How to Hand-Wash Dishes the Right Way

It's happened to us all. Dinner's over and there's a tower of dirty dishes waiting, and they can't go in the dishwasher. Here's how to wash dishes by hand.

Hands cleaning dirty dishes in the kitchen faucetPhoto: Shutterstock / tommaso79

It’s a familiar scenario, played out in countless kitchens across the country: You’ve just finished cooking something delicious for the family, or made something for a special occasion. Something that requires sauces and spreads. Something that left a mound of dirty dishes, with caked-on, baked-on detritus. That mound won’t clean itself. But fear not. Tackling the job is easier than you think. Here’s how to wash dishes by hand the right way:


1. Clean stuff quickly

It makes sense. Cleaning dishes and pans before left-over food gets a chance to harden is the simplest way to avoid scrubbing and scrubbing and scrubbing. That’s especially true with hot pans. But sometimes—like when you have company over—you can’t grab the plates the second someone lays down their fork for good. In those cases, check out number 2.


2. Get a dish bin

Stacking dirty dishes in the sink makes for an intimidating pile and keeps you from being able to actually use the sink to scrub and soak your dishes. Instead, invest in a dish bin, a receptacle that holds your dirty dishes on the counter, away from the scrubbing sink. Then, you’ll have a place for the dirty dishes, and an open sink for clean water.


3. Start soaking

Survey your pans and pots at this point. If you find there’s hardened, caked-on residue, add a few drops of cleaning detergent and fill the pots and pans with hot water, setting them aside overnight. In the morning, those pots and pans will be much easier to deal with.


4. Use super hot water

Fill the sink with hot, soapy water. The hotter, the better. Why? First, hot water cuts through grease better, and hot water breaks down stuck-on particles quicker than colder water. If you’ve got a double sink, fill the second tub with colder water to rinse the washed dishes. This cuts down on your water bill. No room? Then set the dishes aside on a dish rack for rinsing after you’re done with all the scrubbing.

Now, use hot water for everything but the residue of starches and dairy. For that, use colder water, because the hot water gums up the residue on dishes, causing you to exert more effort.


5. Invest in good tools

Get a good sponge or scrubber. Or, consider a microfiber dish towel—they dry quickly. Here’s a neat trick: If you get produce like oranges in those little plastic netted bags, you can take that netting and wrap it around a sponge to get some extra oomph out of your scrubbing, without damaging the finish on pots and pans.


6. Plan your attack

You’ll want to clean things in this order: cleanest to dirtier to oh-my-gosh-this-is-absolutely-horrendous. Clean glasses first: If you wait until later, they’ll be coated in grease. And that makes for a very difficult night scrubbing away. Once you get the glassware out of the way, tackle the forks and knives and such. Then move on to plates and bowls, doing the heavily caked-on pots and pans last.


7. Do double duty

Put an oven rack over the sink and let the dishes drip-dry face down. Or invest in a flexible wire drying rack. This neat gizmo rolls out flat over your sink, then rolls up for easy storage.


8. Have burnt pans?

It happens to the best of us—a recipe’s timing somehow gets away from us and we’re left with a scorched pan. Save your elbow grease. Instead, fill the bottom of the pan with water. Add 1 cup of vinegar to the pan, then heat it, bringing the mixture to a boil. Once it boils, remove the pan from the heat and discard the majority of the liquid. Then, add 2 tablespoons of baking soda. The remaining liquid will cause a reaction and the whole concoction will fizz up. Once it fizzes up, dump the contents and scrub as usual. You’ll find it much easier to tackle.


9. Or a greasy pot?

Take a tablespoon of baking soda and cover the bottom of the pot with water. Then heat the pot until it’s warm to the touch. Dump the liquid and the grease will wipe off easily.

With these dish-doing tricks, you’ll be able to get out of the kitchen and on to the fun stuff, stat.

Now That You're Clean, Start Planning Your Next Meal
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John Tomkiw
John has penned articles for everything from Playboy and Men’s Journal to Men’s Fitness, Watch!, One Magazine and others. When he’s not scribbling about topics like food, travel, health and pop culture, he relaxes by scribbling about food, travel, health and pop culture.