This Is the Best Time of Day to Wash Your Dishes (and It’s Not Before Bed!)

published May 9, 2023
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
dirty dishes in a metal sink.
Credit: ugurhan/Getty Images

I’m a huge believer in shutting down the kitchen every night. Leaving the kitchen a mess at night is a surefire way to deflate my mood as I walk into the kitchen the next morning. On the other hand, give me a reset kitchen, complete with clean counters, an empty sink, a gleaming stovetop, emptied trash cans, and a dishwasher that’s run through an entire wash cycle, and I’m able to maintain my calm as I brew my coffee and slowly wake to meet the day. 

But as much as I love this nightly ritual, there’s another cleanup time that has the biggest impact on the rest of my day: the after-breakfast cleanup. Here’s why.

No matter how pristine your kitchen is from the night before, the morning whirlwind of breakfast, and packing lunches, and perhaps even the beginning stages of dinner prep is sure to turn your kitchen into a disaster zone. And ignoring this morning mess invites more mess throughout the day. For instance, if breakfast dishes are sitting in the sink, setting a dirty coffee mug in the sink instead of the dishwasher doesn’t feel like a big deal. And when there’s already a pile of dishes from breakfast, nothing’s stopping you from stacking your lunch dishes on top of those. Soon, it’s the afternoon and the kids are adding their lunch boxes to the pile. 

Before you know it, it’s time to make dinner — the toughest time of the day for so many. Nerves are shot from work, and preparing a meal can already seem like an insurmountable task. Having to face a pile of dirty dishes that need to get cleaned before you can wash the lettuce or strain the beans can be enough to call off the whole homemade meal plan. At the very least, needing to clean up a huge, accumulated mess an hour or so before having to clean up after dinner doesn’t feel much like taking care of yourself. 

On the other hand, making that after-breakfast cleanup time a mandatory part of the day can keep the whole day running smoothly. A clean, empty sink can be just enough to prompt that coffee drinker to put the dirty mug in the dishwasher instead of the sink. What a concept! Same for lunch dishes, which are more likely to get dealt with on the spot if they’re the only items that will mess up a sink that’s been maintained since morning. Trust me, that clean sink is a powerful incentive — especially when you let the family know your expectations. 

To make sure morning cleanup happens, I like to start from the outside of the mess and work my way in. For example, I’ll begin by putting away the bread my kids left out on the far counter and washing the blender from our morning smoothie. I’ll clear the table and wipe it. The circumference of the mess gets smaller and smaller until there are only dishes left to do. I try to do these while I’m brewing a second cup of coffee or toasting some bread. (I don’t eat my own breakfast until after the kids are off to school.) 

Another thing I’ll do is challenge myself to see how much I can get cleaned up in five minutes. Inevitably, I get far more done than I think I can in five minutes, or I work a little longer to cross the finish line. 

Cleaning the kitchen after the morning madness can very well lead to a more peaceful evening — one that starts with dinner-making that isn’t thwarted by a messy kitchen and ends with enough energy to shut the kitchen down for another beautiful morning.