You Might Not Be Washing Your Dishes Properly

washing dishes

A home care scientist on how to sanitize utensils

Our Wake-Up Call newsletter (subscribe here!) recently broke down how to properly do your laundry — and today, we’re tackling another aspect of cleaning that many of us have wondered about during the coronavirus pandemic: How, exactly, should we be washing our dishes right now? To find out, we chatted with Morgan Brashear, a home care scientist at P&G. She explained how to properly sanitize your utensils amid the Covid-19 outbreak.


Wake-Up Call: We’re living in quite a different world right now. Under normal circumstances, what’s the proper way to clean your dishes?

Morgan Brashear: Whether you’re washing dishes by hand or in a dishwasher, it’s important to make sure that the soap comes into contact with all surfaces of the dish to properly clean it.

In the dishwasher, this means avoiding overcrowding and loading the dishes, so that the water source, which is typically in the center of the machine, is able to reach and spray each dish.

For hand dishwashing, you can either create a sudsy solution in the sink or your largest dish — or apply the dish soap directly to the dish or sponge and scrub each one individually — ensuring you get all sides, and inside hard-to-reach items, like reusable water bottles and coffee mugs.

Many of us are using a lot more dishes now that we’re home a lot of the time and cooking for ourselves. How might we want to change our dish-washing routine right now?

Many people find the easiest way to stay on top of your dishes when you’re cooking more at home is to use the ‘Clean As You Go’ method. Cleaning up prep dishes while your meal is still cooking not only saves time, but prevents your dishes from piling up in the sink to tackle later.

This is such a popular dishwashing method (more than 60% of people in the US say they clean as they go) that we created a product specifically to make that easier — Dawn Powerwash Dish Spray. This new formula works as a spray foam to start cleaning dishes on contact — with no need for water until the final rinse. So if you’re cleaning as you go, there’s no need to fill up a sink with water — you can just spray, wipe and rinse to get out of the kitchen faster.

If you’re living with someone that has Covid-19, the CDC recommends you shouldn’t use the same dishes. Any tips for handling dishes exposed to the virus?

Keeping dishes and utensils clean is an important part of practicing good kitchen hygiene and food safety — for everyone. The CDC has been issuing guidance on how to handle dishes during this time — the latest from them can be found here.

What are the benefits of using a dishwasher, if you have one?

It just depends on how you clean, what products are available to you, and how much time you have! If you have a dishwasher, that can certainly help save you time, water and energy. In fact, even if a dishwasher isn’t completely full, it’s more water and energy-efficient than washing dishes by hand — since a running sink uses 4 gallons of water every two minutes, and the dishwasher uses less than four gallons of water in an entire cycle. Additionally, dishwashers are designed to clean at high temperatures, and yours might include a sanitization cycle. It’s definitely worth checking out your dishwasher’s manual to learn more about your specific cycles.

Could you provide some thorough steps on how to wash with soap and water?

The first thing you’ll want to do is gather a few materials: a sponge, a drying rack, and for best results, a concentrated dish liquid like Dawn.

Some people also prefer to wear dish gloves, but that comes down to preference. Next, you’ll want to save your drain and prevent an expensive visit from the plumber, by scraping leftover food into the trash and transferring used cooking oils and grease into a separate container for disposal. Liquid grease congeals when it cools, blocking drains and pipes.

Now you’re ready to wash! Dampen your sponge with warm water, then wring it out and add a few drops of dish liquid directly onto the soft side of the sponge. Scrunch it a few times to disperse the soap throughout the sponge and to create suds. Then you’re able to scrub, rinse, and place in a drying rack.

And speaking of that, is there a proper way to load your dishwasher for maximum cleanliness?

There absolutely is! Tips for proper loading can be found here. But here’s a quick round-up:

  • Remove Excess Food. Using a wooden spatula, scrape off as much stuck-on food from your dishes as you can muster into the garbage. Think of it as a gym workout.
  • Skip the Pre-Rinse. When using a premium auto dishwashing product like Cascade Platinum ActionPacs, it’s not necessary to pre-rinse or pre-wash items you are putting into the dishwasher.
  • Load the Bottom Rack. Put plates and messy pots and pans on the bottom rack facing the water source. Typically, the water source is in the center of the machine.
  • Load the Top Rack. Place cups, mugs, and bowls face down on the top rack.
  • Careful with fragile items. Fragile items like glasses should typically be reserved for the top rack of any dishwasher.
  • Loading the Silverware Basket. Mix up the silverware compartments by distributing different types of utensils evenly to prevent nesting. You don’t want your spoons to spoon.
  • Save Your Skin. Sharp cutlery and utensils should always be loaded face down. Knives are meant for cutting cheese, not your fingers.

What are the risks of leaving dishes in the sink for a while?

Food on dishes sitting out for a while can attract flies, ants, and other insects, and, if left out for long enough, can start to mold. For best hygiene practices, it is recommended to clean dishes as quickly as you’re able. Not to mention, the longer dishes sit with food on them, the tougher it can be to remove the food later!

What’s the best way to make sure the area in and around our sink is properly sanitized?

You can use Dawn to clean more than just dishes. Use your dish soap and warm water to clean down the sink and the surrounding countertops after each use. If you have a garbage disposal, you can freshen it as well by pouring a squirt of Dawn into the drain and letting it sit for 30 seconds. Then run the disposal with water into it for a few minutes until all suds have disappeared.


This originally appeared on Medium.com