The ultimate guide to dish-washing

If you are naive enough to think that washing dishes is no rocket science, maybe you are one of those people who does it all wrong :).

I accept that maybe I am under some mysterious spell that only allows me to observe people who are fully incapable of performing the simple ritual of cleansing a used kitchen utensil properly, but until this day I have not witnessed a single person (be it a flatmate, a guest, someone I stayed with or any other person in any other setting), besides my mother, close the kitchen tap leaving behind a set of perfectly clean dishes. And I am not even anal about cleanliness to begin with (just come see how my room looks like 🙂 ).

If you happen to be the more affluent type who possesses a dishwasher, consider the fact that some items cannot be washed in those, and at times those that can be come out with crusted bits of food dried dead to them, too. So even you might just as well find something useful below.

Upon (yet another session of) re-washing some of the dishes previously ‘washed’ by someone else, I got inspired to lay it all out bare: all the things I saw people do wrong and how to do them better. Hence, here comes the ultimate guide to dish-washing!

Part 1: The sponge

If you are a minority who uses only bare hands to wash the dishes, you may skip this section. If you are a regular Earthling who uses a sponge, a wash-cloth or a special brush – pretty much anything else but your hands, in other words – to do the deed, then read on. For the purpose of keeping it brief, I’d use only ‘sponge’, but pretty much the same applies to anything else you use, so…

Guess what…

…is the dirtiest item in most households? (hint: usually the toilet is actually ranking below most others…)

In may well be your computer keyboard in your case, but it is just as likely to be whatever you wash your dishes with. And the sink itself. And the surfaces on which you handle any thermally unprocessed food items. Does that sound concerning just yet?

It should. Your washing aid may carry anything on it from harmless dirt to all sorts of germs, including poisonous fungi (that may cause anything from allergies to rashes to digestion problems) and deadly bacteria (e-coli, anyone?). Oh-oh… And the number of dead wrong things people do to their sponges is amazing (notice we’re not even at the washing the dishes bit yet!)

1. Keeping it retro

How old is your sponge? Was your answer given in years, months or weeks? Ideally, it should be weeks. If you are on a tighter budget and think that you can save on sponges, then it may be months. Over half a year, however, and you should only handle it in a radiation-proof special protection suit!

The older your sponge, the more stuff lives inside it and multiplies. If you think that a bit of washing soapy stuff it is exposed to reliably prevents a bacterial zoo from flourishing, you should go back to school and take biology classes. The grease and micro particles of food provide enough nutrients and protection to enough germs, rest assured.

What to do?

1. Change your sponge every 2 months tops.

2. After every dish-washing session, rinse out the sponge, then drip a drop of washing solution onto it, foam thoroughly and rinse again. Wring dry (never ever leave the sponge wet and/or inside the sink) and put somewhere away from where water can drip onto it.

3. Once every few days use something like Domestos to rinse the sponge instead. And while you’re at it, disinfect the sink and kitchen table at least once a week.

4. If you handle fresh meat of any sorts, then use disinfecting agent on the sponge, the sink and the kitchen table right away. You might add a drop of it onto the sponge while washing dishes that you used for handling raw meats, too – it won’t kill you (but it might if you don’t 😉 ).

2. Director’s cut

You shred your sponge into pieces before it’s even a week old. How? By using it on the sharp side of the knife blade and poking forks into it!

What to do?

1. When you wash knives, fold the sponge over the dull edge of the knife blade (duh), move back and forth to clean. Or don’t fold at all, but make sure you only move the sponge either along the blade and/or in direction from dull to sharp.

2. Same principle applies to forks – move the sponge either perpendicular to the fork blades or along them only towards the tips. If something is stuck between the fork blades and you need to rub up and down along the blades, you don’t need to rub the entire blade length shredding the sponge along the way – simply rub the small area that is in need of that with smaller movements.

3. Grease ease

It might have been a popular musical, but on sponges it feeds bacteria. The remaining grease just the same feeds bacteria on the dishes that it stays on, by the way. There are many ways you can break this law of the sponge, including:

1. When washing something very greasy, you use the sponge right away.

2. You drip washing agent onto the sponge and directly proceed to wash something.

3. You keep on washing after your sponge stops foaming with washing agent.

4. When you rinse something oily off, you leave the sponge in the sink.

5. If you pour a bunch of water in then wash dishes in it, you leave the sponge to float in the water when not used.

6. You rinse the dishes off with the sponge.

What to do?

None of the above, obviously. The right approach would be:

1. When faced with something greasy, leave the sponge till the end (specific approach to meta-grease is described in Part 2 of the guide).

