How to Wash the Dishes by Hand or With a Dishwasher

There’s no wrong way to do it, but oh so many variables.

Washing dishes is like the original chore. You know it’s easy because you’ve been doing it since you were a kid. Sure, you could potentially break a glass or come across a sharp utensil, but generally, dish duty can be assigned to children because it’s sort of hard to mess up.

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That being said, there are a few points of interest regarding exactly how to wash dishes:

  • Are you pro-sponge or do you go sponge-less?
  • Are you Team Handwashing or Team Dishwasher?
  • How do you know when to hand-wash items or when the dishwasher is safe?
  • And more!


If you’re going to use a regular sponge, you should replace it often and clean it regularly. You can clean your sponge by soaking it overnight in a solution of water, vinegar, and salt then wringing it out well and nuking it in your microwave for about two minutes.

No sponge?

If sponges disgust you (or you just can’t stand the way they make your hands smell after using that, gag!), try a silicone or plastic scrub brush instead. These are more likely to dry out when they’re not being used and have fewer nooks and crannies for bacteria to hide and breed.

Team handwashing: the fine art of the hand-washed dish

There’s an art to it, and we’re going to teach you.

How to handwash the dishes:

  • Begin by scraping food remnants into the trash can or down the garbage disposal. (Exception: stringy vegetables, grease, egg shells, coffee grinds, nuts, and other hard-to-process foods.) Run disposal before washing dishes. You’re really setting yourself up for success here because the better you scrape, the less gunk there is for your future self to scrub off.
  • Fill your sink with hot water and a few drops of Dawn Platinum Dishwashing Liquid. Dawn’s powerful formula helps you get through more dishes with less dishwashing liquid. Pile your dishes into the sink, with the dirtiest items on the bottom. (TIP: Best to immediately soak your pots and pans after cooking, while you’re actually eating your meal, but before starting on the rest of the dishes. This way, when you ultimately get to washing them, the food scraps haven’t been just congealing this entire time, leaving much less scraping and chiseling to do.)
  • Give all your dishes a once-over scrub with your sponge (or alternative scrubby brush) while submerged in the soapy water to rid them of major chunks and food bits. Drain the sink. Maybe run the garbage disposal again as you do, if the water is especially gross.
  • Rinse. Repeat? Choose your own adventure dish game.
    • Run the water as hot as you can handle it and rinse your dishes individually. Some people like to re-soap up their sponge at this point, sort of double washing the dishes before rinsing to ensure maximum cleanliness. Whether or not you need to double-scrub depends on what you’re washing off the dishes (and how long your dishes sat around dirty).
    • If your meal was especially oily or greasy, it’s good to double soap, then rinse. (This also depends on your standards of cleanliness and whether or not you’re in a hurry to just be done with the dishes already.) Turns out, doing the dishes is deeply personal. You do you. Whatever you decide, be sure to fully rinse all of the soap residue off of your dishes before putting them in the rack, or they’ll end up splotchy and streaky.
    • Have a double sink? Lucky you. You can fill one side with soapy water and the other side with clean water. Soak and scrub dishes in the soapy side, then transfer them to the clean water side to rinse. Drain the soapy side once all dishes are on the clean side, run the faucet, and give the dishes a final rinse off with clean water from the tap. Maybe even give clean dishes a once-over with a clean, un-soaped sponge for good measure, if you’re feeling thorough.
    • Load up clean, well-rinsed dishes into a dryer rack. Sometimes this can be the fun, balancing portion of the evening. Piling dishes into the dishrack is a feat in itself. Just be sure all the cups, bowls, Tupperware and lids are facing downwards so they dry completely.

What you may want to hand wash:

  • Wine glasses
  • Ceramics
  • Fine metals
  • China
  • Wood
  • Baking or serving trays
  • Large items that could block the water spray
  • Cast iron
  • Kitchen knives
  • Nonstick cookware
  • Insulated mugs
  • Thin plastic
  • Anything hand-painted
  • Pressure cooker lids
  • ...or anything with sentimental value to avoid potential damage

Why to handwash:

  • Is it wood? Hand wash – and avoid letting those wooden spoons, cutting boards, and bowls soak for too long. Too much moisture for too long can warp the wood.
  • Is it glass? Depends. Most common glass items are dishwasher safe these days, but it never hurts to check. Rather be safe than sorry? Wash by hand.
  • Is it aluminum pots and pans? Wash them in the sink to avoid darkening.
  • Is it cast iron? This one’s a trick question. Avoid the dishwasher, and do not use soapy water on cast iron. Instead, while still warm, use paper towels to wipe your cast iron’s interior to remove oil or any remaining food. Rinse under running hot water, using a softer scrubbing item like a rag or a sponge (avoid anything metal or abrasive).
  • Is it china? Wash by hand and be very, very careful. This stuff is antique.
  • Is it crystal? While there may be some dishwasher safe crystal items, you should still wash by hand to help keep it clear and shiny longer.
  • Is it plastic? This is another trick question. Check to see if it’s dishwasher safe. Most modern-day kids cups, plates, and plasticware can be tossed right into the racks, but it’s worth a double-check or it might melt or warp.

