Kitchen Confidence

The Only Way You Should Wash Your Dishes

by • July 17, 2012 80 Comments

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Inspired by conversations on the FOOD52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun. Today: the definitive way to wash dishes.

Washing Dishes

Dishwashing is an art form in my family -- the standards and stakes are high. Put a dish away with a drop of grease or a sticky bit and you'll hear about it, sometimes for years. I will confess that despite the following detailed guide, I'm considered the worst dishwasher in my family. 

Step 1: You want clean dishes? You need three simple things: heat, elbow grease, and organization. First, rinse off all dishes, pots, silverware with extremely hot water. The heat helps melt off any cooking fats, sweeping them down the drain. Set them to the side of the sink. If anything needs to soak, fill it with water and save it for last. 

Step 2. Sprinkle a little dish soap (I like Palmolive, which cuts grease better than any other commercial brand I've found) in the sink and using hot water and a dish cloth, wipe out and rinse the sink. You won't get clean dishes if your sink is oily. 

Washing Dishes

Step 3. Fill the sink with hot -- hot! -- soapy water. Scrub the dishes on all sides -- lots of people only scrub the tops, forgetting that the plate/dish/pot was set on top of another dirty plate/dish/pot. Use that elbow grease! Rinse with very hot water and set in a dish drainer in a position that will allow the water to stream off of it. If the water gets at all cloudy, empty the sink and start over. Dirty dishes will not get clean in dirty water.

Washing dishes

Step 4. Dry the dishes with a thin cotton dish towel. Clean your dish drainer and dry it so it doesn't get funky (some dish drainers are worse than the dishes). 

Step 5. Clean around the sink, wiping the faucet and back splash, then wash out the sink; rinse and firmly wring out the dish cloth and hang it in on a rod so it will dry. Never leave sponges or dishcloths in the sink. Who wants to have wring out a cold, wet dishcloth before using it -- gross!

Appendix: Sponges are generally a no-no; think of all the vile stuff that gets caught inside of them. Dishcloths can be washed (daily, if you live with my mom). Hand towels and dish towels should live separately. Never use gloves -- if you do, you can't feel the dishes and sense residual grease; also get in there, and embrace your work! If you want to scrub a pot, one of those scrub brushes is not going to cut it; Chore Boys are your friend.

Editors' Note: This was reprinted, verbatim, from a staff email on 6/18/2012.

Tags: kitchen confidence, dishwashing, washing dishes, cleaning, how-to & diy

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Comments (80)

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4 months ago Monika H

I use Meyer's Clean Day liquid dish soap which is biodegradable.

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4 months ago Monika H

Thank you Nancy for your input. My understanding was that hand dish soaps are not to be used in dishwashers since they produce suds. Is there a particular brand I should try and how much per load?

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4 months ago Nancy Charlton

Monika, I was appalled to find that a friend of mine who has lovely, old, patinated silver, routinely puts both it and fine china in the dishwasher. How does she get by with it? by using a very mild hand dish soap. This happens mainly after a dinner for 12 or more, and it fills up a whole DW load. The next load will be all pots and pans and other utilitarian and everyday things washed with regular DW detergent.

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4 months ago Monika H

Has anyone out there discovered a dishwasher soap for gilt decorated glasses and fine porcelain. I've got the Bosch dishwasher but still end up doing a lot of hand-washing worried that the gilt will come off.

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4 months ago Nancy Charlton

If I did dishes every day with hot soapy water my hands would be a wreck, no matter how much lotion I might slather on them. No, I'll go with the dishwasher any time, but have the dishes well scraped before running it. I like to use the tablets from Cascade or Finish, the ones that have several components running in pretty swirls. Glassware especially comes out sparkly and grease-free, far better than from even the most meticulous hand washing. However, one a month or so, I like to hand wash everything. Forks in particular. Crud accumulates in tiny corners and on the inside surfaces of tines and there's nothing for it but going in there with a brush or even a fingernail pressing down on a slightly abrasive dish cloth. And once a month won't trash my hands!

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11 months ago Happy Jan

When I was taught how to wish dishes properly in Home Ec class in high school we were told you start with the least dirty items such as glasses and cutlery (after rinsing of course). Otherwise all of your advice is spot on. Luckily I have a dish washer and only use these methods for things that can't go in.

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12 months ago Tatiana

No gloves? I could not stand the temperature of my hot water if I did not wear gloves.

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about 1 year ago jessica

So I have a plastic dish strainer that keeps this film of funk on it i have bleached it, soaked it in vinegar used baking soda, scrubbed it but yet when it dries it still has this film on it help

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about 1 year ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

I wish I had a solution for you, but it sounds like you've made every reasonable effort! It might need to be replaced, alas.

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about 1 year ago Em Veraldi

How on earth do you not RINSE your plates out. Yum, you're eating delicious soap dish with added emulsified food particles.

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about 1 year ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Hi Em -- I think you might have missed step 3, in which I wrote, "Rinse with very hot water and set in a dish drainer in a position that will allow the water to stream off of it." Agree that eating soap would not be fun!

