Washing Dishes in Cold Water? 12 Reasons You Should Stop

Why hot water is necessary to safely disinfect your dishes

drying rack and dishes

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

While you can wash dishes in cold water and soap to get them relatively clean, especially if you efficiently scrub them, in general it is better to use hot dishwashing water. Among other benefits, hot water can clean and sanitize dishes better than cold water can.

Here are 12 reasons why you need hot water to wash dishes.

Reasons to Use Hot Water When Washing Dishes

  • Hot Water Cuts Grease

    One key way hot water cleans better than cold is with cooking oils and fats. They solidify when they get cold, which can make them hard to scrape off dishes. So you don't want to run cold water over them. Let greasy pans and other dishes soak for a bit in hot water (plus preferably a grease-fighting dish soap), and watch that grease dissolve.

  • The Heat Reduces Drying Time

    Once all the grime is removed, dishes can be rinsed in either hot or cold water. However, something to keep in mind is hot water generally dries more quickly on dishes than warm or cool water does. This can allow you to skip hand-drying your dishes. And if you need to use or put away your dishes soon after washing them, hot water is the way to go to ensure dryness.

  • You'll Cut Down on Water Spots

    Because hot water dries faster, you'll be less likely to get water spots and streaks on your dishes and glasses. Hard water is often the culprit behind water spots, as it leaves mineral deposits as it dries. The less time the water is on the dish or glass, the lighter the spot will be.

  • Heat Can Kill Germs

    Hot water can kill bacteria and other microorganisms. But typically the temperature necessary to kill pathogens is too hot for our hands to handle as dishwashing water. According to the FDA, a temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit is best to wash dishes if your goal is to sanitize them with the heat. So if you have a heated sanitize setting on your dishwasher, that is where using hot water will come in handy.

  • Dish Soap Often Works Better in Hot Water

    Many dish soaps work better in hot water. This is especially true of powdered detergents. The heat helps to dissolve the soap, allowing it to more effectively coat your dishes as you scrub.

  • You'll Use Less Soap

    Because hot water can make dish soap more effective, that means you can use less of it. Instead of having to glob on soap to get a good lather on your dishes, you should only need a few drops. You'll save money on your products while still getting the same level of clean on your dishes.

  • You'll Avoid Cloudy Glasses and Dishes

    Using too much soap in dishwashing water can result in cloudy glasses and dishes. And cold water is more likely to leave behind soap residue than hot water. The heat breaks down the soap, so it rinses away more easily.

  • Hot Water Helps to Prevent Food Stains

    Just like you generally wash stained clothing in the hottest water the fabric can handle, hot water also can help to dissolve stains on dishes. The key is to get the food-stained dish into hot water as soon as possible. This can help to minimize the amount of soap and scrubbing you'll need.

  • Hot Water Can Lift Sticky Foods

    Like oils and grease, sticky foods such as jelly and honey get harder when they're cold. This can make them adhere better to a dish. But if you use hot dishwashing water to heat them up, they'll become thinner and easier to remove.

  • You'll Be Less Likely to Damage Dishes

    Instead of scrubbing and scraping at stubborn stains and stuck-on food, hot water can do some of the work for you. Consequently, you'll be less likely to scratch or otherwise damage dishes in the process. This can even help save you from accidentally dropping dishes; instead, you can just set them in the sink, and let the water work its magic.

  • You'll Likely Save Some Water

    Because hot water can effectively blast away grease and food particles—and it can improve the function of your dish soap—you'll probably be finished with your dishes faster. Thus, you'll save some water compared to if you had used cold dishwashing water. The tradeoff, of course, is the energy necessary to heat the water.

  • You Won't Freeze Your Hands

    Yes, scalding water isn't comfortable on the skin. But neither is icy water. Rather than freezing your hands, you can enjoy dishwashing water temperatures similar to the hot water you use in the shower.


Here are some tips to get your dishes looking their best:

  • Don't let food dry and harden on dishes. Either wash it off right away, or leave it to soak in soap and water.
  • Fill your sink or dishpan with your hottest water and a squirt of grease-cutting dish soap. Put the dishes in to soak. When the water cools enough to be tolerable for you, most of the stuck-on food and grease will already have lifted from the dishes.
  • Wear two pairs of rubber gloves if you're extra sensitive to water temperature.
  • If your water is super hot or doesn't seem to heat up enough, check the temperature on your hot water heater. Adjust it if necessary.
Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Making Water Safe in an EmergencyCenters for Disease Control and Prevention.

  2. Food Code. Food and Drug Administration.