Growing up in a very tiny kitchen in New York City, a dishwasher was a luxury that I never had. So, like many New Yorkers, I got used to washing my dishes in the sink after dinner. (Here's how one writer learned to love washing dishes by hand.)
Like many other home cooks, I tend to turn on both the hot and cold taps to get a comfortable temperature before I scrub away with a sponge and some dish soap, before dropping it in a rack to dry. Who wants to stick their hands in scalding hot water, right? But I've learned that even something as simple as dishwashing has a science, and that just washing dishes in cool water is a complete waste of time.
Sure, scrubbing off any crusted-on sauce may leave you thinking that a bowl is now clean as can be—but according to Stop Foodborne Illness, a public health organization, unless you've effectively sanitized a dish by soaking it in cleaning solution or sufficiently hot water, it's not clean.
And not just a little hot. Water needs to reach at least 170°F—that's generally a lot hotter than what comes out of your faucet, and is hotter than you probably want to touch with your bare hands.
Experts at the health organization say that you need to thoroughly rinse or completely submerge your dishes for at least 30 seconds in order to kill any harmful germs. If you want to to properly clean your dishes for optimal safety, be sure to have a good pair of kitchen gloves, and possibly a thermometer.
If you don't want to use hot water, Stop Foodborne Illness recommends using a sanitizing solution. One tablespoon of unscented chlorine bleach per gallon of water is enough to effectively sanitize your dishes.
More on how to best clean your kitchen safely:
- These Are the Hardest Places to Clean In Your Kitchen—And How to Clean Them
- An Expert's Approach to Cleaning Your Dirty Microwave
- Why You Should Put a Bowl of Vinegar in Your Dishwasher
Many bacteria behind foodborne illnesses, such as salmonella, can actually multiply based on contact alone—if you fail to properly sanitize your plates, there's a good chance that your sponge is picking up and holding any harmful bacteria it has come across. It's all too easy to imagine using that same sponge on something else and potentially contaminate that item as well.
We've previously learned that many Americans are washing their hands wrong or ineffectively, so don't be too embarrassed if you've been cleaning dishes wrong. Taking the extra time to make sure cookware and dishes are clean could help keep our households that much safer.