midlands (UK) and my mum and gran both use washing up bowls but I can’t stand them. For some reason they give me the creeps (think it’s the texture when they’re well used!). If I do the washing up at a friend’s house after dinner I’ll sneakily move the bowl to another part of the kitchen and do it my way! It’s the stainless steel sink for me all the way!

  60. There is absolutely no purpose to them, like many things they are historical and no-one seems capable of questioning historical practices. I heard a story about generations of people who cut one third off the end of every bacon rasher (and ditched the third) before cooking it. Why? “Because my mother always did”. When they checked back through the generations it was because the bacon didn’t fit in the original cooks frypan!!!!
    I have a second half sink and so can pour liquids down this when the sink is full, how much water you use is entirely dependent on how much you choose to put in, not the size of the container, I’ve never broken a plate/glass in stainless steel, it does keep the water warmer and its what its intended for! I can’t come up with one valid reason to use it, and its just one more thing to wash!

  61. I’d never used a tub or dish pan or whatever until I married. My mother-in-law uses one, so I adopted the habit. Of course, her use makes sense – she has one large sink, making it hard to rinse. I guess I have no real reason, but after all this time, it feels naked to wash without it!

    But all these comments about why it continues reminds me of the story of the young bride who wanted to make a pot roast. She asked her Mom for instructions, who told her to cut off an end of the meat, put in the pan, add potatoes, etc. and cook. The young bride asked why she had to cut off an end. Mom replied that that was how HER Mom did it. Bride happened to ask Gramma one day. Gramma’s response: my pans were all too small for the meat, so I had to cut the end off to make them fit.

  62. I think my granny still uses a washing up bowl, even though she has a perfectly serviceable plasticky sink that wouldn’t cause any clanking. But there you go.

    She did have a seperate bowl, which was for steeping stained clothes, or soaking her feet in. Therefore there was never any cross-contamination!

    Thankfully Mum hasn’t latched onto the bowl idea.. but then we tend to use the dishwasher cos we are a bunch of lazy gits πŸ™‚

    Oh and yes, tupperware is called a tub. Never confuse the two! ‘Stick it in a tub’ is the war-cry when faced with leftovers.

  63. Um, seriously? How HARD are you guys on your dishes that placing them into a metal sink makes you break dishes? I’ve never broken anything in my almost 25 years of washing dishes in metal sinks! First off, you close the stopper/plug… you arrange your dishes nice and neat… big plates, little plates, bowls… then cutlery to the left or right, sharp things pointing to the back of the sink so you don’t slice your hand open, then glasses everywhere you can fit them… then, start your water, wash the glasses, bowls, little plates, big plates and then the cutlery.

    And, BY GOD YES! Rinse your dishes! OMG, that’s so gross if you don’t. Like, what do you do? Take the cloth, wash it, and then get off the extra bubbles and soap by rinsing it back in the dirty water you just washed with? There’s a reason why health units ask for at least once rinse, sometimes even two (one with javex, the inbetween rinse) to assist with hygiene!

    In all seriousness, I believe in the rinse big time. I’ve noticed people who are chronically ill with “stomach flus” or “irritable bowel” type instances, and then I go to their house and watch them wash the dishes we just ate off of and then I want to gag because NO WONDER YOU ARE ALWAYS SICK.

    I’m not a clean freak by all means, but – seriously… I don’t skimp on water consumption when it comes to dishes, because you can save that water elsewhere, like not watering your yard, letting it mellow if it’s just you (hehe) or the such.

    Ugh. Man. Reading this thread really makes me never want to eat out at people’s houses again, hehe… especially the foot-bowl/washing bowl thing. Ewwww.

    K, I’ll get off my soap-box now πŸ˜›

  64. Um, seriously? How HARD are you guys on your dishes that placing them into a metal sink makes you break dishes? I’ve never broken anything in my almost 25 years of washing dishes in metal sinks! First off, you close the stopper/plug… you arrange your dishes nice and neat… big plates, little plates, bowls… then cutlery to the left or right, sharp things pointing to the back of the sink so you don’t slice your hand open, then glasses everywhere you can fit them… then, start your water, wash the glasses, bowls, little plates, big plates and then the cutlery.

    And, BY GOD YES! Rinse your dishes! OMG, that’s so gross if you don’t. Like, what do you do? Take the cloth, wash it, and then get off the extra bubbles and soap by rinsing it back in the dirty water you just washed with? There’s a reason why health units ask for at least once rinse, sometimes even two (one with javex, the inbetween rinse) to assist with hygiene!