Team dishwasher (aka your best friend)

There’s nothing like pressing a button and letting the dishwasher wash your dishes for you. Using the dishwasher is a convenient way to keep your sink and countertops dish-free, especially if you can train yourself to load as you go. Just make sure to not let dishes sit in there for days, because remember – there’s decaying food and germs and stuff. And remember, there’s always the quick rinse option, which will help buy you some time before you give those dishes a good scrub.

If you’re using a dishwasher instead of washing by hand, be sure you’re loading it properly for best results. How much pre-rinsing should you do? That’s always the question, isn’t it? Well, it depends on the type of detergent that you’re using. Products like Cascade Platinum ActionPacs contain special formulas with built-in rinse aid action to help dissolve burnt-on food and lingering greasy residue, so you can avoid the pre-rinse altogether. However, some soaps and detergents work best when they’ve got some bits of food and such to cling onto.

How to use a dishwasher:

  • Choose the right detergent for the fastest, most efficient clean. We recommend Cascade Platinum, which allows you to totally skip the pre-rinse step and can be used during a shorter dishwasher cycle to save on time and water.
  • Scrape off large chunks of food into trash can or garbage disposal.
  • Load up the dishwasher like a pro, with all of the plates facing inward on the bottom, large items riding on the sides so as to not block the water stream and cups, mugs and bowls up top and facing downward.
  • Place all flatware face up except for sharp knives, because safety.
  • Do not overload the dishwasher! If there are too many dishes smashed in together, the water stream won’t be able to reach all the nooks and crannies.
  • Select your rinse cycle and start.
  • Simply walk away and do something more fun than washing the dishes.

What to wash in the dishwasher:

  • Ceramic plates, bowls and mugs
  • Stainless steel
  • Pyrex
  • Stoneware
  • Plastic, glass, and composite cutting boards
  • Silicone
  • Metal utensils
  • Measuring cups
  • Measuring spoons
  • Kitchen shears

Did you know you can also wash these in the dishwasher?

Always check the instructions on the individual dish, but in many cases you’re good to go.

  • Wine glasses
  • Ceramics
  • Stoneware
  • Baking sheets
  • Kitchen knives

Why use a dishwasher:

  • Do you like a clean-looking kitchen? Don’t leave your dishes in the sink where everyone can see them. Drop that plate in the dishwasher (maybe give it a quick rinse, first) before you head out of the door. The dishwasher will hide it for you.
  • Are you in a hurry? Press start on the dishwasher before you run out of the door, and let it do the work for you. It’s nice coming home to a load of sparkly clean dishes.
  • Do you like to outsource dishwashing? Your dishwasher can be a great substitute for a child or house cleaner.
  • Sanitize it! The extreme heat of the dishwasher does an excellent job sanitizing, which is near impossible to achieve by handwashing.
  • Are you looking for the move environmentally friendly option? Honestly, you save water by using the dishwasher. Most modern dishwashers are outfitted with a quick-wash option which, when paired with the appropriate detergent, uses considerably less water than hand washing.
  • Note: The dishwasher takes care of you, and you’ve got to take care of it. Dishwashers require occasional cleaning and maintenance to keep them running smoothly. How the heck do you clean the dishwasher? We’ve got some ideas.

The winner?

There really is no right or wrong way to wash dishes, as long as the dishes get done! The surest way to sanitize dishes is by using the dishwasher, what with its hot water wash and hot heat drying cycle one-two punch system. If you don’t have a dishwasher, you can certainly get things shiny and spotless by hand, too. As you can see, there’s a lot to learn about washing dishes, even if you’ve been doing it your whole life. But the biggest tip we can give you for doing the dishes? Wash as you go. Even if that means just tossing your dishes in the sink, spraying down with Dawn Platinum Powerwashing Spray, and saving the wiping and rinsing for later, your future self will thank you. Be kind to your future self.

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