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Should You Let Dirty Dishes Soak in Your Sink?

Doing dishes is a task that few people enjoy. While there are some tips and tricks for making the chore as easy as possible, many people rely on letting them soak in the sink to make them easier to clean. However, depending on the situation and the dishes, this may not always be the best idea.

So should you let dirty dishes soak in your sink? Could you be causing more trouble than it’s worth? Let’s dive in and see where the suds fall for this hot topic!

Is It Okay to Leave Dirty Dishes in the Sink?

You want to avoid leaving dirty dishes in the sink longer than necessary. Unwashed dishes exposed to raw meat or seafood could contain E. coli and salmonella. The longer you let them sit, the more time the bacteria will have to grow, and the more you risk cross-contamination. You should always clean dishes or put them in the dishwasher as soon as possible. 

Does Soaking Dishes Help Clean Them?

We’ve all likely let a dish or stubborn pan soak to make it easier to clean. But does it do anything to help? Melvin Pascall, a food science and technology professor at Ohio State University, thinks it does.

Pascall said, “The more the food is burned, the more difficult it is to remove it.” However, he says, “If you soak in water, then what you’re trying to do is reverse the process.”

However, he later explains that soaking in water alone can only do so much. Sometimes you need the added assistance of soap to get some stubborn food off items. Some surfaces are more challenging to clean when food sticks to them.

Is It Necessary to Soak Dishes?

Sometimes soaking dishes is necessary to avoid damaging the pan or dish. You want to get the food particles as loose as possible before you start aggressively scrubbing. However, not all dishes will require soaking.

It’s a good idea to get the dishes as clean as possible quickly. If you’re having trouble cleaning a dish, you may want to let it thoroughly soak in the soapy hot water or heat the water inside the pan.

How Long Should You Let Dishes Soak?

It would be best to let stubborn dishes soak in hot, soapy water for 15 to 30 minutes. You want the water to be as hot as your hands can handle. It may even be worth wearing gloves to keep the water from burning or scalding your hands. 

If you’ve let the dishes soak in hot, soapy water for 15 to 30 minutes and are still experiencing stubborn food sticking to your dishes, you’ll want to take a more aggressive approach.

When You Shouldn’t Soak Dishes

There are a few times when you should never soak dishes. Doing so could be dangerous to you or your dishes. Let’s examine when you should avoid soaking dishes.

Wood Items

Letting your wood dishes or utensils soak will cause the wood to expand and increase the deterioration of the wood items. Letting these dishes soak in the sink is the same reason you shouldn’t place them in the dishwasher. 

You may not notice any issues after doing it once or twice, but if you do it regularly, it will significantly impact the longevity of your wood items.

Cast Iron

Cast iron is an excellent surface for cooking. However, if you want to invite rust to destroy your expensive pan or cast iron surface, let it sit in the water. You’ll wash away any seasoning and potentially provide an optimal spot for rust to form.

The best way to clean cast iron is to use a scrubbing brush, pan scraper, or even a piece of chain mail for scrubbing hard surfaces like cast iron. 

Cross Contamination

Anytime you’ve cooked meat, seafood, or other food that could contain harmful bacteria, you want to clean it as soon as possible. Allowing these items to sit in your dishwater will let the bacteria grow or spread to other dishes or soaking items.

Let the water soak in the contaminated bowl, or use a separate sink to avoid this. Once you’ve finished cleaning the contaminated items, you’ll want to clean any surfaces the dish touched thoroughly.

Tips for Washing Dishes

When doing dishes, there are a few things you can do to help ensure you get your dishes as clean as possible and minimize any potential cross-contamination. Let’s take a look!

Use the Hottest Possible Water

You should always use the hottest possible water when washing dishes. This helps remove stubborn food stuck in your dishes and prevent germs from spreading. Ideally, the water should be above 120 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. 

However, you’re likely not going to place your hands in water at this temperature. This is why it’s a good idea to use a dishwasher whenever possible, especially if you’re worried about cross-contamination.

Soap and Scrubbing Are Essential

Don’t underestimate the power of soap and a little elbow grease while scrubbing your dishes. Some dishes will require your fair share of effort to clean, even if you have soaked them.

Use a scrub brush and high-quality soap to do the job. However, ensure you properly clean the brush if you use it on anything contaminated.

Always Use a Clean Dishcloth Every Time

One mistake many make when washing dishes is reusing a dishcloth. You should always start with a fresh dishcloth. Draping the dishcloth over the sink for it to dry is not going to clean it. 

Even after a single use, it will likely harbor a tremendous amount of bacteria. Toss it in the washing machine and pull out a fresh dishcloth before doing the dishes.

Have Sparkling Clean Dishes Every Time

There’s nothing worse than pulling out a dish and seeing spots or other grossness sticking to it. If you follow these steps and apply some of the tips we’ve shared, you’ll have sparkling clean dishes every time you pull them out of the drawer or cabinet. You may even get compliments from friends and family asking how you get your dishes so clean.

Do you have any helpful tips for cleaning dishes?

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