Are You Washing Your Dishes the *Right* Way?

stack of dish scrubbers

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A scientist shares how you’re really supposed to sanitize your dishware.

Washing dishes isn’t rocket science — what’s so puzzling about scrubbing leftovers off a dirty plate, drying it off, and putting it back in the cabinet? If you’re fortunate enough to have a dishwasher, then most of the grunt work gets done for you. Or, have we been doing it wrong all this time?

There is an art to making sure your pots, pans, and plates don’t become a playground for bacteria, viruses, and mold to fester. Remember when Covid first hit and we were wiping down our groceries with Clorox before placing them in the pantry? Well, there was a similar emphasis on practicing good kitchen hygiene and food safety because viruses can spread in dirty conditions. 

Whether you wash your dishes by hand or use a dishwasher (which, by the way, is more energy-efficient), there are certain steps you should follow, like not clumping cutlery together in the dishwasher basket.  

To clear the air on the most efficient way to disinfect bowls, blenders, and baking trays, we chatted with Morgan Eberhard, a home care scientist at P&G. The cleansing whiz gives tips on how to properly load your dishwasher, the benefits of “cleaning as you go,” and ways to wash that’ll help prevent an expensive visit from the plumber.

Katie Couric Media: So, what’s the proper way to clean your dishes?

Morgan Eberhard: 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.

What’s the best way to maintain a clean kitchen and sink?  

One of the easiest ways 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 percent of people in the U.S. 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 clean 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.

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 four gallons of water every two minutes, and the dishwasher uses less than four gallons of water in an entire cycle. 

Dishwashers are also 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.

What are your recommendations for washing dishes by hand?  

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, is there a proper way to load your dishwasher for maximum cleanliness?

There absolutely is!

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 Plus, it’s not necessary to pre-rinse or pre-wash items you are putting into the dishwasher. Just scrape, load, and you’re done.

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.

Be careful with fragile items: Fragile items like glass should typically be reserved for the top rack of any dishwasher.

Load 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.

More tips are explained in this video:

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 to. 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.