How to Wash Dishes by Hand the Right Way

Updated: Mar. 25, 2024

Even though it's much easier to pop dirty dishes in the dishwasher, sometimes hand-washing is required. Here's how to wash dishes by hand so they're squeaky clean.

With the widespread use of dishwashers, hand-washing dishes has become something of a lost art. But if you don’t have a dishwasher, or own pieces that aren’t dishwasher safe, hand-washing is an important skill to master. Here’s how to wash dishes by hand, so plates, glassware and pots and pans all sparkle.

Use a Dish Bin

Stacking dirty dishes in the sink makes for an intimidating pile. It also keeps you from being able to use the sink to scrub and soak your dishes. Instead, invest in a dish bin to hold your dirty dishes on the counter. (This dish bin is collapsible so you can tuck it away when not in use.) You’ll have a place for the dirty dishes and an open sink for clean water.

Plan Your Attack

You’ll want to clean things in this order: cleanest to dirtier to oh-my-gosh-this-is-absolutely-horrendous. Wash glasses first: If you wait until later, they’ll be coated in grease. Once you get the glassware out of the way, tackle the forks and spoons. Then move on to plates and bowls, doing the pots and pans last. 

Wash with Hot Water

Fill your sink with hot water and a squirt of dish soap. (Don’t overdo it on soap, though.) Either way, be sure to use hot water. It sanitizes dishes and is less likely to cause spots and streaks when the dishes dry. If it’s too hot, just wear dish gloves.

Invest in Good Tools

Dish Sponge Via

To get the job done, you’ll need a quality dish sponge or cloth. Among our favorite dish sponges is the Scrunge sponge. It has a durable scrubbing surface on one side for stuck-on food and a soft side for more delicate dishes.

If you prefer a dish cloth, check out super absorbent Swedish dishcloths or quick-drying microfiber cloths. Just remember to wash your dish cloths and replace sponges regularly—washing dishes with a cloth or sponge that’s covered in bacteria is counterproductive!

Be sure to keep a good bottle brush on hand to wash reusable water bottles or baby bottles, too. Find all the dishwashing products our editors recommend.

Extra Tips for Washing Dishes

Dish Drying Rack Via

  • Invest in my secret weapon: Dawn Powerwash. This stuff is the real deal. Instead of soaking your dishes in soapy water, spray Powerwash on dirty dishes and let sit in the dish bin for a few minutes.
  • If you have burnt-on stains or super stubborn grease, cover the bottom of the pot with about a tablespoon of baking soda and water. Heat the pot until it’s warm to the touch, then dump the liquid and the stains will wipe off easily.
  • Dish towels are not always clean, so air-drying dishes is more sanitary. (Drying dishes with a dirty towel is one of the most common dishwashing mistakes people make.) Use a good dish rack like this that allows for proper drainage and air circulation.