    In all seriousness, I believe in the rinse big time. I’ve noticed people who are chronically ill with “stomach flus” or “irritable bowel” type instances, and then I go to their house and watch them wash the dishes we just ate off of and then I want to gag because NO WONDER YOU ARE ALWAYS SICK.

    I’m not a clean freak by all means, but – seriously… I don’t skimp on water consumption when it comes to dishes, because you can save that water elsewhere, like not watering your yard, letting it mellow if it’s just you (hehe) or the such.

    Ugh. Man. Reading this thread really makes me never want to eat out at people’s houses again, hehe… especially the foot-bowl/washing bowl thing. Ewwww.

    K, I’ll get off my soap-box now πŸ˜›

  65. Using a dish pan in a one-holer means you can rinse the dishes without unnecessarily filling up the sink with water. Just prop the pan up on the drain plug, and rinse the soapy water off, directing it outside the pan and down the drain.

    Using a dish pan or two in an enamel sink means you don’t scratch or nick hell out of the enamel.

    I have a one-holer and, ironically, an enamel coated antique dish pan…

  66. I use a plastic wash tub… and I am American. The reason? My great grandma and grandma on my paternal side both did and I just took up the habit. Not sure where it came from, though my ancestors are from both Ireland and Scotland so perhaps it was passed down generation to generation.

  67. Soooo funny – 74 freaking comments on the benefits or otherwise of a plastic washing-up bowl. Ta for a good Saturday arvo laugh, Shauna!

    BTW, just about everyone here has a double sink these days, so the tipping the tea down the side excuse doesn’t gel. Even as a kid, when we only had a single sink, I used to tip stuff into the laundry sink if the kitchen one was being used.

    Now, THERE’S a whole other cultural discussion for you – the merits of a separate room for washing and drying clothes. :o)

  68. Ah. The tub.

    Many moons ago I shared a house in London with some Scots and they always had a tub in the sink. Then they’d leave the dishes in it, ostensibly to “soak the dirt off” which really meant they were too fucking lazy to do the dishes. The tub seemed odd to me then but since have come to appreciate some of the benefits.

    I am a strict stacker of dishes before washing them and I do make an effort to make sure I get all the cups and saucepans empty before I wash them. But there are the odd occasions when I miss something out. So the tub is useful then because you can tip the remnants down the side of the tub.

    I’ve lived in Yorkshire and further north in Darlington area now for two years and haven’t met anyone who uses a tub.

  69. Hey there Kungfujen! πŸ™‚ No tubs in Yorkshire and Darlington! That is a very interesting twist…

    Kek – I KNOW! Haven’t seen this many comments since my Engagement post. I never would have thought it would have been so contentious πŸ™‚

    I don’t know anyone who has a double sink over here, maybe all my friends and family are povo. And no one has a bloody laundry either. Heeeeee heheheheheeee.

  70. Hehe we use the plastic wash tubs here in Holland too, not sure why though. It does give me the heebie jeebies when they (the inlaws) don’t rinse the soap/grit off… too many foodsafe courses I guess πŸ™‚

  71. Hey I’m from Australia and we actually use one too! I think it’s because of the drought and it’s supposed to save water or something?? We used to have one in the shower too, I guess for catching the cold water before it turns hot and then using the cold water on the plants…but we never do hee hee!

  72. How _can_ you rinse the dishes if you have neither a washing-up bowl or a double sink? Just start all over again? That would drive me slightly nuts. What I do is fill the bowl only slightly to begin with (enough to immerse one plate) then rinse hot water over the item I’ve just washed and it goes to fill the bowl. And so on. So in the end, I only use one bowlful.

    I don’t like dishwashers. It’s a personal thing I know, but my reasons are these: they waste water; they must waste electricity heating the water up to FREAKING HOT; all your glasses end up looking frosted and etched; they don’t usually clean everything properly. And you have to rinse cereal bowls and so on before you put them in, or you’re looking at grainy bits permanently glued to the bowl.

    Maybe I’ll change my mind if I live in a household of more than two people.

    We do not have a double sink, but my granny does. We do, however, have a laundry room. Which we appreciate.

  73. Ho ho and you were worried about not having many readers any more… nothing like a bit of cultural controversy to rustle up the lurkers!

    I’m not reading all 80 comments so apologies if there is repitition but I’m weighing in with the basin. Particularly in a shared flat I’ve always found it really irritating when people don’t use it as if someone is mid-wash up then you can’t pour anything down the side. And if you wash as you go, whilst cooking (it’s more effective before things have dried) then you do need a conduit though those new sinks with the extra little mini-sink does solve that it’s true. Insulated material would keep the water hotter too, metal will conduct the heat away.