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about 1 year ago Em Veraldi

So I did. Serves me right reading while sleepy! Sorry. It's one of my pet peeves that so many people wash their dishes and don't rinse them :(

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over 1 year ago carole

A few years ago I retired and moved from a large, well applianced kitchen to an apartment with a small kitchen with no dishwasher. My co-ops dishwashing, green dishwashing soap is even better when I add a tablespoon of Borax. It softens the water and helps get everything sparkling clean. My glasses, put bottom down to air dry are spotless in short order! The first time I used Borax, I couldn't believe my eyes. During the past month I have been eliminating cleaning products that contain toxic chemicals and making my own solutions based on a wealth of recipes on Pinterest.com. Vinegar, baking soda, dish soap and lemon juice are mixed in various ways to clean. Essential oils like lemon or lavender added to most solutions give me a boost as I clean ..... Lovely, really. My sponge goes into the microwave every day. Once a week I clean the microwave with lemon juice/water in a bowl for 10 minutes on high followed by a wipe down. Life is good!

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over 1 year ago Wilda Harrison

When I have a lot of dirty greasy dishes I add a little javel to my hot water and let my dishes soak for a few minutes before I wash and rinse them very well.

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over 1 year ago Heather

My roomamte never fills the sink when washing dishes but instead uses one of those sponge soap dispensers. It appears that the bottoms of plates and bowls are not washed and after being risnsed never put upside down to drain. Food is also not scraped off the dishes or cookware before washing so that the food collects in the partially covered drain.
I on the other hand put my dishes in the sink in hotter than I can usually stand for more than a second. I soak everything for a couple of minutes and wash the cutlery first rinsing as the sink fills more for the other dishes. Rinsing with very hot water also ensures the water evaprates quickly so that drying is quick and doesn't require using a dish towel.
My roommate believes her method is just fine and any suggestions otherwise have been dismissed, yet I frequently have to rewash something that I pull from the drawer or cupboard before using it.

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over 1 year ago Heather

Oh dear. Apparently I did not proofread before posting that, as I see letters reversed, letters missing and just generally a poorly composed note. I wil blame lack of sleep. :o/

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almost 2 years ago merilerole

Most dishwashers use water that's hotter than your bare hand could ever stand. And dries with a high heat. Less bacteria will survive that process than your fingers. Go for the high end appilances like Bosch. Your mother would be pleased.

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12 months ago ediblesprysky

Okay, I'll do that. A top-of-the-line stainless steel dishwasher is winging its way toward me as we speak. One tiny problem, though. My apartment has one wall (about 8 feet long) that comprises the kitchen area, including my stove, refrigerator, and all my cabinetry. I would immediately take a sledgehammer to my single under-counter cabinet in the pursuit of ever-cleaner dishes, but I think my landlord might object. Perhaps I could sneak the dishwasher into the communal laundry/bike storage room in the basement? I could share with the neighbors then--maybe if I ask real nice, they would even pitch in on the cost. Yes, I think this plan could work. I'll have to distract the super while the delivery guys bring it in and install it, but that's a small price to pay (perhaps literally, if it comes to bribes) to achieve truly clean dishes. Thank you for inspiring my ingenuity and showing me the way to true hygiene.

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almost 2 years ago sabu

You don't "ring" a dishrag or a sponge. You wring it.

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almost 2 years ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Simple typos -- all fixed now.

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almost 3 years ago Monika H

I like to use some sort of barrier in the SS sink to protect against glasses or dishes slipping and breaking whille washing. But using a plastic or rubber sink mat ends up attracting black mold and cleaning them is harder and more labor intensive than doing an entire load of dishes. Any other ideas?

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almost 3 years ago Monika H

I like to use some sort of barrier in the SS sink to protect against glasses or dishes slipping and breaking whille washing. But using a plastic or rubber sink mat ends up attracting black mold and cleaning them is harder and more labor intensive than doing an entire load of dishes. Any other ideas?

23b88974-7a89-4ef5-a567-d442bb75da04.avatar

almost 3 years ago Monika H

I like to use some sort of barrier in the SS sink to protect against glasses or dishes slipping and breaking whille washing. But using a plastic or rubber sink mat ends up attracting black mold and cleaning them is harder and more labor intensive than doing an entire load of dishes. Any other ideas?

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almost 3 years ago phyllis

So, my dishwasher has been out of commission for a week while we wait for a part to arrive. Ron and I have been washing the dishes by hand. No thought involved, but we follow the same plan as Amanda, except we use a sponge, and I put it into the microwave everyday. I feel cleaner and less prone to lingering bacteria using my dishwasher, but the dishes, etc., are very clean and non-greasy. I'm happy we are only two at the moment.

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almost 3 years ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Glad this method is working for you -- but, yes, hope the dishwasher is back in service asap!

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almost 3 years ago romanticf16

For the reader having trouble finding Chore Boy products- I find them and Fels Naptha Soap Bars at my local hardware store- not at the bog box chain stores but the local one like ACE.

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almost 3 years ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Thank you for this suggestion.

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almost 3 years ago romanticf16

For the reader having trouble finding Chore Boy products- I find them and Fels Naptha Soap Bars at my local hardware store- not at the bog box chain stores but the local one like ACE.