How To Clean Dishes the Right Way

just-washed dishes and pans

​The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 5 - 15 mins
  • Total Time: 10 mins - 1 hr
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0 to $5

Washing the dishes on a daily basis, even by hand, not only keeps you healthy by eliminating bacteria found in old, lingering food, but your overall kitchen will look and smell cleaner, too. Dishwashing is made a lot easier by 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.

How Often To Clean 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.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Double sink or dishpan
  • Dishcloths, scrubbers, sponges, or steel wool
  • Dish rack
  • Lint-free cloth for silverware


  • Dish soap
  • Hot water
  • Paper towels


How To Clean Dishes

materials for dish washing
The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija
  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.

    scraping extra food off plates
    The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija 
  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 or just until the hot water has begun to cool down. You can also replace hot water in the sink as it cools.

    soaking dishes with stuck-on food
    ​The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija
  3. Run a Sink or Dishpan of Hot Water

    Place the stopper in the sink and run the water (as hot as possible, but not so hot that you are uncomfortable) 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.


    Wearing rubber cleaning gloves while handwashing dishes can allow you to wash with slightly hotter water.

    filling a dish pan with warm water
    ​The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija
  4. Wash Lightly 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 them to the rinse basin. Knives should be washed one by one and carefully placed in the drying rack.

    washing the lightest items first
    The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija 
  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 no suds are left.

    washing dishes with a scrub brush
    ​The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija 
  6. Wash Pots, Pans, and Cookware

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

    scrubbing a saucepan
    The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija 
  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.

    rinsing a bowl clean
    ​The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija
  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 dishtowel. Make sure the towel is clean. Change the towel when it becomes damp. Use a lint-free cloth for drying silverware.

    drying dishes
    ​The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija
  9. Put Away Dishes

    Put all of the dishes, utensils, and cookware away in your cabinets.

    putting away dishes
    ​The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija
  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.

    wiping down the sink
    The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija

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.
  • Don't soak your dishes for long at all or the hot water will become tepid and bacteria on the dishes will be allowed to grow and spread.
  • 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 they are dry. This keeps them from picking up dust, dirt, or grease.
  • Replace sponges, scrubbers, and dishcloths frequently so you aren't washing with dirty tools.

Removing Coffee and Tea Stains From Cups

When you're handwashing dishes, you may notice stubborn coffee and tea stains in your cups and mugs. You might even find red wine or dark beer stains on the inside of your drinkware. All of these stains are tannin-based. Tannins are organic compounds that can stain several materials, including glass, porcelain, and even stainless steel. There are several ways to eliminate tannin stains:

  • Baking soda: Create a paste of water and baking soda, water and salt, or a combination, and use a scrubbing sponge to clean the stains, then wash and rinse thoroughly.
  • Bleach: Soak items for two hours in a basin of 2 tablespoons chlorine bleach and 1 gallon of water, then wash and rinse thoroughly.
  • Vinegar: Scrub the stains with white vinegar (do not mix with chlorine bleach), then wash and rinse as usual.
  • Melamine sponge: Use a slightly dampened melamine sponge to scrub away the stains, then wash and dry as usual.