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How Hot Does Your Water *Actually* Need to Be to Clean Dishes?

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The house rules were simple: My mom or dad cooked dinner, my sister and I washed dishes. And almost every night we’d fight about the water temperature. I wanted to push the faucet as hot as it would go, turning my hands bright pink and pots and pans squeaky clean. My sister couldn’t handle the heat, and every time she presided over the sponge, my mom would call us back to rewash greasy bowls.

Eventually, we learned the best way to tackle the task (and keep bickering to a minimum) was a further division of labor—my sister loaded the dishwasher and put away leftovers, while I handled handwashing at the sink. But recently, as I was rewashing dishes my roommate had cleaned the night before (she's another lukewarm water fan), I found myself wondering: Have I taken this too far? Am I losing friends and alienating people by pushing them away from the sink? What if I don’t really need very hot water?

Curious, I contacted Dr. Pritish Tosh, Infectious Diseases Physician and Researcher at the Mayo Clinic (and an avid home cook!). What I learned mildly horrified me: my water wasn't hot enough.

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

“To completely sanitize something, you need to wash in 150°F water for 20 minutes," Tosh told me. "The human body can’t withstand that," but it is something your dishwasher can do.

Since many of us are the only dishwashers in the kitchen, Tosh had some tips to clean by hand.

  • Wash dishes with soap and use as high of a temperature as you can stand.
  • Keep two separate sponges, one for cleaning items that have touched raw meat and one for everything else.
  • More importantly, avoid cross contamination. A sponge is a moist area that—because it has been in contact with food, a nutritional source for bacteria—is a prime location for bacteria like salmonella to thrive.
  • Use enough soap to create a lather, and make sure to clean every part of the item (like the handles).
  • Clean as you cook to avoid bacteria drying and sticking onto utensils as biofilm.
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Oh, and don’t keep either of those sponges around for too long: “Once they smell funky, throw them out,” he says.

That’s a new simple rule I can follow. And I can't wait to tell my sister.

How much heat can you handle in the kitchen? Are you as surprised as I am?

Tags: Spring Clean Your Life