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Q. Does hand washing dishes get them as clean as the dishwasher does?
La Cañada Flintridge, California
A. Not completely. To kill most of the bacteria on a dirty dish, water must reach a scalding 140 degrees Fahrenheit, says Kelly Reynolds, an associate professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Arizona, in Tucson. That temperature is easily reached in a dishwasher, but in a sink, it’s nearly impossible. Hot-water heaters are typically set at 120 degrees to prevent burns, and most people can’t stand to keep their hands in a stream of water that hot for more than a few minutes. So when it comes to washing dishes, high-tech beats low.
Should you worry, then, about Grandma’s Wedgwood, which is too delicate for the dishwasher—or your grandma who doesn’t own a dishwasher? Rest assured: Hand washing does an acceptable job. But if you want your dishes sanitized, according to the Oregon State University Extension Service, you should add one step to the process: After scrubbing with soap and water, soak everything for 5 to 10 minutes in 1 gallon of hot water and 1 tablespoon of chlorine bleach (the ratio works for a sinkful of dishes). The bleach will kill any microorganisms that scouring failed to expunge. (This is a good idea if someone in the house is sick.) When everything dries, the bleach will evaporate, leaving your dishware so clean that you can, well, eat off of it.
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