2. When you start, drip the washing agent on and foam it (by squeezing a few times) up on the whole sponge.

3. Never wait till the sponge stops foaming up completely. When the foam is thinning and residual, rinse the sponge fully clean, then add a few more drips of washing agent, squeeze the sponge a few times to spread it around and foam it up (as in tip 2) and carry on. If you only have one or two items left to wash that are relatively clean, you can just add a little drop of washing agent to finish them off.

4. Your sponge, whenever you are not using it, must remain outside the sink and away from water. Even while you are washing the dishes. It otherwise has the tendency to soak up all residual impurities and grease from everything that floats its way.

5. Skip the sponge when rinsing – it absorbs and spreads any residual grease otherwise.

Part 2. The washing process

1. Water heck is the matter?

Unless you have no other option whatsoever, do NOT wash dishes in cold water (unless you’re washing off raw egg 😉 ). Even the glasses you ‘only drank water from’. That is, if you want them clean, of course.

Any grease (which includes the natural oily secretion from your own skin – that same stuff that makes your keyboard yucky, btw, and feeds the scary germs, remember?) is highly resistant to being washed off by cold water. Even when water is just tepid, the task gets in orders of magnitude easier. So if you want to wash off the fingerprints, lip-prints (or lip-balm…or lipstick…or lip gloss… you catch the drift 😉 ) or anything at all from your ‘just water’ glasses, or anything else at all – use warm water.

If you wash in warm water but rinse in cold – you are defeating the purpose, too. Therefore, rinse with warm water as well. general rule is, the warmer the surfaces you work with – the easier they are to wash clean.

2. No pressure!

Are you capable of a handshake? Then you should be capable of exerting some pressure on the washed surface! Simply gliding the sponge over the surface won’t miraculously rub off anything that is on it (grease included). Unless you are handling a precious crystal-glass champagne set, pressing a bit harder on most kitchen stuff won’t destroy it – but might help with keeping it clean.

3. The other side

You think that if you only used one side of the plate and one end of the fork, you only need to wash that side and that end? Reality check: in most cases, whatever it is you used has to be washed, soap and all, on ALL sides.

Why? Because while you’re handling it during serving or eating, you inevitably touch it all round. Whatever foods, oils or else you transfer there will stay and accumulate if your tactic is to only wash off the ‘dirty side’. I cannot even count how many times I would grab a ‘freshly washed’ knife or fork from the dryer just to have it either nearly slip through my fingers (in some of the extreme cases) or at least be greasy enough to evoke a ‘yuck!’ reaction.

Finally, especially if you stash dirty dishes one upon another before washing, or wash them in a sink full of water, then don’t even think about leaving anything unrubbed by the foamy sponge!

And a special note on the rim of the glasses and cups: fold the sponge over it, press and rub. The number and variety of lip-prints I’ve had to scrub off of the presumably clean drinking vessels may excite the forensic team of the CSI, but for some reason (maybe because I won’t make it to the CSI team even in my dreams 🙂 ) I’m a bit less thrilled.

4. This needs just a rinse…

Water glass?.. Nope – if a mouth touched it, wash it. Otherwise it’d get yucky.

The only things you are legally allowed to simply rinse off with just water and nothing else are items you have handled with clean hands and very briefly, used for dry foods (exemption does not apply to oily items like chips or cakes and the like), fresh uncut fruits or similarly ‘harmless’ purposes. Everything else should undergo the proper washing.

5. Go for the dirtiest one!

It may be a good tactic if you’re choosing a mate for some kinky action, but not for the ‘simple’ task of washing dishes…

In other words, there is order to any dirty-dish chaos. Order in which things should be washed so as to not spread the dirt from one dirtiest item washed in the beginning to everything else that was relatively clean. So…

1. Start with the cleanest items and those least greasy. This normally includes cups, glasses and anything else almost clean.

2. Ideally, if you are piling up the dishes to wash or you dump them into a water-filled sink, you should separate the cleanest stuff from anything greasy and dirty to begin with. Try to keep the dirtiest items near the bottom of the sink, if you wash dishes under running water, or at least place them there before you begin, with cleanest stuff on top.

3. Dumping glasses into the same water-filled sink as your frying pan at the same time is pure insanity. Do two runs if you use this method: run one, go through the cleanest (read: non-greasy) stuff. Run two – the rest.

In addition, if you use this method (usually in an attempt to save water), you should understand that the greasy stuff will likely stay greasy unless you rinse it under running water… Or will carry residual layer of washing agent on it (not sure what’s worse…), sorry… A solution may be to foam up (as in, rub clean) the dishes with a closed tap, then let a very small stream run after you position all your rinse-needing stuff under it. Then pick up from the pile and rinse every individual item quickly. You’ll be rinsing everything under as you go as well, so you’ll be done fast and will use minimum of water (as much, in fact, as you’d otherwise use for filling another sink with ‘clean water to rinse stuff with’).

