Monday, March 22, 2010

Reader Question: Dish Racks

dishes drying in a rack and on towels placed on the countertop

I just realized that even though I love the dish drying rack that I have -- it is a trap: my counter looks totally cluttered because things tend to collect there, and the rack itself collects debris and should be cleaned more often than it gets cleaned.

So -- I am trying an experiment: I am retiring it. With the intent of pulling it out when cleaning up from a large party or something... but it may go permanently... we'll see.

How about it -- a kitchen organizing article about dish racks -- for drying dishes, for in cabinets, and how to store racks for drying when not in use... mine is proving to be a royal pain to store! (Though I love the Simple Human double tier rack that I currently have...

--reader Julie Shannon

Julie, let's look at some possible answers from the simplest to most complex.

1. Just use a towel.

I know plenty of people - including myself and my stepmom, Wendy - who don't use a rack. I actually have fond memories of cleaning up after parties with Dad and Wendy: Motown music playing, towels on the counter for the things that didn't go in the dishwasher, Wendy washing, Dad and me drying.

At home, when I'm just washing a few dishes for myself, I don't even bother with the towel. I just put the dishes on the counter, dry them, and wipe the counter dry.

mat for drying dishes or glassware

2. Get a drying tray or mat.

I'd never heard of these until I went looking for answers to your question - and there are a lot of options. You could consider any of these:
- The DryMate Kitchen Dry Mat shown above.
- The silicone drying mats from Oxo.
- The Original Dish Drying Mat, from Garden Botanika.
- The brightly-colored glass drying mats from Make My Day in Australia (small and large).

bamboo folding dish rack

3. Get a folding or collapsible rack.

There are a lot of options here, too. A basic folding bamboo dish rack can be found many places, but if you're willing to spend more, you can get this lovely dish rack from Crate and Barrel. It folds entirely flat, too. Update on June 28, 2011: Crate and Barrel no longer carries this dish rack.

collapsible dish drainer, green

Another interesting collapsible is the high&dry.

plastic collapsible dish rack

Progressive International also has an interesting collapsible dish rack, sold by Sur La Table and others. There's an over-the-sink version, too.

folding dish rack, plastic

And here's another folding dish rack.

in sink dish rack

4. Get a in-sink dish rack.

Some of these, like the sink dish rack from Umbra, wouldn't take much room when removed.

Finnish dish-drying cabinet

5. Get an astiankuivauskaappi - a Finnish dish-drying cabinet.

OK, this one is a bit hard to do in the U.S., and it won't work for every kitchen. But the idea is very cool. You can see more photos here and here; read about the dish draining closet on Wikipedia, and even become a fan of the astiankuivauskaappi on Facebook. You can also see the same type of arrangement in Italy.

[Lead photo by camerasutra / Shelley Mags, licensed under Creative Commons. Photo of dish-drying cabinet used with permission.]


Claire Josefine said...

I, too, got tired of having a dish rack cluttering my limited counter space. My solution has been to use my dishwasher as the drying rack. I only need it for washing dishes when I entertain (2 - 4 times/year). Otherwise, I rarely dirty enough dishes to warrant running the machine. This solution's been working well for me for 2 years now. I just leave the door cracked open and let everything air dry.

Anonymous said...

My cousin was living in Barcelona and had the Finnish drying cupboard. Terrific space-saving idea, I thought!

Jeri Dansky said...

Claire, in my reading I found one other person who mentioned the dishwasher approach, but I wasn't sure how well that would work. So I'm glad to know it works for you!

Anonymous, I agree that the cabinets sound like a terrific idea. I wonder how come they became popular in some countries and not others.

Anonymous said...

I lived for years in Spain, Italy, and France, and I always had the Finnish type cabinets. They are MARVELOUS, and twenty years later I still miss them! (It's sort of like a bidet--once you've had one, you can't live without it.)

Jeri Dansky said...

Anonymous, I've been in a few kitchens in France (in Paris and Rennes) and I've never seen these cabinets. Would you mind telling me what part of France you were in?

Julie Bestry said...

