30 of Our Most Brilliant Hacks and Tips for Washing Dishes by Hand

updated Jul 30, 2019
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There are few kitchen chores that are less fun than washing dishes. It can be boring, kinda gross, and even difficult! That’s why we compiled this giant list for you. Keep reading for all sorts of hacks (you can use chopsticks to dry glasses!), tips (vinegar is more helpful than you even know), and more. We’ll tell you how to clean the most annoying messes, how to make the task more fun, and offer up lots of little pointers. We promise that once you read through this list, you won’t find the chore all that bad.

1. Try the “one soapy sponge” policy.

Got a pile of dishes that you just can’t seem to bring yourself to tackle? Don’t think of it all as one giant job. Instead, try the “one soapy sponge” policy and just wash all the dishes you can get through without reloading your sponge. When it’s time for another squirt of soap, you get to put the sponge down and go to do something else.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

2. Turn mesh produce bags into DIY pot-scouring pads.

You know those mesh produce bags you get when you buy a dozen lemons? Or a whole lot of potatoes? Well, don’t toss them! Instead, place an old sponge inside the bag, secure it with a zip tie, and clip the ends. Voila: You’ve got a DIY pot scrubber.

3. Use chopsticks to help glasses dry.

If you’ve run out of room on your dish drainer, lay out a towel and put some chopsticks parallel to each other. (You know you have a decent collection of them from all your takeout orders!) Put upside-down glasses along the chopsticks so that the water can drip out and air can circulate around them.

Credit: Faith Durand

4. Leave a soapy bowl next to the sink.

Fill a bowl with warm, soapy water — and leave it there. For a dinner party or even a few days! As you bring dirty flatware into the kitchen, just slip it into the bowl. This way, your utensils won’t get jumbled up in the bottom of the sink and the pieces will be pre-rinsed for faster cleaning.

5. Stop washing everything.

Just because you used something, doesn’t mean it needs to be washed. Maybe you used a measuring cup to dole out some walnut pieces? Or a teaspoon to measure out some salt? Give yourself a pass and just rinse the tool before you toss it on the drying rack. Do NOT skip the washing if something touched raw meat, oil, or eggs — obviously. Also, try to use fewer dishes to start with. If you used a cup for water all day, you can also use it for iced tea later.

6. Stock up on sponges you really love.

A carpenter is only as good as his tools, right? So get a bunch of sponges that really work for you. No, more! Because you really should be tossing your sponges on a pretty regular basis. (While you’re shopping you should also get a dish soap in a fun scent that you actually like. It might just make you WANT to do the dishes.)

7. Definitely use gloves.

Yes, we could talk about how dish gloves can save your manicure and help your hands stay silky smooth. But the best argument for wearing dish gloves is that you’ll be able to tolerate extra hot water, which will help loosen stuck-on gunk and goo. Plus, they’ll help you get a better grip on everything.

8. Make sure you have a good dish rack.

It’s super important that you have a good place to put the dishes as you wash them. A laid-out tea towel is probably not going to do the trick. Invest in a good dish rack. Perhaps one of these?

9. And use your dishwasher as overflow.

If you’re washing a lot of things by hand (and your dishwasher happens to be clean/empty), use the racks to hold dishes as they dry. Because even the best countertop dish rack can’t hold all the pots, pans, glasses, baking sheets (etc!) that you dirty during a dinner party.

Credit: Cat Meschia

10. Let your stovetop do some of the work.

So you stepped away from your Dutch oven while you had some onions cooking. Whoops! Now you have a very hard-to-scrub mess and you don’t have the elbow grease to buff it out. Make your stove do it! Put your enameled cast iron pot back on the stove with some water and baking soda, and it’ll practically clean itself.

Credit: Erika Tracy

11. Embrace the power of lemons.

Cut a lemon in half and you actually have a super-powerful “sponge.” You can use lemon halves to clean cutting boards, rusty knives, and even gunky cheese graters.

More on Washing Dishes with Lemons

12. And potatoes.

Let’s say a friend “helped” you clean up from dinner and she soaked your cast iron skillet. Now it’s rusty. What should you do? First, unfriend that buddy. (Joking.) Then get a potato. Cut the potato in half, dip the cut end in dish soap or baking soda, and rub it over the rusted area. If the end of the potato gets slick, slice it off and dip the newly cut end. Repeat until rust is removed!

Credit: Amazon

13. Buy this stuff that’ll work while you sleep.

Technically meant for water bottles and other beverage containers, one of our writers found that these tablets work wonders on pots and pans that have extra-stuck-on food. She let’s them work their magic overnight and then she has a much easier time cleaning pots in the morning.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

14. Or try dryer sheets.

The key to fixing a scorched pot just might be in your laundry room. Soak one in a pot to un-stick burnt messes. Then, wash the pot the way you usually would (with soap and water) because there are chemicals in dryer sheets.

