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 10 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. Clean any flatware next, then proceed to the dinner plates, and then finally the pots and pans and cooking utensils that had been soaking. You want to do the most delicate items first to ensure they don’t break, and the most soiled items last, so they don’t get the sink and cleaning tools dirty at the start of the process.
- To start washing, 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. To clean forks, use the corner of a scrub pad or dish cloth to get between the tines.
- Be sure to scrub every part of each item, including the handles on coffee cups and saucepans where finger oils have been deposited. The old adage of ‘squeaky clean’ comes from washing dishes; you can tell when a dish is clean when it actually starts squeaking when you rub it.
- If the burnt food still won’t budge after soaking or scrubbing, see the guide How to Clean Burnt Food from a Saucepan for more options.
- Replace the water and add more soap whenever it becomes too full of gunk to really clean any subsequent dishes or when the water has cooled or the soapy suds have disappeared.
5. Rinse the dishes
As you finish with scrubbing each dish, you want to rinse it off under the tap to remove the soap, 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. If you have hard water, add a cup of white vinegar to the rinse sink to help prevent the mineral deposits from forming on your dishes as they dry.
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, wash your hands so those are clean too, then dry off the dish using a fresh 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.
9. Clean the dishwashing area
Once the dishes are put away, wipe down the dish rack with a damp cloth then towel it dry to prevent mineral build-up from hard water. Wiping out the sink is also a good idea to remove any food debris.
10. Clean the prep area
Whenever there are dirty dishes in the sink, that means that food was prepared somehow, which means that the countertops and stove need to be wiped down as well. Use a dish cloth or sponge with soapy water on it to remove any crumbs or sticky messes, then wipe the counters with a disinfecting kitchen cleaner if needed to ensure the food prep area is safe for the next cooking session.
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.
- Inspect your dishwasher to determine the locations of the water jets so that you can avoid blocking them with a large pan if needed.
- After this is done, simply load the dishes in the dishwasher, taking care to put lighter and more delicate dishes in the top rack so that they don’t get damaged. Flatware should be placed upside-down in the basket. Be sure not to crowd in too many items in the flatware basket or in the dishwasher in general as they won’t get clean; it is better to run two separate loads if needed. It is a good idea to mix up the flatware in each basket compartment for the same reason since they can easily stack together, which would prevent them from getting clean.
- Add the detergent to the dispenser. Be sure not to overfill the dispenser. One of the most common mistakes is to use too much dishwasher detergent, which then leaves a residue on the dishes. Usually only 2 tablespoons of detergent is needed, but read the label of your specific product for the most accurate instructions.
- If your machine has a rinse air dispenser, you can fill that with some white vinegar, which is especially helpful if you have hard water, or you can use a commercial rinse aid.
- Put your dish cloth or sponge in the dishwasher as well. Do not put nylon scrubbers in the dishwasher though as the high heat could melt the nylon.
- When everything is ready, lock the machine, and run it. While the dishwasher is running, complete steps 9 and 10 from the section above: clean the dishwashing area and the prep area.
- 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 Dish Cloth vs. A Sponge
In the great debate between using a dish sponge and dish cloth, science says the cleanest choice is a dish cloth. There are several reasons why a dish cloth is cleaner:
- A sponge is more porous and can harbor bacteria more easily.
- A sponge does not dry out as quickly as a dish cloth, which allows bacteria to live for longer.
- A dish cloth can be disinfected after each use more easily than a sponge, which might disintegrate if boiled in water or exposed to chlorine bleach.
If you have any doubt about which is better, keep in mind that the FDA has outlawed the use of a dish sponge in any commercial kitchen due to the higher risk of bacteria contamination.
A scrub pad is usually easier to clean with than a dish cloth when you need scrubbing power, but you don’t need to have a scrub pad attached to a sponge. Instead, get a plain scrub pad or loofa, which can stand up to more a intense disinfecting processes. If you invest in several, you can clean them along with the dish cloths every few days so that you always have a clean one for washing dishes, or if you use a dishwasher, you can put them in the dishwasher each day where the hot water can disinfect them.
- 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.
- Some items that should never go in a dishwasher are crystal, china, cast iron, copper, wood, and any plastic items.
- Never use dish liquid meant for handwashing in the dishwasher. Dish liquid is created to produce a high amount of suds, which helps to lift bacteria away from surfaces. In the dishwasher, these suds can overwhelm the available space and start to leak out, creating a soapy mess on your floor.
- Many dish liquids contain ammonia, especially ones that are antibacterial. Never use chlorine bleach in a sink or on a dish cloth or sponge if your dish liquid contains ammonia as the combination creates toxic fumes.
- In a large family household, it can be helpful to put a sign on your dishwasher that allows you to flip between “washed” and “unwashed” so that everyone always knows if the dishes inside are clean or not.
- Household Hints for Dummies by Janet Sobesky
- Green Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck
- Handy Household Hints from Heloise by Heloise
- Cleaning Plain & Simple by Donna Smallin
- Clean It Fast, Clean It Right by Jeff Bredenberg
- Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook by Martha Stewart
- Help from Heloise by Heloise
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.
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!!!!
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.
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.
Warning! Read reply below by Melanie!
That is a very dangerous idea. Most dish liquids today contain ammonia, and should never be mixed with chlorine bleach because the combination creates a toxic gas. Chlorine bleach should never be used in a sink for the same reason – it can combine with the soap residue in the sink or drain to create toxic gas.
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
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.
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.
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.
My clients actually. This is why I am on this site. I am a mental health provider and I teach basic life skills to clients. Not everyone is raised the same.
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.
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.
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.
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??
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
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!!!
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.
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?
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?
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
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.
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. :/
I scrub the dirty dishes clean and little left overs in the bin, then I stack them in a neat pile on the side… Next I rinse/clean/clear both sinks with soap, then I plug it, add hot water with a heep of soap, for bubbles, and I start washing the dishes. I rinse ’til there is no soap and I leave it to AIR DRY. When you wipe it with cloth, it leaves you with a plate, for example, that looks like it’s been in the cupboards for years, I mean it’ll have dust on it, not dust, but you know what I mean… sorta, anyways, after that I stack the rinsed cuttlery and plates/bowls in the drying rack on the side.