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Handwashing Dishes: Why You've Been Doing It Wrong & How to Get it Right

Published on 10th November 2017

You may think that an article on handwashing dishes is pretty trivial, but with an estimated 19.7 million dishwashers sold in 2012 alone, the art of handwashing dishes has become lost in many households.

With so much reliance on this convenient device, you might find yourself at a bit of an impasse if it breaks. If practice makes perfect, then having your dishwasher busting those suds for you all of these years may have fortuitously created imperfection in this arena. And let’s say you don’t have a dishwasher, or that you have one and don’t use it often, chances are you are not handwashing your dishes as effectively and efficiently as you could. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide to tackle those dishes "hand-on":

  1. To begin, it’s vital that you scrape off any food particles from your dishware before cleaning. You will not only achieve a better cleanse, you will avoid food gathering in your sink drain, which can clog as a result.
  2. Once food has been removed, sort your glassware, plates, bowls, plastics, silverware, and pots and pans.
  3. For pots, pans and plastics with a greasy film, fill them with hot, soapy water and place them to the side, perhaps on the sink counter or stove. You’ll come back to them later, but in the meantime soaking will allow the foamy water to eat up any grease and soften tacked on foods.
  4. Put a stopper in the sink and now fill it with hot, soapy water. The Honest Company’s Lemon Verbena Dish Soap, with its plant-based, ultra-concentrated formula, is a powerhouse. Chock full of coconut surfactants, the suds it produces each act like mini workers—and they take their grime-fighting jobs seriously. Caked on messes, no problem. A thick layer of grease, it can be handled. Milk and formula residues, taken care of. Just add 1 oz. to make 3 gallons of all-purpose soapy water.
  5. Place your silverware, plates, bowls, and glassware into the water. Let them sit for approximately 10 to 15 minutes to allow the suds and hot water to penetrate any mess. Trust, it will make your job much easier when you return.
  6. With a sponge, rub over each dish separately, going from back to front or outside to in. Why this order? Because the backs and outsides contain less filth. The general rule of thumb when it comes to dishwashing is to leave the dirtier surfaces for last.
  7. Rinse those dishes—plates, bowls, and glassware separately; silverware can be done in bunches—under a running facet. Turn the facet off, however, while in the act of cleaning. But if you want to be extra kind to our environment, fill the other side of the sink with clean, hot water and dip/rinse your scrubbed dishes in it.
  8. Now place them in your dish rack. Glassware and bowls should be placed upside down to ensure all of the water drains out. Plates, of course, should be placed upright. Do not stack dishes on top of one another as this can delay drying time and result in dishes fracturing from touching one another.
  9. Allow your dishes to air-dry, or you may wish to dry them manually with a clean cloth.
  10. Put your dishware away promptly to prevent breaks and clutter—glassware first, followed by plates, bowls, and silverware.
  11. After you’ve finished the last step, move on to your plastics, then your pots and pans. You may wish to drain the water you’ve previously used and start with fresh, hot, soapy water. Or, you may want to reuse the water you started with if it is not utterly filthy. Repeat steps 6 through 10. 

Boost your cleaning potential with these extra tips:

• Filling the sink with sudsy water rather than cleaning one dish at a time under a running facet, saves water and reduces the amount of soap you use. 

• There should be an order to which dishes you wash first. Glassware and clear glass plates should go first. Next, clean any other plates as well as serving ware. Save greasy dishes, pots, and pans for last.

• Pay close attention to grooves, corners, and slits—all areas where food and beverages like to nestle.

• Baby bottles should always be cleaned independently from all of YOUR dishes, and rather than wash them in your sink, where they can be contaminated, consider investing in a portable dish pan.

• Letting dishes soak in hot, soapy water will loosen up caked on foods, and rinsing with hot water will increase the likelihood that your silverware and glassware will dry without spots and streaks.

• There is an exception to the hot water rule: Cold water should be used to rinse off dairy products and starches, as they become tackier in hot water. One useful hack is to soak denture cleaner in them (even baby bottles) overnight, then scrub the next day.

• Soak pots and pans right after use. The longer you take, the more time grease and food has to harden and attach themselves. For a super punch, rub salt into your pots and pans with a dry sponge before bathing. The salt will absorb the grease and its abrasive qualities will help scuff away food particles.

• Use a rust-proof drying rack and put a baking sheet with 1-inch vertical sides underneath. The sides will ensure water does not spill out onto the counter, and because the sheet is mildew-resistant, it will work better than a towel or plastic/rubber tray.