In This Guide
- Perfect your hand washing routine
- Use a natural dish detergent
- Don’t be afraid of using the dishwasher
- Use the proper tools
- Soak things thoroughly before trying to tackle big messes
- Dealing with cast iron
- Dry things properly
- Use a good drain strainer
- Improve your sanitation practices
- Stop using your garbage disposal
Perfect your hand washing routine
Even if you’ve got a dishwasher, you’ll have to wash at least some items by hand. Whether you’re doing everything by hand or just a few things, you can easily improve the way you’re doing dishes.
People do dishes by hand in a variety of ways, and this is one of those things where it’s easy to wonder if you’re overthinking it. Nope! Many of the common dishwashing methods are ineffective and inefficient.
For instance, if you’re constantly running the faucet and adding soap directly to your sponge as you wash each item, you’re wasting tons of water and dish soap. If you use a tub or fill half the sink with soapy water, adding dirty dishes, you’re just going to end up with a greasy, sludgy pool that doesn’t help you at all. It’s unpleasant to work with, makes your sponge gross, and leaves a film on dishes.
We’ve got our own system that we stand by:
Skip that nasty dishwashing tub, and don’t bother trying to fill up one half of your sink with soapy water. Instead, use a big bowl or pot by the side of your sink. Fill it with piping hot water and plenty of soap, then throw your sponge in to soak. You can also put it in one side, if you have a double sink. Use the sink (or the other half of the sink) for dirty dishes and rinsing.
Here’s how it works. Rinse a dirty dish, then grab the sponge from the hot, soapy vessel. Scrub the dish, rinse it over the other dirty dishes (helping to rinse them in the process), and then place it in the drying rack. Go back with your sponge for another dose of hot soapy water, and repeat!
Are we over thinking this? No. Here’s why. If you fill a sink with soapy water, it quickly becomes a greasy, semi-clean mess. You lose your suds, and you have to put in an absurd amount of soap to compete with the food scraps. Every time you rinse dishes, the pool of water gets super high and all lukewarm.
With our method, you always have fresh, hot soapy water. Your sponge stays a lot cleaner, and you just refill the vessel when you’re out. No gross standing water, no constantly adding soap to try and rescue your washing basin. You don’t waste any water, either, since you only run it when you rinse. You also save heat, since you don’t have to rinse with hot water! You’ve already got your hot water for the cleaning part (which is the only place you need it).
Use a natural dish detergent
Harsh chemicals are not something you want to put in the water table. They’re also toxic, and can leave chemical residues on your dishes. You have to worry about kids being around them, and they’re not good for your hands, either.
The ingredients in a lot of big brand dish soaps are pretty horrifying, when you take a closer look. Borax is a hormone disrupter, and 1,4-dioxane is a suspected carcinogen. Worst of all, bleach, triclosan and other harsh antiseptics actually contribute to the growth of superbugs that are resistant to disinfectants.
Simple soap and water does the trick as well as anything else. A natural dish detergent can clean as well as any chemical solution, and will actually sanitize to the same degree. The dishwasher is the best way to sanitize, of course, but any good dish soap will break down the lipid envelopes around virus cells.
Seventh Generation makes our favorite dishwashing products. Their dish liquid for washing by hand is gentle on hands, but an absolute beast on food messes!
Don’t be afraid of using the dishwasher
There’s a common misconception that dishwashers aren’t environmentally-friendly, or something a frugal person would want. That’s bogus! A good Energy Star dishwasher will always use less water than you will. Don’t have qualms about running yours! The only dishwashers that are wasteful are clunky old models. Using an Energy Star model from the past few years is actually the most efficient way to do dishes. You’ll end up saving money by using one, since it will cut down on your water and water-heating bills at the same time!
You shouldn’t need to do any pre-washing, either. Just rinse off the big stuff. A good dishwasher will have no issues getting rid of smaller bits left on dishes.
Overall, dishwashers do an infinitely better job cleaning than we can. Dishwashers use hot water that would scald our hands. They can sanitize thoroughly, and they wash things from every angle. Had trouble getting yours to do a perfect job? You could be loading incorrectly. Check your manual for advice from the manufacturer. Or, follow common sense rules: never overfill, and put the dirtiest items on the bottom.
Did you hear about that study in Sweden that found kids who never washed dishes by hand were more likely to develop allergies? Don’t freak out. Even if you use your dishwasher as much as humanly possible, you’ll still have lots of things to wash that can’t go through it.
Seventh Generation also makes formulas for dishwashers. We’ve only used the powdered one, but we assume the gel version is equally great.
Things that should never go in the dishwasher
- Cast iron
- Nice knives
- Non-stick coatings
Use the proper tools
Sponges are one of those items where it doesn’t make sense to be cheap. The dollar-priced options are no good. Get something better than a plain, block-type sponge with a smooth texture. You want something with a scrubby side.
It’s biodegradable when you’re done using it, but scrubs as well as those scratchy nylon scrubbers. We also like that it’s easy to sanitize! You can’t do that with plastic ones without them melting and degrading on you.
Full Circle also makes a really great scrubber brush set for tough stuff, like baked-on food on dishes and pans. It soaps itself up, and you can just replace the brush when it wears out. It won’t scratch anything, but it does a great job loosening gunk.
Soak things thoroughly before trying to tackle big messes
Need we say more? If you soak the toughest pots and pans in the sink for an hour before you wash them, you’ll save yourself a lot of pain.
If there’s a pot with baked-on food, fill it with water and add a quarter cup of baking soda. Bring it to the boil, then take it off the heat and let it sit for an hour. You should be able to easily scrape any debris off with a spatula after that.
Dealing with cast iron
A lot of people don’t know how to wash cast iron properly. Avoid soap, since it will destroy the oils that give cast iron its nonstick quality. Use a separate sponge for it, so you never risk damaging the finish. That’ll also keep your primary sponge from getting greasy and blackened. When you’ve scrubbed out the pan thoroughly, put it on the stove on low heat, soak a paper towel with olive oil, and then oil the pan. Let it stay on the heat for a few minutes, then turn it off. Wipe of the excess, and you’re good to go!
Dry things properly
When you dry dishes on towels or flat dish racks, you’re begging for germs and mold. Use a sloping dishrack, with a sloping tray underneath, preferably to drip into the sink. The idea is to prevent any standing water and moisture from sticking around on your counters. If that doesn’t work with your space, place a drying rack on a baking sheet with relatively high sides, so you can just empty that when a batch is finished drying.
Use a good drain strainer
Unless you want to be dealing with clogs, it’s important to use a drain strainer religiously. We like this OXO one because it catches everything and is easy to empty into the compost.
Improve your sanitation practices
Start cleaning your sink/dishwasher thoroughly and regularly
According to the National Health Service, the average kitchen sink contains about 100,000 times as many bacteria as your bathroom, or even your toilet. You wouldn’t wash dishes in the toilet, would you? Of course not.
Sanitize your sink daily and wipe it down. It’ll look much better, and you’ll be healthier for it. This Seventh Generation cleaner works perfectly, and it’ll sanitize without harsh chemicals. We also like that it’s completely non-toxic and food safe. You don’t have to worry about any toxic residues.
Same goes for your dishwasher! Leave it open during the day to prevent mold/mildew (just like you do with your washing machine. Every now and then, run it on empty on a sanitizing cycle, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to clean it out.
Deal carefully with raw meat, fish and poultry
Always rinse contaminated dishes and utensils immediately in hot water, and put them in the dishwasher for a sanitizing cycle.If you can’t do that, wash them with hot, soapy water, and then microwave your sponge and sanitize your sink.
Sanitize your cutting boards
The average one has 200 times more fecal bacteria on it than your toilet seat. That’s according to the National Health Service. Yuck! Only use porous (wooden) cutting boards for produce, and use dishwasher-safe plastic/composite boards for meat and poultry. Spray all your cutting boards with a disinfecting cleaner as part of your cleaning routine.
Use a fresh towel every day
Kitchen towels get incredibly dirty incredibly quickly. Just pick up a few extras, so you have enough to get through the week. Make a habit of washing them on high heat settings when you do your bedding or other linens.
Stop using your garbage disposal
It’s a massive waste of water and electricity. You should be composting food scraps.
For more advice on taking your kitchen game to the next level, visit our homepage! It’s the best place to find links to all our buying guides and recommendations.
You’ll also want to read our guide to the best kitchen essentials!