4. The greasier the stuff you get to is, the more you have to keep an eye on the foam-status of the sponge – the dirtier something is, the foamier the sponge should be before coming in full contact with it. I mean ‘fresh’ foam by the way from newly added washing agent ;).

5. You might want to place dirty frying pans or anything else meta-greasy under the water stream while you are rinsing off any other items. Rinse off with the hottest water you can handle then – you would in the process clean off a big deal of grease even before you get to washing those items.

6. Feeding the pipes

Oh i HATE when people do that… Any guesses?

Well, simply put: if there is any food residuals that remain on the dishes, then before transporting the dishes into the sink (just as you would do if you would be loading a dishwasher), get all the food left-overs into the goddamn trash! (or if you’re into letting left-overs compost for future use as a fertilizer, then there). If you think it is a lengthy and daunting task to haunt down every grain of rice stuck to your pot, then take a piece of a paper kitchen towel, a napkin or toilet paper, for all I care, and wipe it all off in 2 seconds’ worth of time. And no, you have NO excuses for not doing so once whatever that vessel in question is cold enough to touch it.

Now, I know some of you have some sort of a device that captures remains of food from your sink pipes and deals with it. Fine, then go ahead dump your food into your own sink in that case. However, don’t forget that the rest of the world may not operate exactly the same way as your household does. If you are a guest somewhere, either ask about it, or by default trash your food remains into the bin.

The same rule applies to greasy remainders of the sauces and anything similarly oily: wipe it off with paper-something over a trash bin, unless you specifically know you can just pour grease directly into someone’s kitchen pipes.

7. Eins, zwei, DRY!

Leaving the dishes till later? No problem. Unless you leave them to dry…

The rule of thumb is, if ‘later’ is any time in the upcoming 8 hours, then make sure to submerge/fill the dirtiest stuff (includes glasses and cups, by the way, if used for anything but water) in/by water right away so that whatever is stuck dry has an opportunity to come off, and whatever is not stuck dry has no opportunity to get stuck on.

If it is longer, then the submerged dishes may begin to stink for a change. In that case, it would suffice to submerge all the dirtiest dried-up stuff collected from days ago in hot (or at least very warm) water for about an hour max before washing it.

8. Can’t touch this!

The song may be good, the approach usually fails.

When you do the final rinse-off, do you just hold up the item under the water (or put it in and take out of water-filled sink) without even looking, let alone touching it? FAIL.

You should use the rinsing time opportunity to do a quick visual scan for any possible still-stuck-to-the-surface bits of whatever-it-might-be, grease smears from lip gloss and similar (those, especially ‘stay-on-forever’ type tend to leave grease smears that are harder to wash off than regular food oils, as are some creams and other things people may have on their hands and lips) and a tactile scan for those same things – traces of slippery grease or stuck things.

It may seem irrelevant after you already washed something, but trust me, especially in lip-gloss cases, and when some small bits you can’t see remain stuck somewhere, or when some grease remains under the rim (inner or outer) of pans and pots and (especially) their covers – it pays off to double-check.

If you wash dishes in gloves (let’s presume you have to), then you still should run your fingers over the surface – you’d feel the grease where there is more of it than should be (hint: it’d be slippery there 😉 ).

8. Absolute turmOIL

Here we come to the most dreaded of it all: the mega-oily stuff (frying pans, saucers, etc). And most of the times I see people take the sponge and go for it…

I say not so fast.

That the sponge is foaming with fresh washing agent doesn’t mean it has the capacity to combat a truly greasy frying pan (just to use as an example). If you want yours pristine, do the following (it’s a detailed description, in reality this takes about 2 minutes at the most in total):

1. Before washing, clean off as much fat as you can with paper kitchen towel, napkin or toilet paper.

2. If you have other dishes to wash, place the pan under the water stream (make it hot!) when you rinse them.

3. Pour a bit of hot water and a dab of washing agent into the pan. Use that little bit of liquid to cleanse off most of the oil, rubbing it off with your fingers (no sponge yet!) from the entire inner surface of the pan.

4. Rinse the pan off with hottest water you can stand to touch, use your hands, too, to rub the surface a bit.

5. NOW take the sponge, wet it under hot water (it may seem a nuance, but if the sponge is too cold when it touches a greasy surface, it makes it harder to wash off the grease), pour a dab of washing agent on, foam up and wash the pan (including the handle and the outside of the pan!!!).

9. Washing agent OD

I once had a flatmate who managed to use up a huge bottle of concentrated washing agent that normally lasts nearly a year in a matter of less than 2 months…

Reality check: That you pour half a liter of the washing agent onto the sponge at once would NOT actually result in more dishes being washed better. It would only result in more washing agent being wasted for no good reason.

