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What's the Best Way to Wash Dishes?

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Scrub-a-dub-dub!
Scrub-a-dub-dub! Photo by Mark Weinberg

Welcome to Spring Clean Your Life, your one-stop shop for gotta-try-those tips & bookmark-me inspiration to spruce up your kitchen and home this season—and well beyond.


Dish washing, surprisingly, is a subject that has the unique ability to drum up conversation. What appears simple, mundane even, is anything but. Take, for example, our own Amanda Hesser who, in her book Cooking for Mr. Latte, describes the unique anxiety that watching someone else wash dishes can ignite:

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“He does like to wash dishes. But this has only compounded the problem. Since I do not have a dishwasher, the dishes must be done by hand. We have different methods. Mr. Latte washes dishes in an empty sink with a soapy sponge, then risnes them. I, on the other hand, rinse the dishes, then fill the sink with very hot soapy water and scrub them with a dishcloth or coarse sponge before rinsing them again.”

I kind of vibe with her. There’s really nothing as frustrating as watching someone mess with a process you might otherwise have down pat (control freaks, raise your hands!). Dishwashing is definitely one of those duties. Amanda’s approach is specific: She loads a sink with dirty dishes then drowns them all in warm, sudsy water. One by one, she picks out the pieces and gives them a good scrub with a dish towel before placing them on a drying rack. Read more about her technique here:

The Only Way You Should Wash Your Dishes
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The Only Way You Should Wash Your Dishes

But Amanda’s just one person. I was curious to see how the other half lives scrubs. Just recently, I learned a new cleaning method that’s turning my dish washing routine on its head. It actually comes from the father of a friend, a man whose guiding light is efficiency. He gives all his dishes a good rinse in the sink then turns off the faucet and soaps up his sponge. With the water off, he scrubs all his dirty dishes, coating them in bubbles and stacking them in a pile next to the sink. Next, he turns the faucet back on and rinses each dish, one by one, under hot water and organizes them to dry. His method is good because it doesn’t waste water—or time—and makes sure no resources are wasted while you, the dishwasher, idle. I like where he’s coming from, so I’ve folded this technique into my daily ritual. But what do other staff members think? Where do they stand on the matter? I asked them:

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  • Connor, Social Media Manager: “Work from smallest to largest dishes. Makes organizing the dish rack easier, in my opinion.”
  • Eunice, our Director of Brand Activation, countered sharply: “I'm the opposite. I get all the large dishes out of the way so I can stack the small ones on top of the large ones in my drying rack (or dry the large ones separately). Then wash all the utensils last since they usually end up on the bottom of the sink.”

Hmm. They’ve both got a point, size definitely does matter. Especially when it comes to order. I could see how, when stacking and arranging a dish rack, starting small is the way to go. However, I totally know where Eunice is coming from when she talks about all those utensils that wind up on the bottom of the sink. It’s almost like gravity works better on your forks, knives, spoons—I’m often left with a basin full of dirty flatware begging to be cleaned. As for preferred washing utensils:

  • Eunice had more opinions: “Steel wool FTW with stainless steel pots & pans!”
  • While Hana, our Senior Lifestyle Editor, swore by one item: "Korean rubber gloves, always.”
  • Joyce, our Digital Ad Ops Manager, was a fellow Korean glove supporter and like Eunice, preferred washing big to small.

The debate doesn't just end there, however. It seems another facet of the dishwashing debacle had yet to rear its ugly head: Does one soap the sponge then wet it or wet the sponge then soap it? I'll admit, I'd never given any thought to this particular brand of cleaning quandary, but it seemed some staffers had a thing or two to say:

  • Karen, Executive Assistant, had this to say: "My husband puts soap on the sponge and then lets water run over the soaped up sponge before washing the dishes?! Isn't that a waste of soap? I wet the sponge and then add soap."

  • Meanwhile our office manager, Nick, is quite the opposite: "My mother won't let me wash the dishes at home because I put soap in the sponge and run hot water on it and it infuriates her."

Sponges, in general, seemed to provoke fierce emotions: "Always squeeze out the sponge after you use it! Nothing is worse than a cold, soaking wet sponge," said Managing Editor, Joanna. Meanwhile, Jackson, our Associate Buyer, stuck by his principles: "Really try to rinse everything off the dish before I use the sponge on it because I hate when food gets caught in a sponge (especially things like cheese). Also, only use a dish sponge for doing dishes, never use that sponge for wiping down counters, etc."

You Won’t Believe How Often You Should Be Replacing Your Kitchen Sponge
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You Won’t Believe How Often You Should Be Replacing Your Kitchen Sponge

And then because no good saga is over without a twist, our data analyst, Sarah, surprised me with the mention of a product I had never heard of: “I'm particular about drying. I don't use a drying rack because I know it will sit for long and they can be difficult to clean. And I don't like drying mats because I don't think they're very clean. I use a roller mat. I roll it over half my sink to dry. It also forces you to put dishes away quicker to have full usage of the sink. Also they’re really easy to clean and store the roller mat.” Interesting take, I can’t say I’ve ever heard of roller mats, but I’m definitely intrigued.

But I think Kaitlyn, our Senior Account Manager, had the best response. Her approach is definitely more hands-off: "Does just putting them in the dishwasher count as a technique?"

No matter how you slice it, we’ve all got our own way of scrubbing. Some are careful to clean the bottom of their dishes and others would simply pay that no mind. It’s safe to say there’s no correct method, just the way that works best for you. The only thing I’m going to have to say is a requisite, is that the dish comes out clean. We can at least agree on that, right?

Reusable Pot Scrubbers (Set of 5)

Reusable Pot Scrubbers (Set of 5)

$30
Dish Brush

Dish Brush

$33
Glass Brush

Glass Brush

$33
Unpaper Towels (Set of 16)

Unpaper Towels (Set of 16)

$40

What’s your dish washing approach? Tell us how you clean in the comments below.

Tags: Kitchen Hacks, Spring Clean Your Life