This Food Expert Says You’re Washing Your Dishes with Water That’s Too Hot

updated Dec 6, 2019
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.
Post Image
Credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani/Kitchn

Because there aren’t enough matters up for debate in your home, here’s another one: How hot should the water be when you’re washing dishes? And what do you do if you disagree with your partner or roommate? 

Most of us probably acquired our temperature preference from the home we grew up in. I know three different couples at Kitchn alone who argue over how hot the water should be. But does it have to be so hot, really? I mean, I know we associate hot water with clean, but let’s talk specifics. How hot is hot enough? Like, do we need to be wearing protective gloves? And if so, to what end? 

To settle this question I turned to an expert. Ben Chapman, PhD, is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University who works with people across the country, making sure they’re appropriately worried about food safety. He also co-authors the hilarious food safety blog, and co-hosts a food safety podcast.  

How Hot Does the Water Have to Be When Washing Dishes?

Dr. Chapman was nice enough to set the record straight. In short? Brace yourselves.
When you’re hand-washing dishes in the sink, “temperature of water isn’t really a factor,” he said, “until above 135 which is way, way, way too hot for anyone’s hand.”


It’s true. Because we’ve been worrying about the wrong thing. 

“The water doesn’t even have to be hot,” he says. (IT DOESN’T EVEN HAVE TO BE HOT, YOU GUYS!) “Just warm enough to loosen grease or food attached to the plate.” And when you’re pairing the warm water with soap and a scrubbing action, that happens at as cool as 80 degrees, he says. 

Why It’s Important to Properly Dry Your Dishes

So we don’t have to blast these dishes with scalding hot water? Dr. Chapman says nope. But adds that the drying part is WAY more important than how hot the water is. Bacteria doesn’t like to be dry. Drying your dishes is “going to kill another 90 percent of whatever is left [after washing],” he explains. 

You can either let dishes air dry completely, or dry them with a dish towel. Speaking of towels, do you need to grab a clean one? How about the one that’s been on the counter all week? “My drying towel that’s been there a few days can hold bacteria, but it won’t transfer very well to the dish,” says Dr. Chapman. “Especially if a dish is also going to have some air drying.” (I gotta be honest, though — I just feel better using a clean towel, even if science says I don’t need to.)

Credit: Joe Lingeman

And Disinfect Your Sink

Now, once your dishes are dry, here’s an important thing. You’re not done, because you may have just dumped a bunch of pathogens into your sink. “I look at it as the place where I’ve put a whole bunch of raw chicken juice,” Dr. Chapman says. “So I need to make sure I clean it using soap and rinsing, and to be extra-safe, I use a bleach-based sanitizer and let it air dry.” So clean and sanitize your sink. It’s a two-part deal. 

Read more: How To Clean and Disinfect a Stainless Steel Sink

What if you don’t want to use bleach? A Lysol-type product can also be used, and vinegar shows promise as an organic acid, he says. But honestly, after talking to Dr. Chapman, I’m going to get over my reluctance. Bleach unfortunately works best, he points out (and we’re talking between 50 and 200 parts per million with commercial products, not straight bleach).

So there you have it. If you’re on the not-so-hot side of the argument, you’ve just won.