This stuff is made concentrated nowadays, like washing powder or gel for the clothes. And no matter how much of it you pour on after a certain minimally needed amount, the sponge will be washed clean of it in pretty much the same time as if you would use that minimal amount.

So, rule of thumb for most brands: a drop is just enough. You would also get better use of it if you foam it up first, spreading it evenly inside the sponge so it’s washed out and used up gradually.

If, on the other hand, you think you’re saving by not rinsing off the sponge between washing agent ‘refills’ – you’re dead wrong. Grease collected along the washing way inside the sponge renders the agent less and less effective, requiring you to keep pouring more and more. Rinsing the sponge clean before you dab the next dose of washing agent onto it is THE way to go in order to save up.

10. The finishing touches

If you are rinsing off a piece of dishes while your hands are greasy – you might wanna start over again. It sort of defeats the purpose. If grease collected on your skin, dab a drop of washing agent directly onto your hands and wash them before you go on. It’s better to use hand-cream after a dish-washing session than to spread dirt onto everything already clean simply by the touch of the hand.

The conclusion

Just to repeat: I am truly not anal, and my mom would kick my butt for my laissez-faire approach to cleanliness any day. I am just not too psyched when I take out a cup from the cupboard just to discover it all covered in fingerprints – it makes me think about where all those fingers have been prior to leaving their legacy on that cup.

It is equally surprising to find a rim of someone’s lips imprinted on my cup – I may not mind the lips at all, or their owner, but some less pleasant entities may find it be nutritious food for not only thought but also multiplication.

Greasy knife and fork handles are less yucky than plain old hard to handle (try cutting something when your hand is sliding off of the handle!).

Finally, having to constantly re-wash dishes after other people who cannot seem to get their heads (or hands?) around doing it properly is a waste of both time and water. Both precious.

Hope you have enjoyed the guide, had a good laugh here and there and maybe even discovered a little useful tip or two. Anything described above is in no way a time-consuming set of obstacles or tricks. In fact, I am a very efficient person and try to look for the most effective ways of doing stuff, dish-washing included.

Even if it adds time somehow, it may be an extra minute or two, but at least I can be sure a glass I take off the shelf won’t slip right through my fingers to shatters (also something that previously happened to me) just because someone’s hand cream or lip gloss or oil from the frying pan were left unwashed from its surface :).

p.s. you can tell I like washing dishes 😀


About in shade

A cocktail of personality traits hard to digest for some but ultimately soothing for those who can. I observe, enjoy, travel, interact, photograph, dance, contemplate, write and love my way through this life's countless occurrences. This blog is a way to share with the world and its people some of the treasures they give me every day.
This entry was posted in In my spare time..., The LOL factor, Useful and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The ultimate guide to dish-washing

  1. Petr says:

    Leah your article truly is a compendium of dish washing knowhow :). I think you should put it on display at Technical notes: 1. Mega-oily stuff (frying pans etc) can easily be prepared for “regular” washing using boiling water from electric kettle. It works like a charm. 2. Don’t use disinfecting agent on the sponge; you don’t want residues of it all around. Instead rinse it using a washing agent. Then put the wet sponge in a microwave on max power for a minute (make sure it doesn’t catch on fire), and rinse it again. And always make sure the sponge gets dry when not being used. 3. I catch your drift on raw eggs 😉 but it usually doesn’t involve dishes, does it? Now if we talk eggs you should NEVER EVER prepare boiled eggs by heating them in microwave oven. Eggs exploded in microwave can’t be washed away, especially if the appliance has a grill. 4. This is a message to all guys. Don’t let your girlfriend wash the dishes. Buy a dishwasher (from EUR 220 nowadays) instead. It’s worth it because your girl doesn’t have to do the thing she hates. Guys, this improves YOUR sex life 🙂

    • in shade says:

      LOLLLL maybe we should co-author the wikihow article then? 🙂

      (disclaimer: too late, they already have it here

      Btw, I wasn’t going into any greater details on this – just the regular, most-common dish-washing thoughts :D.

      Disinfecting agent, depending on what it is (if it’s liquid and intended for kitchen surfaces anyway, it can just as well be used on the sponge), can be washed out with a rinse and another quick wash with the regular dish-washing stuff. I would not include any microwave tips as this would actually imply that everyone HAS a microwave ;). Same goes for boiling water and (I presume electric) kettles. I only wrote the most basic stuff for the most low-tech people. Very hot water can just the same come from the tap and be used to start off the most oily of it all stuff ;).

      Raw eggs can be used to prepare omelets and otherwise used in baking. Residuals of raw eggs will remain on the dishes used for mixing (and not directly cooking).

      People try to cook boiled eggs in microwaves??!! Oh my, where is this world going…. LOLLLL 😀

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