Most Dish Soaps Don't Actually Disinfect—Here's How to Properly Sanitize Dirty Dishes

Follow these steps to make sure your dishes are germ-free.

When you diligently wash every single dish in your sink with sudsy dish soap and warm water, you probably assume that your sparkling clean dishes are also disinfected. And while we hate to be the bearers of disappointing news, we thought it was important to point out that most dishwashing liquids are actually not antibacterial. That's right, even after scrubbing your dishes clean and dousing them in suds, your now clean-looking dishes could still be harboring bacteria.

In most cases, this probably isn't a big source of concern, but if someone in your household has recently been sick or you've prepared raw meat on certain plates, you'll want to ensure that your dishware is truly sanitized. How do you guarantee your dishes are germ-free? Simply follow the guidelines below to make sure your dishes don't just look clean, but actually are clean.

Choose the Dishwashing Machine Over Hand-Washing

The dishwasher versus hand-washing debate may never be officially resolved, but when it comes to removing bacteria, there's a surefire winner: the dishwasher. While the machine may not be as effective at removing stuck-on food particles, it can reach much hotter temperatures than you can handle when hand-washing—and as you'll see below, water temp is a key factor to achieving a germ-free dish. To kill bacteria, the water temperature should be above 140 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature your machine can reach easily but that is much too hot for your hands.

Use the Hottest Water Possible

If you don't own a dishwasher and have to resort to hand-washing your dishes, you'll want to get the water as hot as possible and wear heat-resistant dishwashing gloves ($13, Again, if you have a dishwasher, it's the better option and choosing the "sanitizing" setting will ensure the hottest water.

Buy Antibacterial Dish Soap

Many of us automatically assume that our dish soap is antibacterial, but if you take a closer look at the options at the grocery store, you'll notice that only some of them are. Look for options that are clearly labeled "antibacterial" ($3, According to a 2007 study, the combination of a sanitizing solution and lower water temperatures (75 degrees Fahrenheit) was effective at getting rid of bacteria in most cases (except for milk on glasses), so upgrading your dish soap may be an easy solution.

Alternatively, you can create a sanitizing solution of one tablespoon unscented chlorine bleach in one gallon of water. Be sure to soak the dishware for a full minute before rinsing thoroughly.

Drop That Sponge

If you're still hand-washing your dishes with a traditional (read: germ-laden) sponge, it's likely adding rather than removing bacteria from your plates and cups. Instead, opt for a silicone scrubber or a washing net that dries quickly. Simply can't part with your dish sponge? Be sure to replace it at least once per week.

Sanitize Your Dish Cloths, Too

If you're carefully disinfecting your dishes, only to dry them with a germy dish cloth, you're likely undoing all of your hard work. Be sure to wash your dish cloths every few days using the "sanitizing" cycle on your washing machine. Opting for the hottest water possible and the hottest dryer setting available will make sure your dish cloths are germ-free.

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