This article is about washing cooking utensils, dishes, etc. For the period before the Parliament of the United Kingdom is dissolved, see wash-up period.
"Dishpan hands" redirects here. For the song, see BoyTown.
Washing dishes in Germany, 1951
Washing dishes at Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana, 1972
An automated dishwasher, 2005
Woman using household gloves and wearing an apron when washing dishes, 2007
Washing dishes at Little Grill Collective in Harrisonburg, Virginia, 2008
Commercial dishwasher, Germany, 2010
Washing dishes in the United States, 2014

Dish washing (British English: washing up) is the process of cleaning cooking utensils, dishes, cutlery and other items. This is either achieved by hand in a sink or using dishwasher and may take place in a kitchen, utility room, scullery or elsewhere. In Britain to do the washing up also includes to dry and put away. There are cultural divisions over rinsing and drying after washing.[1]


Dish washing is usually done using an implement for the washer to wield, unless done using an automated dishwasher. Commonly used implements include cloths, sponges, brushes or even steel wool. As fingernails are often more effective than soft implements like cloths at dislodging hard particles, washing simply with the hands is also done and can be effective as well. Dishwashing detergent is also generally used, but bar soap can be used acceptably, as well. Rubber gloves are often worn when washing dishes by people who are sensitive to hot water or dish-washing liquids. According to dermatologists, the use of protective gloves is highly recommended whenever working with water and cleaning products, since some chemicals may damage the skin, or allergies may develop in some individuals. Dish gloves are also worn by those who simply don't want to touch the old food particles. Many people also wear aprons.

Running water or sink

A major variation in method is the temperature and state of the water. Asians and Latin Americans usually prefer running water because it is seen as being more hygienic as the water is not being reused, and usually use cold water. This is practical in environments where hot water is rarely available from the tap, and sinks are perceived as dirty surfaces (essentially a convenient drain). Westerners usually prefer standing hot water. This is practical in environments where hot water is cheaply and easily available, and sinks are perceived as clean surfaces (essentially a bowl with a convenient drainage device). In this method, the sink is usually first filled with dirty dishes (which may have already been rinsed and scraped to remove most food) and hot, soapy water. The detergent is added while the sink is filling with water, so a layer of suds forms at the top. Then the dishes are washed one by one and thoroughly rinsed to remove the grease dislodged by soap and mechanical action as well as the soap itself, then placed on a rack to begin drying, or dried and put away immediately by a second person. When the sink is empty, if there are more dishes to be washed they may be added to the same dishwater, or the sink may be drained and refilled if clean, hot dishwater is desired.

Separate tub in the sink

In some European countries, the dishes are generally washed in a separate tub placed inside the sink. This practice may have started as a matter of hygiene, as the kitchen sink was the only sink available for all the household water. The clothes were washed in the sink; the water used to wash the floor went down the sink, and so it made sense to separate the dishwater from the sink. There were two other possible reasons: First, kitchen sinks tended to be very large in a time when heating water was considered to be a major household expense; a tub used less water. Second, kitchen sinks were usually made of hard ceramic; any contact between the sink and plates was likely to cause chips, but a tub could be made of more forgiving material. Using a separate washing-up bowl in the sink also provides a place (down the gap between bowl and sink) to dispose of unfinished drink, soaking-water, etc. Using the gap for disposal of waste water requires extra vigilance to make sure food particles and other waste are not trapped under the bowl.


Where dishes are to be shared among many, such as in restaurants, sanitization is necessary and desirable in order to prevent spread of microorganisms.

Most institutions have a dish-washing machine which sanitizes dishes by a final rinse in either very hot water or a chemical sanitizing solution such as dilute bleach solution (50-100 parts per million chlorine; about 2ml of 5% bleach per litre of water, approximately one capful bleach per gallon water). Dishes are placed on large trays and fed onto rollers through the machine.

While not environmentally friendly, the use of bleach is critical to sanitation when large groups are involved: it evaporates completely, it is cheap, and it kills most germs. Cabinets, refrigerators, countertops, and anything else touched by people in a large group setting should be periodically wiped or sprayed with a dilute bleach solution after being washed with soapy water and rinsed in clean water.

However, bleach is less effective in the presence of organic debris, so a small amount of food residue can be enough to permit survival of, e.g., Salmonella bacteria. Scrubbing followed by soaking in bleach is effective at reducing Salmonella contamination, but even this method does not completely eliminate Salmonella bacteria.[2]

In hand-washing, plastic brushes with nylon bristles are preferred to washcloths or sponges, which can spread microorganisms.[3] Use of soap or sanitizer is mandatory in washing by hand in public food facilities.[4]

Traditional dish-washing practice


Traditionally, dish washing is done by scrubbing the utensils with wet fabric dipped in scrub ash (abu gosok) to scrub away the dirt. The utensils are then rinsed in clean water and hung to drip dry. Scrub ash is specially made by burning wood for dish washing.


  1. "The cultural divide on washing dishes: Brits vs. Americans". Retrieved 24 December 2014.
  2. Weese JS, Rousseau J (September 2006). "Survival of Salmonella Copenhagen in food bowls following contamination with experimentally inoculated raw meat: effects of time, cleaning, and disinfection". Can. Vet. J. 47 (9): 887–9. PMC 1555674Freely accessible. PMID 17017654.
  3. page 190 in Michael S. Bisesi; Koren, Herman (2002). Handbook of Environmental Health, Volume I: Biological, Chemical, and Physical Agents of Environmentally Related Disease. Boca Raton: CRC Press. ISBN 1-56670-536-3.
  4. Only rinsed used utensils under running water may be a major offense upon inspection: County of Sacramento. Retail Food Facility. Official Inspection Report. 06/04/2009

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