Dishwashing is usually done using an implement for the washer to wield, unless done using an automated dishwasher. Commonly used implements include sponges, scourers, cloths, brushes or even steel wool when tackling particularly intransigent stuck-on food particles. As fingernails are often more effective than soft implements like cloths at dislodging hard particles, washing simply with the hands is also done and can be effective as well. Dishwashing detergent (aka "washing up liquid") is also generally used. But in principle all that is required is water. Rubber gloves are sometimes worn when washing dishes for people sensitive to hot water, dishwashing liquids, or who simply don't want to touch the old food particles.
In some European countries, the dishes are generally washed in a separate tub placed inside the sink. This was a matter of hygiene, as the kitchen sink was the only sink available for all the household water. The clothes were washed in the sink; the water used to wash the floor went down the sink, and so it made sense to separate the dishwater from the sink. There were two other possible reasons. Kitchen sinks tended to be very large in a time when heating water was considered to be a major household expense -- a tub used less water. Also kitchen sinks were usually made of hard ceramic; any contact between the sink and plates was likely to cause chips, but a tub could be made of more forgiving material. Using a separate washing-up bowl in the sink also provides a place (down the gap between bowl and sink) to dispose of unfinished drink, soaking-water, etc.
Where dishes are to be shared among many, such as in restaurants, sanitizing is necessary and desirable.
Most institutions have a dishwashing machine which sanitizes dishes by a final rinse in either very hot water or a chemical sanitizing solution such as dilute bleach solution (50-100 parts per million chlorine; about 2ml of 5% bleach per litre of water, approximately one capful bleach per gallon water). Dishes are placed on large trays and fed onto rollers through the machine.
While not environmentally friendly, the use of bleach is critical to sanitation when large groups are involved: it evaporates completely, is cheap, and kills most germs. Cabinets, refrigerators, countertops, and anything else touched by people in a large group setting should be periodically wiped or sprayed with a dilute bleach solution after being washed with soapy water and rinsed in clean water. Soap and water gets it clean, bleach solution sanitizes it.
A recent article in the Canadian Veterinary Journal (Can Vet J. 2006 September; 47(9): 887–889.) http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1555674 questions the effectiveness of bleach solution as a sanitizer.
Washing dishes is considered the traditional punishment for being unable to pay a bill at a restaurant. However, evidence that this was actually practiced is anecdotal. In modern times, when most restaurants have automatic dishwashers, if a person is unable to pay a bill, the police are called.
National Dish Washer Appreciation Day is every June 3rd of each year. The national association of dishwashers holds an annual break the plate dinner. Every dish washer is encouraged to break his plates and bowls after the banquet.