10 Dish-Washing Myths We’re Busting Once and for All

updated Dec 8, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

Cleaning your dishes — whether by hand or in the dishwasher — seems simple enough. (Just get the food off!) And yet there’s lots of misinformation out there. So much, in fact, that we probably could have doubled the size of this list. For now, though, we’ll keep things short: These are the 10 biggest dish-washing myths that really just end up wasting your time or creating more work.

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Myth 1: You need to rinse your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher.

You should for sure scrape scraps into the garbage can and remove bits of food that the dishwasher could otherwise bake on, but washing your dishes too well before putting them in the dishwasher actually makes them less clean in the end. This is because your dish detergent works with food residue to get your dishes clean. (If there’s no food left behind, there’s nothing for the detergent to grab onto.) Furthermore, your dishwasher’s sensors determine how “hard” to clean your dishes. If dishes read as clean because you pre-washed them, the machine will run a lighter cycle than you probably expect. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Myth 2: You can sanitize your sponges.

We all accept that sponges get disgusting, and no one wants to spread germs all over their cooking and eating surfaces. But many of us still may think that sanitizing our sponges will give them more life. So we microwave them or put them in the dishwasher or soak them in a bleach solution to avoid throwing them out. Not only are these efforts a waste of time, but they can actually be dangerous because they kill off the weaker bacteria but not the stronger stuff, which now has more room to multiply. Cross this task off your list, permanently.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Myth 3: The more soap/detergent, the better!

Contrary to what you’d think, more soap does not mean more cleaning power. In fact, it could just result in a lingering soapy residue that becomes annoying to clean off. See: The Dishwasher Mistake Almost Everyone Makes (and How to Quit). Just use a little bit of detergent in the dishwasher (no, even less than that!) and try putting a rubber band around the pump of your soap dispenser (for the hand-washed stuff) and you’ll find that you automatically use way less.

Myth 4: You don’t need to clean your dishwasher.

You’d think you’d save time by not cleaning your dishwasher (time not spent cleaning something is more time to spend doing something else). But a dirty dishwasher will result in dirty dishes and then you need to spend time washing them again either in the appliance by hand. Just clean the machine every few months and, between cleanings, add a bowl of vinegar to the top rack to help get rid of hard water buildup. (On a somewhat related note: You also need to clean your washing machine. Yes, you still need to clean the things that do the cleaning.)

Myth 5: You can’t use soap when washing your cast iron skillet.

There are two camps of cast iron skillet owners: those who cringe at the thought of even a drop of soap hitting their precious pan, and those who say it’s totally fine. We’re in the latter. A little bit of soap once in a while won’t hurt your hard-earned seasoning, but it will help you save time cleaning up a tough job!

Myth 6: The dishwasher uses a ridiculous amount of water.

The average hand-washing session uses about 20 gallons, while the average dishwasher cycle uses 10 gallons. (The most energy-efficient dishwashers use between four and six gallons!) This is, of course, negated if you’re running a half-full machine, but the point is that you can run your dishwasher, saving yourself time at the sink, without feeling bad about it.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

Myth 7: Only dishes can go in the dishwasher.

Lots of things can in the dishwasher! (No to wooden cutting boards, knives, or cast iron, though!) Pop your fridge shelves in, put your silicone oven mitts on the top rack, round up your kid’s toys in a mesh laundry bag … you get the idea. Let the dishwasher clean these things for you so you can free up your afternoon to do, well, whatever you want!

Credit: Lauren Volo

Myth 8: You need to use the hottest water possible when hand-washing dishes.

Yes, hot water can be a secret weapon against dried-on food, but sometimes, you should actually use cold water. If any of your dishes have dairy or starch residue (like potatoes), cool the temp down: Sticky foods like those will only become gummier and harder to remove when exposed to hot water.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Myth 9: There’s no “right way” to load a dishwasher.

Couples love to fight about who has the “better” way to load a dishwasher, and chances are, one of you is more right than the other. Make sure dishes are facing inward, flatware isn’t nested and nothing is blocking the sprayer arm. Run the machine with it loaded incorrectly, and you’ll likely have to rewash a bunch of items.

Myth 10: If dishes are coming out of the dishwasher dirty, you need a new appliance.

We hate to break it to you, but this is most likely user error. You might be using too much detergent, which can make your dishes cloudy. You could have hard water, which leaves stains behind (a rinse aid can help with that!). You might be blocking the sprayer arm when you load the dishes. The point: Don’t be too quick to rush out and order a new one.