    But in the end it’s just personal preference, isn’t it? I love Scott F’s comment about the taps – that is so true. Being a Brit I’m used to the separate ones but I’ve always been mystified as to the usefulness of the one tap with two conduits so you get burnt and frozen at once.

  74. I’ve noticed that some people in the UK use washing up bowls and some do not – does anything think it could be a class thing?

    Me, I moved to England when I was 5 and we do things the Indian way. I wash up the ‘proper’ way i.e. under a running tap (and no, it doesn’t waste that much water!). All Indians I know think it’s disgusting to use and re-use the same dirty water to wash dishes.

    Ooooh, controversial!

  75. OK, I had never heard of such a thing until this post, living here in the wilds of Ohio, but now I want one! The previous residents installed a very charming farmhouse-style sink, which is a huge and very hard single sink and also a pain to clean. I’m always nervous I will smash our stemware in it on the rare occasion when I need to wash things by hand and not toss them in the dishwasher. So I think by making fun of this you are actually spreading the custom!

  76. We don’t down south in Reading but when I moved to Leeds my uni accommodation came with one. A northern thing then perhaps?

  77. I’m Canadian, but lived in Cardiff for three years while in university and rented a house with five British girls. I never once understood the concept of the washing up tub, and no one could ever properly explain its point to me. I still don’t get it, and I don’t think I ever will.

  78. My Mum once had one of her blood-pressure pills dissolve on her (unrinsed) plate. The plate was super-clean, because she washes her dishes by hand in very hot water and dries them straightaway. Nonetheless, when she put one of her pills onto her plate, it just… dissolved.

    We really believe in rinsing dishes nowadays. πŸ˜‰

  79. We don’t use our sink for washing up because we don’t have a plug!! haha! I know, we could go and buy one, but hey, why would we?

    We have a nice green washing up BOWL, which we got as part of a set as part of a wedding present! The set includes (all in the same green plastic) a washing up bowl, a dish drainer, a little drainer thing to put your washing up liquid on, a bigger drainer bowl thing to put your cloths in, and a kitchen bin. OOOOhhhh, get us, we are super matching in our kitchen!!

    I have a half sink too, which I always rinse our dishes, and especially glasses in. My husband does not rinse however, and its a cause of concern both ways, it frustrates both of us equally! I hate him not rinsing, whenever I fill one of the childrens plastic cups up with water, if he has washed them, I swear I can see little soap bubbles in the water, so I end up rinsing it before I use it!

    Oh, and while I’m on the subject, you have to ORDER your dishes (I’m with you there Shauna). Glasses first, then cutlery, then plates, dishes, etc, finally saucepans etc.

    Oh, and again (sorry, I’m on a roll) we don’t have a laundry room, but I really wish we did (when I was in Australia, I thought it was a fab idea).

    AND, finally, tupperware is of course a TUB. :p


  80. Just done my washing up in my washing up bowl, which prompted me to say that my washing up bowl is perhaps two thirds the size of my sink, just in case you’re interested!

    Oh, and I’m from down south too, Kent to be precise!

  81. My grandmother always had a huge metal bowl in her sinks to wash in. Living out in the country, things went from the drain through what we call the “grease trap” and then into the sewer line.

    If the dishwater is exceptionally disgusting/greasy/mucky we take it outside (in the metal bowl) and dump it in the yard, or the driveway, or the ultimate…water an outdoor plant with it! It keeps the greasetrap from overflowing, which is disgusting to empty out. We still have to do it about once a year or so, but it’s much better than several times a year!!

  82. I’m from the States, and my mom uses one in her sink. I never thought it was odd till now.. But we’ve got Scottish, Irish, and English ancestry so maybe it’s just a genetically programmed thing..

  83. I hate the tub! But after 10 years of living in the UK (after sensible washing up practices in Australia for 27 years) I’d almost forgotten about its existence, because in every house I’ve lived in it’s the first thing to go!

  84. Since I moved into my flat six years ago I’ve bought two washing up bowls and they’ve both ended up being used in the garden so I don’t have one in the sink. I’ve always felt slightly guilty about that – as if I’m doing something wrong by not having one. (Though oddly I think it was something we only had on and off when I was growing up – maybe those ones all ended up in the garden as well).

    But then I’ve also picked up the weird foreign habit of washing up under running water rather than filling the bowl/sink…so what do I know about being English!

  85. One of the things I love watching are TV shows like Relocation, Relocation (or the location one) or the A place in the Sun because it shows European ways of life through the house….

    I just DO NOT GET why people would willingly put their laundry in the kitchen. I understand the older houses and the need for close proximity to plumbing but new houses? Why, oh Lord WHY would you wash your undies within feet of where you wash your dishes?


