Air-Cleaning Dishes Is California’s New Way of Saving Water

By Mike Pomranz |

© Vera Kodajova / Alamy

California’s historic drought has forced the state to ramp up their water conservation methods. Last month, the State Water Resources Control Board began forcing restaurants to do their part, passing a regulation preventing servers from bringing out water unless customers requested it. But regulation is really just window-dressing. Most restaurant water consumption happens behind the scenes during the cleaning process.

That inspired John Cox, executive chef at Big Sur’s Sierra Mar, to come up with an inventive new way to clean up. “It all started as an idea to clean the kitchen at night by bringing in a small air compressor and using it to spray out ovens, corners and other places we were typically using a hose for,” Cox told CBS San Francisco. “I was looking for a place to put this compressor, and it ended up in a little area below the dish station. And that’s kind of when the idea clicked.”

Cox realized he could replace the typical water sprayer used to pre-rinse dishes before washing with an air compression system and get the same result. According to Cox, that water sprayer accounts for about a third of all water used in the restaurant. By simply changing to an air compressor and airgun, he saw an 80 percent drop in water usage. 

But is rinsing dishes with air sanitary? Don’t worry; everything still goes through the normal dishwashing process for a final cleaning. “You need to understand what your dish machine will take care of,” Cox states on the blog.  “Most of the time a little bit of grease or other residue will come off in the washing cycle.” It leaves you wondering, since dishes are going to get a final rinse down anyway, why couldn’t every restaurant get away from being so reliant on their water sprayer? Sure, some pots and pan may need an extra scrub-down, but it definitely doesn’t require water to get most of the leftovers off a plate.

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