How to Wash Dishes

If the upside to a meal is eating, the downside is the dirty dishes that come afterward. If you don’t want to eat every dinner on paper plates, you’re going to have to wash them. If you do the dishes in an organized fashion, it should take you minutes, not hours. That is the good news.

There are two ways to wash your dishes: by hand or in the dishwasher. Both ways have their devotees. There seems to be a disagreement about which is better. Some prefer the dishwasher for its convenience, and others prefer hand washing because you can control how much water you use and ensure that your dishes are clean the first time.

Washing Your Dishes By Hand

*For instructions on using the dishwasher, scroll down

There are two methods you can use to wash your dishes by hand. One requires a double bowled sink and one is for those with just one sink in the kitchen. Besides that, they take roughly the same steps. Before you start the actual washing process, you should scrape any leftover food into the trash. You can also run it through the garbage disposal, but then you risk clogging the sink.

1. Fill the sink with hot water

Use the hottest water that you can without making it so hot that you burn yourself. Don’t fill the sink all the way to the top, since you need room to drop the dishes in. Make it about half full. If you’d like you can fill a large bowl in the sink instead of the sink itself. This will make it a little easier if you have to change the water.

2. Soak pots and pans

If you have any dishes that have baked on grime that will be hard to get off, such as pots or casserole dishes, fill these dishes with the hot water as well and set them on the counter so that they are out of the way. Let them sit for about ten to 15 minutes. You can also put smaller dishes with baked on crud in these pans, such as spatulas and knives.

3. Add the soap

Add a couple squirts of dish soap for hand washing to the sink and stir it around with your hands to make a uniform solution with lots of bubbles. If the soapy water is hard on your hands, you can wear a pair of rubber gloves. This will also protect you from cutting yourself on any utensils.

4. Start washing

Begin with the glasses and delicate plates, such as those used for dessert. Then proceed to the dinner plates, and then the pots and pans and utensils that had been soaking. Simply immerse the dishes in the water and scrub any grease, sauce or food off by using a kitchen brush, sponge or steel wool pad. Since steel wool can be abrasive, don’t use it on dishes made from delicate materials, like stainless steel.

Replace the water and add more soap whenever it becomes too full of gunk to really clean any subsequent dishes.

5. Rinse the dishes

As you finish with scrubbing each dish, you want to rinse it off under the tap, or in the second sink if you’re using the double-bowled method. For this method, you can simply fill the second sink with lukewarm water and dunk the dishes in to rinse them, replacing the water as needed. If you don’t have a second sink, just rinse the dishes under the tap. You may need to drain out a little of the water as you do so. Using lukewarm water is fine.

6. Check the dishes

After you rinse each dish, double-check that you’ve gotten it completely clean. Any remaining sauce or food will be fairly obvious, but you may have to remove your gloves and check with your fingers to ensure that you’ve gotten off all of the grease. If any amount of soil remains, repeat steps four and five. If you still can’t get the dish clean, you can try soaking it longer or using a stronger cleaning solution.

7. Dry the dishes

Once you’re sure each dish is indeed clean, dry it off using a dish towel. Don’t use a bath or hand towel since the lint may stick to your dishes. You’ll want to dry the dishes as you go, not save them all for the end, since you don’t want them to get streaks or spots from sitting wet. If you can, recruit a friend or friends to help you dry. It’s an easy task; they’ll still be your friends after this. If this isn’t an option, you can leave the dishes to dry in a drying rack. Be sure to put bowls and glasses in the rack upside down so that the water doesn’t pool.

8. Put the dishes away

Put the dishes away in the cabinet after you dry them. That way they’ll be easy to find later and harder to knock on the floor and break.

Using The Dishwasher

Preparing dishes for the dishwasher is a much shorter process, especially if you have one of the newer dishwashers that will practically scrape off everything. If you’re not so lucky, you should soak your pots and pans, as in step two, and then follow the scrubbing instructions in step three. You should also scrape off as much food as possible to avoid clogging your dishwasher’s drain.
After this is done, simply load the dishes in the dishwasher, taking care to put plastics and more delicate dishes in the top rack so that they don’t get damaged. (Hand wash anything that you know isn’t dishwasher safe.) Then add the detergent to the dispenser, lock the machine and run it.