    Most places in Canada (that I know of) have their laundry in the basement. Newer builds however, tend to have it on the main floor and even some put them on the top floor with the bedrooms, which I think ROCKS. I moved into a bungalow and for the first time my laundry is on the main floor with the bedrooms only 5 feet away. It’s the greatest because there’s nothing scarier than walking down the stairs with a big laundry basket obstructing your view!

  86. My in-laws (in Australia) use a plastic tub to wash up and pour the grey water onto their tomato plants (which always have a very strange taste). They also pipe all their washing machine and shower water directly onto their lawn. All drought-inspired water-saving initiatives.

  87. All right – it’s official. This post has inspired this single-sinked Canadian to buy a washing-up basin!

  88. I am from Germany and both my grandmothers used washing up bowls. I always thought it a relict from the old days, when there was no plumbing in the kitchen. The water had to be heated up on the stove, dishes were washed in the bowl and then the water was used for watering the plants outside. And when they got a new kitchen, they wanted to protect the shiny new sink from scratches and stains – to keep them nice for the next generation πŸ˜‰
    I lived in Ireland for a while and all my friends used washing up bowls, too. I don’t know why they still do it though. I have a dishwasher now, but I use a bowl for washing salad, spuds and veg and use the water for plants. πŸ™‚

  89. Sink condoms! Nice one Anne πŸ™‚

    Anji – it’s because there are almost twice the number people living in Britain than in your lovely canada except we have a poofteenth of the space. there’s just no room for laundry/utility rooms for the average person!

    Peita – Very thrifty! πŸ™‚

    Thanks again for all your comments guys… I do feel more affection towards the tub now!

  90. I’ve just been reading some of the replies, hilarious!! I’m a brit (north west, Liverpool to be exact) and yes I use a washing up bowl but no I don’t really know why! I think it’s one of those British idiosyncracies that people JUST DO *lol* Although, I found out recently that my kitchen sink plug doesn’t work so I guess my bowl does have a use =]

  91. I just thought this was worthy of going into three digit comments… Hooray for the basin!

  92. American here with the tub. Although, my mom always used it because of the germs that would end up in the sink while preparing meat (thawed under running water in the sink) and the like. Lots of salmanilla and junk. And who really wants to wash their sink before washing the dishes?

    Not to mention being able to soak greasy pots and pans under the rinse water.

  93. I am an Australian married to a Scot. I fought hard against the bowl/tub while living in Scotland. I think it’s just one of those “old habits that die hard” scenarios, but honestly, show me a Brit and I’ll show you someone who will unthinkingly defend the bowl till the death. Come on people, lets face facts. Firstly, it’s ugly. I know aesthetics aren’t everything, but why obscure the bright silvery-chrome shine of a clean stainless steel sink with a plastic bowl that looks every bit the 71 pence you paid for it as asda??? Espeially folk who spend a fortune fitting a brand new kitchen… why bother with a decent sink when you never bloody use it! I also reckon the bowl is unhygenic – has anyone ever lifted theirs out of the sink to see how greasy and smelly the bowl is on the outside??? Oil tends to stick to plastic and I don’t think people give the bowls themselves a decent scrub very often, or their sinks for that matter. The bowls seem to be left to sit in the sink building up a scary slick of layered grease, old soggy tea leaves and food scraps. Eew. And I don’t think the reasons for having one are particularly valid. Just get organised when you wash up. No need to use your hygenic stainless steel sink as a slops drain and wash all your dishes in an old plastic bucket! Just keep your sink and kitchen clean and there shouldn’t be a problem. I am glad someone is finally putting this ridiculous habit under the microscope.

  94. Have been contendedly lurking on here for a couple years now and suddenly have an overwhelming urge to post…what is it about that wee bowl???

    My sister and I were also completely bewildered by the plastic tub in the sink when we arrived in Scotland but by the time we left were converts. I had washing up bowl withdrawals back in Oz and bought one but it got voted out by housemates πŸ™

    We managed a hostel during our 2nd year in Scotland and actually went out and BOUGHT WEE BOWLS for our 3 sinks (evangelical bowl users!:). Then had lots of fun watching other foreigners trying to figure out what they were used for (carting dishes to the sink, private ‘storage box’ for ‘their’ food in communal pantry, tour groups on a budget would make make spaghetti bolognaise or salad in them, others preferred to cart them into the bathrooms and we often found them in the bottom of showers…ew!)

    I’m with Dr G on this one and I am inspired to finally go out and get one for my own house – my daughter is half Scottish and it’s about time she got a dose of culture!!!

