Cleaning 101: How To Wash Dishes By Hand

You know, the analog way.

Washing the dishes is easy. It’s so easy that this chore can be delegated to children, once they’re tall enough to reach the kitchen sink (mind the knives, though!). Dishwashing is, like, the original chore.

But there are some tricks and nuances to properly hand washing certain dishes, especially large or sensitive items like seasoned cast iron pans, cutting boards or burnt baking sheets. And we’ve got some tips to streamline the handwashing process, including which items ought to be hand washed and why. If you thought you knew how to hand wash your dishes, think again. You might just learn something from us. We’ve even got some suggestions on the order you should consider washing your dishes in, just to make it easier for you.

When + why to wash dishes by hand

No dishwasher, no problem! Whether you don’t have a dishwasher or you’re just hand washing specialty items, we’ve got all the details on when, why and how to hand wash your dishes.

There are some objects that should just never go in the dishwasher.

  • Sharp knives or mandolines
  • Anything wood, including cutting boards, spoons and utensils
  • Cast iron
  • Nonstick pots and pans
  • Aluminum cookware
  • Copper cookware
  • Fine china, crystal and hand-painted plates
  • Electric kettles
  • Travel mugs
  • Pressure cooker or air fryer parts and components
  • Any parts of kitchen appliances that have electric hookups or connections

Why?

  • Dishwashers tend to dull sharp knife blades.
  • Wood is porous and absorbs water like a sponge. Soaking and steam causes it to warp.
  • Dish soap and detergent damages nonstick properties in Teflon or cast iron pots and pans, corrodes aluminum and discolors copper.
  • Fragile or hand-painted items are more likely to break or chip in the dishwasher.
  • Water + electric hookups = bummer

1. Prep the dishes for washing.

  • Scrape off excess food into the compost or garbage. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to get the dried-on bits off your cookware. (For majorly burnt cookware, try out these extra cleaning tricks.)
  • Soak cookware as needed for about 15–30 minutes.
  • Spray items that are too large to soak—like pots, pans, cutting boards or baking sheets—with Dawn Platinum Powerwash Dish Spray, and let sit. (Never use soap on the cast iron, though! More on cast iron cleaning here.) This highly concentrated formula majorly cuts grime and grease, freeing you up to clean the stovetop while it sets.
  • Respect your garbage disposal. Avoid throwing large items down there—and never put bones, celery, coffee grounds, eggshells, fruit pits, grease, pasta or potato peels into your disposal. Scrape these guys directly into the trash can—or compost them! And if your garbage disposal needs some love, we’ve got some tips for that, too.

2. Fill the sink.

  • Fill your sink with hot water and Dawn Dish Soap.
  • Hot water is ideal for washing dishes (and everything) because it helps to loosen food and grease (and everything!).
  • Concentrated dish soap cuts through grease, leaving your dishes smudge and fingerprint (and olive oil and butter) free when you’re through.

3. Wash the dishes (already!).

  • Wash the cleanest items first to keep the water cleaner longer. This also avoids spreading food bits, gunk chunks and grease smears around.
  • Place your first round of dishes in the sink.
  • Using a soft sponge, wipe down each dish to remove all food particles. Best to avoid using a scouring pad on surfaces that can scratch easily, such as glassware or nonstick pans.

Washing dishes in order

  • Glasses and cups
  • Flatware
  • Plates
  • Serving utensils
  • Bowls and serving dishes
  • Pots and pans

4. Rinse the dishes.

  • If you have a double sink, you can use one for washing and one for rinsing. Fill the second sink with clean water, and transfer your soaped -p items from the soap sink to the rinse sink. Hooray!
  • Better yet, if you are using a rinsing sink, you can place the drying rack directly into the sink, stack cleaned dishes in it and pass a hot water spray over everything to rinse before leaving to dry.
  • Otherwise, give everything a light rinse with hot water from the faucet. Try to be conscious about water usage.
  • Place items into the drying rack to air dry. Towel off large items, and place upside down on a clean towel on the counter to air dry if they’re too big to fit in the drying rack.

5. Dry the dishes, and put them away.

  • Air drying is easier and can be more sanitary than towel drying. (How clean is that kitchen towel, anyway?)
  • Hand drying can help prevent spots or film on glassware, though. Use a microfiber rag to polish glassware, if you’re fancy like that. You can also buff up silverware or utensils that may have hard water spots on them before putting away.
  • Always dry and put away the following items:
    • Knives
    • Can openers
    • Sharp metal tools that could rust
    • Pots
    • Pans
    • Wood cutting boards and utensils

6. Clean up.

  • Wash the sink to remove any residue. That’s right: you’ve got to wash the sink, too! Collect any major lingering food particles, and throw them away and/or run the garbage disposal while simultaneously running hot water.
  • Wipe down any water spillage around the sink and faucet areas.
  • Disinfect and sanitize the surrounding counter and food prep areas.
  • Be sure to dry off the counter area beneath the drying rack so that water doesn’t puddle and give germs or bacteria an opportunity to breed beneath there. In fact, you should occasionally wash the drying rack itself!
  • Extra credit: Clean off your stovetop and stove burners.

Handwashing is a good way to increase the life span of your dishes, especially those we’ve listed above. Dishwashers are awesome because they save you time, energy and—in most cases—water! But sometimes it’s rewarding to go that extra mile and do the dishes analog style, with your good old-fashioned sponge or scrubber. And the rinsing and drying is nearly as important as the washing itself. Doing a lazy rinse will allow soapy residue to cling onto your dishes, causing weird buildup, soap scum or spots to show on your freshly washed dishes. And putting away damp dishes or utensils could cause bacteria or mildew to grow in your cabinets and drawers, and nobody wants that. Especially if you live in a humid environment, be sure everything is completely dry before putting it away.

Any questions? For more information on how to wash your dishes—or to solve the great debate on whether (and what!) to hand wash versus put in the dishwasher—we’ve got you covered.

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