Claire's post makes me laugh--I live alone and run my dishwasher at least every third day, and usually every other day. I must eat a LOT more than she does. ;-)

I've had use of a dishwasher for at least 40 years, but on the occasions where the dishwasher is running or full, or I've got delicate glassware or oddly sized pots to dry, I've only ever used the towel method. They're only there for a few minutes, while I'm washing whatever else where is, so I can't imagine much air drying is accomplished before I hand-dry and put away each item. Dish racks are often unwieldy or clutter-y; if you're going to the effort of doing the dishes, then I say DO the dishes, including drying and putting them away. Leaving them out seems akin to folding laundry and then not putting away immediately. I don't get it.

Plus, air drying leads to water spots, and having stuff on the counter risks my klutziness and expansive hand motions knocking something to the floor.

JustGail said...

I've seen (in magazines) a version of the drying cabinet - it was a wall mount drying rack over the sink, and no door. If I ever have a sink with no window and just had to cook for myself, I think thats' what I'd go with. I grew up with the rack-on-counter method, and we'd dry just enough to make room for everything to fit. That's the way Mom still does it.

And for those who have dishwashers and only use them a couple times a year - you may want to consider using it more like once a month. The gaskets dry out with lack of use, causing a leak and a repair bill.

For home owners, if you really only use the dishwasher once or twice a year, perhaps having a cabinet put in place of the dishwasher might make for sense for you. Then if you move, you can always return a dishwasher to that spot if needed for re-sale purposes. For renters - might want to check with the landlord, maybe they'd be willing if it doesn't cost to much, or you offered to pay for part????

Anonymous said...

Jeri, I had one of those cabinets in Paris, in the 7th. I couldn't believe my luck, because I had become addicted to them in Rome.

Jeri Dansky said...

Wow, Anonymous - you were lucky, indeed!

Julie and Claire: Leaving the dishes to air-dry wouldn't bother me - but I need my limited counter space, so I wash and dry. My home doesn't have a dishwasher, and adding one would be a hassle, since my counters are lower than standard. And I'd rather have the storage space, anyway.

As always, I love how different our approaches are - and they all work fine for us.

JustGail: Thanks so much for your perspective and insight. I never thought about any potential problems from using the dishwasher so seldom.

One more option regarding the unused dishwasher: You could do as my mom did. She was a renter, and she just used her dishwasher to store stuff - in effect, treating it like a cabinet.

Eila said...

I am remodeling my kitchen with all new cupboards. Does anyone know if I can get the drying shelves in the US (Oregon) or do I have to go to Finland to get them? Eila

Jeri Dansky said...

Eila, I haven't seen a source for them here - although there certainly could be one I don't know about.

I'm sure they could be custom-made for you, though. And if you know a good contractor, he or she might be able to point you to some local resources for the drying shelves.

Anonymous said...

Saw these in Italy and Poland, and loved the concept.

I rent an apartment and happen to be "blessed" with a dishwasher, so am also lucky enough to have a "cabinet" to store dishes while they drain. Dishes that my husband and I use most often, like favorite cups and pairs of dishes and utensils, are just stored in the dishwasher permanently. I keep the kitchen workably clear while I cook, so wash pots and pans as I go along.

I hardly ever run the dishwasher, except when I entertain on few occasions and am swamped with piles of dishes and an apartment full of guests. Otherwise, I hate the waste of soap and water, overhead in power and management, hassle of pre-rinsing and proper stacking, and the noise of running the beast. Rumor has it that the newer dishwashers are more efficient and eco-friendly than my two hands, but it's hard to believe after hearing the things splash and whine for three hours in "Light Wash" mode.

To cut down on the potential build-up of water (ergo mold) in the bottom, I sponge the inside of the door down after "loading" the racks and before closing the door, since most of the dripping occurs while I am washing. I also keep the door cracked open while dishes drain, and run the "Drain" feature regularly.

Still, my dream house will definitely have one of these cabinets and NOT a dishwasher.

Jeri Dansky said...

I'm with you, Anonymous! My house didn't come with a dishwasher, and I've never felt the need to add one. (However, I too have heard that good ones are more water-efficient than hand washing.)

And my mother never used the dishwasher that came with her apartment, so I suggested that she just use it for storage, which she did. (She used a dish rack for the few dishes she used.)