  95. One from the states here – bought a dishpan to use in my new sink, because it is a super huge single sink. Great for washing huge tings, but impractical 99% of the time. I keep the dishpan under the sink, along with my wash gloves and sponges, once it’s dry.

    My grandmothers both used dishpans, on Dad’s side I think it was the large single sink issue. Mom’s side? I’m not sure, because she has a double sink, and the pan does fill the “wash” side fully. Her dish drainer sits in the other side. I can’t fathom why she uses the dishpan that way. Neither set of grandparents is Scottish. And I think both sets did re-purpose the pans for garden activities (hauling loads of tomatoes, containing peelings to go in the compost, etc.)

    As for dish rinsing – wow, I thought you meant rinsing the dishes before you wash them. Here in the states, a lot of people will rinse (or even wash) their dishes before they go in the dishwasher. I think that’s wasteful, and only rinse if it’s going to be sitting in the dishwasher for quite a while and will start to smell. After hand washing, I definitely rinse thoroughly to get the soap off. I do not do the recommended bleach-water rinse, and have never known anyone who did, though I vividly remember the smell from the elementary school kitchen, where we took shifts washing lunch trays.

    I am curious about wash approaches – this “stacking” concept is foreign to me. I did grow up with a divided sink (no dish pan, though we had one, it was seldom used for dish washing), and one side was filled with soapy water for washing, the other side with clean water for rinsing, then into the strainer to drip. Later I was introduced to the solely-running-water method, where you attack your dishes with a sudsy sponge, then rinse off the suds and drain/dry. I use a hybrid approach, rinsing into the dishpan, and soaking things in the dishpan’s soapy water that really need a moment in hot water.

    I just checked, and they don’t have any reasons for using a dispan other than those listed above. For those worried about chipping dishes – you could use a sink mat (rubbery protective bottom covering) rather than a separate pan. My mom was a fan of those when I was young and occasionally charged with dish washing.

  96. I think most people in the UK would love to have a laundry room (we call it a utility room here) but like Shauna says, we are a tiny country with a big big population and we just don’t have the kind of room for large area homes. Cellars are rare too. I am lucky to have a wash-house but it’s only in a lean-to tacked onto the back of our kitchen. Personally I wouldn’t have any problem with washing my drawers or those of my husband or kids in the same room as my dishwasher. We Brits didn’t get where we are today by being squeamish about hygiene I’ll have you know!!!!!

  97. I have one in my Kyoto kitchen for the reasons written by the 1st commentator. However, in NZ I don’t use one. The reason is the difference size of the sinks. The sink in my Kyoto kitchen is so huge that if I tried to fill it it would take ages.

  98. Just to stir things up a bit more: I am Brazilian, have lived in Australia, New Zealand and now I live in Ireland. I will die without understanding why fill up the sink (or tub) with water to wash your dishes. IT’S JUST PLAIN DIRTY!! The only way to proper do is: first wash it, and then rinse it with running water. Also, as mentioned before, what’s with the separated hot and cold taps? JUST PLAIN STUPID!!

  99. K (of the first comment):

    You’ve opened my eyes (seriously). I live in the US in an apartment with an old kitchen and an iron enamel sink. I’ve lost count of the number of glasses, teapots, etc., that I’ve lost to the sink. Apparently all I need to do is buy a plastic tub! Can’t believe I didn’t think of it myself. Hurrah!

  100. growing up in the North East, we never had a washing up bowl – just used the sink.

    when i started uni in scotland (galashiels) everyone had washing up bowls in the sink. so i started using one.

    now i live in London i still use a washing up bowl. my brother however is not a fan, and sits the bowl on the floor so that he can just do the dishes in the sink itself.

  101. It’s an old story. I heard once of a woman who always cut the end off her roast. When questioned she called her mom, who didn’t know why either. So, they called the Grandmother and asked her why they always cut the end off. The answer was “So it will fit in my roasting pan”.
    If it’s always been done that way, why change?

  102. Literally laughing out loud at this!
    I’m from N.E England and was brought always to use a washing bowl.
    Mum even changed the bowl to match whatever colour the walls were painted.

    I can proudly say I escaped this freaky tradition and live bowl free *however* I do own a nice scrubbing brush that you can stick to the side of the sink :o)


  103. I had this conversation myself with a kiwi the other day – I am from Manchester ( North West England)originally but now living in Auckland and have NO idea why we still have one. My kiwi friend was saying her mother-in-law has one (ex UK), but I think the force of habit has made me buy one. It will be some reason that made sense 200 years ago…

    My old Uni housemates liked the bowl beacuse it meant they didnt have to worry about cleaning out the sink of rice and food debris, cos the bowl was still clean…nice. (that is when they could be arsed to do the washing up!)

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