Most dishwashers drain into the sink, so be sure the sink isn’t clogged before you turn the dishwasher on or you could end up with quite a mess on your counter and floor.

When the dishwasher is finished, take the dishes out and put them away. Give them a quick check to make sure they are clean and dry first, so that there are no surprises later when you set the table.

A Little Advice

It will be a lot easier on you and the friends you recruit to help you if you clean the dishes as you cook each meal. Instead of leaving dirty dishes out on the counter for hours, you want to at least rinse them right away so the food doesn’t have a chance to set. This will make it much quicker when you run the dish detail.


  1. Mark says:

    I know they look funny and make your hands sweat, but they keep your skin from getting dried out from the soap and they also allow you to use higher temperature water than you normally would be able to stand.

  2. Emily says:

    I read recently that your kitchen sink is dirtier than your toilet! If you really want to have clean dishes, clean your sink on a daily basis!!!!

  3. YAZ says:

    To add to the first post about dirty kitchen sinks, I suggest cleaning it in one of two ways (or both): When making dish water, add a few drops of chlorine bleach to the water (this is an effective way of cutting down on cold and flu germs). The water can then be used to clean out the rinse side of the sink; or before placing any dishes in the sink to be rinsed, use a low-level chlorine bleach spray cleaner to clean the sink. Be sure to also use it on the faucet and water knobs, too.

  4. YAZ says:

    Make your dish water as hot as you can stand (maybe even hotter), then place the dishes in the water to soak for approximately 15 – 20 minutes. The hot water, along with the dish detergent (and a small amount of bleach) will break down and make for easier cleaning.

  5. Donna says:

    I put in hot water and dish soap, and put it on the burner to cook! Cook for a few minutes and it will loosen the burnt on food.

  6. Dedra says:

    I learned from my grandmother to always add bleach to the water when dealing with raw chicken. She adds the bleach to her soap so it’s ready to go. The germs can transfer if you don’t use bleach on your prep dishes.

  7. Forager206 says:

    The ‘clean plate club’ has taught me well. Leftover scraps go in my mouth, in the Tupperware, dog bowl or nowadays to compost.

    If you like your knives sharp like me, wash them separate to avoid slicing those waterlogged fingers. Even with gloves, a good knife will cut you before you know it. Then you have to start over! =D

    I don’t encourage suds as I want soap in the water, not on top. For single sinks, if there’s room, I pile the dirty on one side and as I clean them, I move them to the other, or set them temporarily on a clean rag beside the sink. =D

  8. Ba says:

    Someone told me that filling the sink is wasting time, and to just scrub the dishes with a brush. I don’t feel comfortable with that at all.

  9. Bobbi says:

    I have a dishwasher, but I would rather wash my dishes by hand because then they get done right away after each meal instead of sitting in the dishwasher all day until I have enough for a full load. When I wash dishes by hand, I use a three step process.

    I fill one side of the sink with hot soapy water to wash them, then rinse them in the other side of my sink. Then I let them soak for a few minutes in a bucket of lukewarm water with a little bleach to sanitize. It makes me feel so much better when I’m eating off my dishes knowing that they are truly clean.

  10. Matt says:

    I do mine by hand, then I know they’re done and ready to use when I need them. I don’t need a dishwasher to do mine. It would take too long and I might want to make a meal before it’s done.

  11. Diane says:

    OK, so you know when your bored and your trying to find an excuse, any excuse, to not get up and do something. Well I don’t want to do the dishes, and I typed that into Google and this site popped up. For an unbeknownst reason, I actually read it. I mean wow, who doesn’t know how to wash dishes?

    On a side note, I am a chef, have super sharp knives and number one kitchen rule (and that’s in a restaurant or my home) is never place a knife into the sink and leave it there; set it to the side or wash immediately.

  12. Mariah says:

    RE: Who doesn’t know how to wash dishes?

    My husband. He flat out refuses to rinse off the dirty, soapy water and just takes the dishes out of the dirty sink and puts them in the drying rack.

  13. Richy says:

    Re: Mariah

    That’s not him not knowing how to do the dishes. That’s how people like me wash dishes in the UK, Australia, New Zealand etc. It’s perfectly normal, and doesn’t waste as much water.

