The Best Ways to Dry Dishes—Including the Most Sanitary Method

Should you air-dry, use a dishtowel, or start using the dishwasher as a drying rack?

Sometimes, deciding between air-drying dishes and reaching for a dishtowel is simply a matter of the available space on the dish rack. And if you own a dishwasher, letting your dishes dry in the appliance may be the easiest option. Most of us probably let convenience guide our dish-drying habits, but there's one more factor to consider: the cleanliness of our chosen technique.

According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, there is a hierarchy of sanitary drying methods. That's right: Having clean dishes isn't just about washing them but also about drying them in a way that doesn't sabotage your cleaning efforts. Let the ranking below be your guide—start with the most sanitary drying technique possible, then work your way down the list.

01 of 05

Using the Dishwasher's Sanitizing Cycle

If you have a dishwasher with a "sanitize" option, this is hands-down the most effective method to make sure your plates, cups, and utensils are germ-free. The extended hot-water rinse kills bacteria, reaching at least 150 degrees F, which would be unbearable for hand-washing.

When you select the "heated dry" option, the machine pumps in hot air, causing the moisture on the dishes to evaporate into steam. This is the most sanitary way to dry dishes, but some warn that because it works the appliance's air fan harder, it can put extra strain on the machine.

If you want to extend the life of your dishwasher while still getting the cleanest dishes possible, consider using this method sparingly, such as when washing baby bottles or when someone in your house is sick.

02 of 05

Drying in the Dishwasher

Even if you skip the sanitizing wash cycle, drying dishes inside the dishwasher is the next-best option. The drying cycle reaches high temperatures, helping to destroy germs and bacteria.

03 of 05


Don't have a dishwasher? Wait, don't reach for that dishtowel just yet. It turns out that air-drying dishes on a dish rack is generally a more sanitary method than using a dishtowel. To make more space for air-drying, consider a two-tier dish rack or one that fits over your kitchen sink.

04 of 05

Drying with a Paper Towel

Since paper towels are single-use, they won't spread bacteria the same way a reusable cloth dishtowel might. The one big caveat: Using paper towels to dry all of your dishes would be a wasteful habit.

05 of 05

Drying with a Dishtowel

Because most of us don't wash our dishtowels often enough, they may be spreading germs onto our freshly washed dishes. If you have to use a dishtowel for items that can't air-dry, try to wash the towels as often as possible, ideally using a clean towel every day. Also, let it dry between uses.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles