How to Properly Sanitize Dirty Dishes?

July 4, 2019

As you diligently wash every dish in your sink with soap and warm water, you might think that your sparkling clean dishes are also sanitized. While we hate to be the bearer of disappointing news, we think it’s important to point out that most dishwashing liquids aren’t actually antimicrobial. That’s right, even after scrubbing your dishes clean and soaking them in soapy water, your now-clean-looking dishes can still harbor bacteria.

In most cases, this may not be a big deal, but if someone in your family has been sick recently, or you’ve prepared raw meat on certain plates, you’ll want to make sure that your dishes are actually sanitized. How do you make sure your dishes are sterile? Just follow the guidelines below to make sure your dishes not only look clean, but are actually clean.

Choosing a dishwasher over a handwasher
The dishwasher vs. hand washing debate may never be officially resolved, but when it comes to removing bacteria, there’s one sure winner: the dishwasher. While the machine may not be as effective at removing food particles that stick to it, it can reach higher temperatures than when washing by hand – and as you’ll see below, water temperature is a key factor in achieving germ-free dishes. In order to kill bacteria, the water temperature should be above 140 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature your machine can easily reach, but one that’s too high for your hands.

Use the hottest water possible.
If you don’t own a dishwasher and have to resort to washing dishes by hand, you’ll want to get the water as hot as possible and wear heat-resistant dishwashing gloves ($13, amazon.com). Again, if you have a dishwasher, this is the better option, and choosing the “sanitize” setting will ensure the hottest water possible.

Buy Antibacterial Dishwashing Liquid
Many of us automatically assume that our dish soap is antibacterial, but if you take a closer look at the options in the grocery store, you’ll see that only some are. Look for options that are clearly labeled “antibacterial” ($3, amazon.com). According to a 2007 study, the combination of sanitizer and a lower water temperature (75 degrees Fahrenheit) is effective at getting rid of germs in most cases (except for milk on glasses), so upgrading your dish soap may be a simple solution.

Alternatively, you can make a sanitizer by adding a tablespoon of unscented chlorine bleach to a gallon of water. Make sure to soak your dishes for a full minute before thoroughly rinsing them.

Drop the sponge.
If you’re still washing dishes by hand with a traditional (read: germ-laden) sponge, you’re likely adding rather than removing bacteria from your plates and cups. Instead, opt for a silicone scrubber or a quick-drying laundry net. Just can’t bear to part with your dishwashing sponge? Make sure you replace it at least once a week.

Sanitize your dishcloths too.
If you carefully sanitize your dishes but dry them with a germy dishcloth, you’re likely to put all your hard work to waste. Be sure to use the “sanitize” cycle on your washing machine every few days to wash your dishcloths. Choosing the hottest water possible and the hottest dryer setting will ensure that your dishcloths are germ-free.