  14. Veronica says:

    You were right on a lot of levels, however the health department advises food service establishments to make two rinses; the first in extremely hot water to kill the remaining germs, the last in cold water to stabilize the chemicals in the dish liquid. Stabilizing the chemicals, I find, is the more important rinsing step. The buildup of chemicals from improperly rinsed dishes can wreak havoc on one’s health. These chemicals are filled with cancer-causing agents.

  15. Tricia says:

    My niece had a Home Economics assignment on the steps of washing dishes and she passed the assignment. Hurrah for the internet!

  16. Nana says:

    Its okay; I did not have two sinks. That’s why.

  17. Bunny says:

    I have a question about when doing dishes. Hope someone can help settle an argument. I have always been taught that after doing dishes, you wipe off the countertops and stove. My husband and children feel that doing that is part of “cleaning the kitchen,” not doing the dishes. Suggestions??

  18. Melanie says:

    Get a plastic tablecloth that has pictures of dishes on it, and cover the counter with the tablecloth for a week. Then, you can say “wash the dishes” and the countertops would be included. :)
    Another idea; talk to your family about E. coli and salmonella. Explaining the why, especially when it’s a great reason like that, can sometimes help.
    ABC’s The Lookout had a show recently where they went around swabbing various surfaces (a hotel remote, a table at a restaurant, etc.) and testing the bacteria count. You might be able to find the video online to watch with your family.

    Source: Generate – Con-Fusion Table Cloth
    Source: ABC News – ABC’s The Lookout Goes on Vacation

  19. Bunny says:

    Thank you!! The tablecloth is a great idea!!! I will look into that!!!
    Talking about the germs, I’ll stress the E. coli point!! It drives me crazy when I say to do it and I get looked at like I’m an idiot!!! I was taught that the stove and countertops are part of doing dishes!! Guess it’s back to having my kids stand next to me when I do something to teach them!!!
    Thanks again!!!

  20. Quadaishia says:

    I know how to wash dishes, but we are doing research about different stuff. If some people don’t know how to wash dishes, this is a great website because this is really telling you what to do.

  21. Apprentice GM says:

    Wrong . . . just wrong on so many levels.
    First, scrape dishes as clean as you can.
    Second, rinse the dishes with hot water – the hottest possible.
    Third, add detergent when filling, not afterwards, to spread and create bubbles.
    Fourth, wash from cleanest to dirtiest as suggested glasses first.
    Fifth, rinse with hot water.
    Sixth, leave to air dry. DO NOT USE DISH CLOTHS TO DRY.

  22. John says:

    A family saying: Dish washing. First the shinny glasses, then the silver bright, then the cups and saucers we will wash all right. Next the plates and table ware… Do you know the remaining rhyme?

  23. Saratu says:

    I’m yet to have my home, but I wouldn’t like a home where I’ll spend all the time doing the dishes. I think I like this site and I’ve learnt too. But for how long does a dish washer run?

  24. Melanie says:

    It depends on what type of dishwasher you have and which cycle you’re running on it, but in general it will be in the 1-2 hour range.
    Source: Times Columnist – Why newer dishwashers run for an alarmingly long time

  25. Regina says:

    Have a new home…first time having a sink with a garbage disposal. The sink is only to dispose garbage, not wash or rinse, right? Thank you for your feedback. :)

  26. Mary says:

    Okay, I stopped listening as soon as the stupid comment “you could run it through the garbage disposal, but then you risk clogging the sink” came up. What in the name of all that is holy do you think a garbage disposal is for?? It’s to get rid of food scraps and such.

  27. Goddess says:

    I put soap into the sink at the same time I turn on the water. Then, I toss in ALL the silverware. It sits in the sink while I wash everything else (usually). I just have this thing in my head that we don’t ever clean ‘between the tines on the forks, so they have to soak the longest’… >.< Then I wash ‘the breakables,’ because rinsing them in hot water means I can put them away right away, unlike ‘the plastics’ which usually require a little swipe of the dish towel. Then, I wash the pots, pans and lids (which seem to gunk up my dish water), followed by all the silverware which is now simple to clean (and the knives don't scare me :P). All of that is IF I haven't been "washing as I go" while cooking. :) And yes! "Do the dishes" means "clean the kitchen." It's the way I was taught and the way I tried to teach my kid…who doesn't quite agree with me either. :/

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