5 Brilliant Tips for Washing Dishes, According to a Restaurant Dishwasher

published Jan 1, 2022
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

Try as we might, it seems there’s no end in sight to the amount of dirty dishes magically piling up in the sink day after day. Which brings us here. We thought it might help to talk to a professional dishwasher for some useful (and encouraging!) industry advice. What does pro dishwasher John Hayes know about washing dishes that we don’t? Turns out, a lot! Beyond the basics (tackle crusty pots ASAP; use extra-hot water), here are five super-smart insider tips to make everyone’s least favorite chore easier, quicker, and maybe even a little more fun.

1. Set your sink up with three different essential sponges.

This one was a shock. But according to Hayes, who works as a dishwasher and cheesemonger at Dedalus in Burlington, Vermont, you need three sponges. Hayes’ trifecta is a steel wool pad, a cheap green scouring pad, and a regular old cellulose sponge. Does the sponge brand matter? “Whatever’s on sale,” Hayes says with a shrug. Load up with these three sponges and you’ll always have the right tool for the job.

2. Create a handled tool with a butter knife.

Even though Hayes is adamantly low-tech when it comes to his dish pit, he admits that sometimes a specialty tool can come in handy. (We’re totally stealing the phrase “dish pit”!) In particular: when cleaning jars and containers with small openings. But don’t waste money on a handled sponge brushes. Instead, Hayes just creates one of his own by wrapping a sponge or scrubbie around the tip of a butter knife. This allows him to get every last smudge and smear from hard-to-reach spots.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

3. Dry the sink and your sponges to cut down on bacteria.

Unfortunately, your kitchen sink can be pretty disgusting. With so many dishes moving in and out of Hayes’ dish pit, he makes sure to keep the area dry when it’s not in use. Soggy, damp sponges, and food-clogged sinks are breeding grounds for bad bacteria, so he makes sure to finish the job by “shutting down” his workstation. First, he cleans the sponges (“Keep rinsing until the water runs clear,” he says), then squeezes out any excess. After the drain catch is cleared and the sink is dried with a towel, each of his three sponges gets set by the faucet. “Boom, boom, and boom,” he says, mimicking the act of setting them down in a tidy row. But what about fancy sponge holders? “If that brings you joy, you do you,” he says.

4. Use a microfiber cloth to make glassware sparkle.

Because Dedalus is a wine bar, it goes through an enormous amount of high-end glassware each night. Water spots and dish towel fuzz don’t pair well with white or red, so it’s crucial the stemware gleams. While Hayes happily relinquishes the task of washing wine glasses to the bartenders, he does know a thing or two about making them ready for service. Air drying will create water spots, and terry cloth kitchen towels can leave behind unappealing fluffy bits. “Use a microfiber cloth,” says Hayes, and notes that at home, you can let the glasses air dry and “touch up” any water spots with a towel before using. 

5. Make it fun with a podcast.

You washed dishes yesterday. You washed them today. You’ll be washing them again every day for the rest of your life. While working at the restaurant, Hayes prefers to do his job without distractions so he can get in the zone. But at home, he plugs into a podcast to make washing dishes go by faster. He’s a big fan of chef David Chang’s show — and when he needs a laugh, he tunes into the NPR news quiz, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!.

Do you have dishwasher tips? Share your best ideas with us in the comments.