Credit: IKEA

15. Get a dish brush.

Lauren Kodiak, our managing editor, swears by these 50-cent ANTAGEN Dish Brushes. She uses them to brush food off dirty plates before washing them AND to scrub down the sink when it’s looking gross. “I especially love that the long handle keeps my hand away from the mess,” she says.

16. And a sink strainer.

No matter how well you scrape your dishes, you’re always going to have to deal with food in the sink. And you really do not want it going down the drain. The OXO Sink Strainer is the best strainer we’ve found because it catches bits of all sizes and it easily comes clean when you pop out the silicone part over the trash can.

17. Put on some music or a podcast.

Make the whole thing just a tad more entertaining by putting on your favorite Pandora station or podcast.

Credit: Hero Images/Getty Images

18. Enlist your partner to help!

Dish duty does not have to be a solo job!

Credit: Kitchn Video

19. Clean your silver with aluminum foil.

You probably don’t use your good silver all that often, which means it’ll probably be tarnished by the time you pull it out again (read: Thanksgiving). Grab a glass baking dish lined with aluminum foil or an aluminum baking dish, baking soda, salt, and boiling water. The chemical reaction will begin to remove the tarnish immediately, although heavily tarnished pieces may need to soak a little longer.

20. Wash your dishes by type.

Do all the knives first (so that they’re out of the way and you don’t run the risk of stabbing yourself! Then all the wine glasses, and all the flatware, and all the plates, and so on. You’ll be able to work faster and storing things on your dish rack will be easier this way.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

21. Use vinegar to get stains out of plastic containers.

No matter how old your plastic containers happen to be, chances are you’ve got one (or three) that have become stained — either from pasta sauce or soup or whatever. Before you toss the container, try to clean it. First, fill your container with a mixture of 50 percent water and 50 percent white distilled vinegar. Let the container soak for 30 minutes or even overnight, until the stain fades. If that doesn’t work, we have a baking soda idea you can try, too.

22. Keep things out of the sink.

If your sink is full of dirty dishes, you’re going to have a hard time cleaning them (because the pile will be in your way!). Plus, if you put, say, wooden cutting boards and a cast iron skillet, they could end up in standing water, which will cause the boards to warp and the cast iron to rust. Stack dishes next to the sink and only soak what needs to be soaked.

23. Use baking soda to get coffee stains out of mugs and carafes.

Coffee mugs tend to get stubborn brown stains, but they’re not there permanently. Try baking soda: Sprinkle some onto the bottom of your stained cup, add just enough water to form a paste, and scrub. The gentle abrasion of the baking soda will quickly get rid of stains. Then, simply rinse and wash the way you usually would.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

24. Soak all those water bottle pieces.

Water bottles are so convenient and good for the environment, yet oh-so-annoying to clean. Miss some of those nooks and crannies and you’ll get mold pretty quickly. Instead of standing at the sink with a toothbrush, just soak the pieces overnight.

Credit: Faith Durand

25. Make your blender clean itself.

There’s no reason to put your hand all the way into your blender and risk slicing up your fingers! Just put some warm water and a bit of dish soap into the blender and turn it on. It’ll de-gunk-ify itself and then you just have to rinse the container.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

26. Same for your whisk.

It’s not dangerous to clean a whisk, but it is annoying! All those wires! Whisk up some warm soapy water and the whisk will come out all clean!

Credit: Joe Lingeman

27. And your slow cooker!

Are you sensing a pattern here? So many things can clean themselves! Fill your slow cooker with water, vinegar, and baking soda, and turn it on. It’ll cook off crusty food and then you just have to give the insert a quick wash.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

28. Use a spatula to scrape bits off a casserole dish.

Don’t waste all your elbow grease trying to scrub a casserole dish with a sponge. Use a spatula to scrape off bits of food. Note: We carefully used a metal spatula here, but you’d be better off using a plastic one, so you don’t scratch the dish.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

29. Use salt as a gentle abrasive.

Turns out, kosher salt is a gentle abrasive that can scrub burnt-on bits of food. It’s tough on cast iron skillets or nonstick pans, but not so tough that it’ll ruin your seasoning or that nonstick finish. It’s also great for scrubbing wooden cutting boards (as you may have seen in tip 10).

Credit: Joe Lingeman

30. Make your own dish soap.

Trying to save money? Or cut down on the chemicals in your home? Or maybe you’re out of soap and don’t have time to run to the store? You can make your own dish soap with just a few supplies.

Do you have any more tips and tricks to add? Leave them in the comments below!