How to Wash Dishes

A woman washing dishes at a sink
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Dishwashing is made a lot easier having the right dishwashing supplies on hand and washing them in the correct order. By following a set sequence you will ensure the wash water stays cleaner for longer with fewer water changes. You'll save time and you won't end up with a greasy residue on the final items.

What You Need

  • Dish soap
  • Hot water
  • Double sink or dishpan
  • Dishcloths, scrubbers, sponges, steel wool
  • Dishrack
  • Lint-free cloth for silverware
  • Paper towels to dry pots and pans

How Often to Wash Dishes

Wash dirty dishes at least daily if you are handwashing them. This will prevent food from becoming dried on and hard to wash off. As well, it prevents the growth of bacteria and fungus in the leftover food particles and keeps them from attracting insects and other pests. You can choose to wash dishes and cookware after each meal or cooking session if you prefer. If you use a dishwasher, you can get by with washing dishes every other day as the dishwasher reaches temperatures hot enough to kill bacteria and mold, which you can't achieve when handwashing.

How to Wash Dishes by Hand

  1. Scrape Excess Food

    To avoid polluting your wash water, begin by scraping the dishes of excess food. Stack the dishes in preparation for washing.

  2. Soak Stuck-on Food

    If after scraping you note stuck-on food on some items, set them aside for soaking. Run a little water with a few drops of dishwashing liquid to pre-soak items that need this treatment. An exception: Aluminum should not soak as doing so can darken the finish. Give the dishes 15 to 30 minutes to soak.

  3. Run a Sink or Dishpan of Hot Water

    Place the stopper in the sink and run water (as hot as is still comfortable) until it is half full. Add dish soap to the water in the amount recommended on the instruction label. Be sure the other side of a double sink is clean and available for rinsing, or prepare a dishpan of rinse water.

  4. Wash the Lightest Soiled Items

    The items that are lightly soiled usually include glasses, cups, and flatware. Washing these items first keeps your water fresher and ready to tackle bigger jobs. Place as many of these items as fit under the soapy water in the sink. This will allow them a bit of soaking time before you wash them. Using a sponge or scrubber, wash one item at a time under the soapy water. Bring them out of the water to check for spots before transferring to rinse basin. Knives should be washed one by one and carefully placed in the drying rack.

  5. Wash Plates, Bowls, and Serving Dishes

    Next, wash plates, bowls, and serving dishes gently with your sponge or scrubber. Keep an eye out for when you should change the dishwashing water. Change it if it appears greasy or there are no suds remaining.

  6. Wash Pots, Pans, and Cookware

    Any cookware with tough food residue should have been soaking already. Wash the pans thoroughly.

  7. Rinse the Dishes

    If you have a double sink, use the second sink to rinse off the dishwashing suds from the dishes. If you don't have a double sink, you can use a dishpan filled with hot water to dip and rinse your dishes. You do not want any suds remaining.

  8. Dry the Dishes

    If you've used hot water to rinse, the dishes will dry quickly on their own. In some instances, you may have to use a dish towel. Make sure the towel is clean. Change the towel when it becomes damp. Use a lint-free cloth for drying silverware.

  9. Put Away Dishes

    Put all of the dishes, utensils, and cookware away.

  10. Wipe Down the Sink and Tools

    Wipe down the sink, dish drainer, and dishpan. Any rags, dishcloths, or sponges need to be left out to air dry or thrown into the washing machine.

  11. Put away your supplies, and you're done!

Tips to Keep Your Dishes Clean Longer

  • Don't forget to clean the bottoms of pans. Any oily residue left will burn onto the bottom of the pan at the next cooking session, not only blackening the pan but also sending the residue into the air to soil kitchen surfaces and dishes.
  • Replace the wash water when it becomes greasy or if the suds disappear. This will help ensure your dishes are clean and free of that residue.
  • Dry pots and pans with a paper towel to reduce residue from the pan staining the dishcloth and then depositing grime on your other clean dishes.
  • Put clean dishes away as soon as dry. This keeps them from picking up dust, dirt, or grease.
  • Replace sponges, scrubbers, and dishclothes frequently so you aren't washing with dirty tools.