Tips on hand dishwashing

Dishwashing is probably subject to more variables than any other household clean-up job. In theory at least, any detergent or soap can be used for hand dishwashing, except an automatic dishwasher detergent. However, soap has become almost extinct as a dishwashing product and many laundry detergents are not very acceptable. Laundry detergents, may leave spots and streaks, the powders may not completely dissolve, or may discolour certain metals with soaking. A light-duty liquid hand dishwashing detergent is the best choice.



Regardless of brand, certain characteristics are important in a hand dishwashing liquid: lasting suds, effective cleaning performance, mildness to hands, safety for dishes and other washables, storage stability, pleasant fragrance and appearance, convenient packaging and dispensing. In formulating a product to meet these criteria, manufacturers, in general, use certain basic ingredients.


Surfactants or surface active agents are the primary ingredients in a liquid hand dishwashing detergent. Often a combination of surfactants is used to produce good grease cutting capability and soil suspension, mildness in water of varying degrees of hardness, and a high, stable suds level. All surfactants in these detergents are biodegradable.

Stability and Dispensing Aids are added to keep the product homogeneous under varying storage conditions, and to provide desirable dispensing characteristics. Alcohols, hydrotropes, and salts are often used.

Fragrance and Colour Additives are what give a product its “personality,” and are important, though present in extremely small amounts.

Mildness Additives may include moisturizing agents, certain oils and emollients, certain protein compounds, or other neutralizing or beneficial ingredients.

Preservatives are added, if needed, in small quantities to help prevent any microbiological growth in the product which could cause colour or odour change, poor performance and separation of the ingredients.

Antibacterial Agents are sometimes added to provide antibacterial protection for the hands.

Performance Factors
Hand dishwashing liquids are relatively easy for consumers to compare. Users can experiment by trying various brands and deciding which product features are important to them: performance, price, sudsing, fragrance and “feel,” or perhaps the packaging. Usage is often based on the amount it takes to produce a rich, thick layer of suds.

Though detergents are not as affected by water hardness as soap is, some additional product may be necessary in very hard water. An important difference in the quantity of liquid hand dishwashing detergent required is the concentration of the surfactants vs. water in a product. More concentrated products are more efficient and may be more economical to use than the more dilute ones. Grease removal is more effective in warm water than in cold water.


Just as you exercise care in the manner in which you use and store other household cleaning products, you should properly dispose of empty dishwasher detergent containers or small amounts of leftover products by following some simple procedures.

  • Get the most for your money and USE THE PRODUCT UP! If you find you cannot use all of the product you purchased, give it to a friend, but make sure the label with directions and precautions is still legible.
  • Check the label for special instructions for disposal. Unused hand dishwashing detergents can be disposed down the drain. Many communities recycle the empty plastic containers. Check your local recycling guidelines and recycle containers when possible.
  • Don’t mix products when disposing of them.
  • NEVER reuse an empty dishwashing detergent container for another purpose. The label instructions and precautions for one product may be dangerous to someone trying to use those instructions for a different product.

Read all labels thoroughly and use products only for intended purposes and as directed.


Washing dishes by hand is a fairly simple process and results are very obvious. However, a routine and some organization help get the job done quickly and efficiently EQUIPMENT AT THE SINK

Plastic Dishpan

A square, round or rectangular dishpan is helpful when a double sink is not available. Choose a size that leaves part of a single sink accessible for scraping or pre-rinsing dishes. A dishpan can be emptied and refilled quickly with hot water and detergent as needed. It has a softer surface than a sink, and breakage is less likely.

Rubber Mat

When washing directly in a sink, a mat helps cushion the bottom and reduces breakage.

Drain Rack

Made of plastic-coated wire, formed plastic or, occasionally, wood, racks are almost essential for draining rinsed dishes. With a drain tray under the rack to catch rinse water, dishes can be rinsed right in the rack with extra-hot water from a spray hose, pitcher or pan. When there’s a second sink large enough to hold a drain rack, no drain tray is necessary except perhaps for pans and other utensils. After a hot rinse, most dishes will air dry without wiping, saving a step. Cups, bowls, mugs and glasses need to be rinsed inside by immersion or under running water, then racked upside down for final rinsing.


A flexible plastic or rubber scraper can be used to quickly remove loose food soils from plates, casseroles and pans. Careful scraping largely eliminates any pre-rinsing of dishes.


To remove crusty or hard residues, a wide variety of scrubbers is available. Plastic mesh, metal mesh, rough-surfaced sponges and cloths, steel wool soap pads and brushes all have their devotees.

Some plastic mesh and rough-textured sponges are gentle enough for scrubbing more delicate surfaces, such as non-stick pan finishes, shiny metals or china. Others are strictly heavy duty, and labels usually include cautions. Steel wool soap pads do an excellent job of removing discolouration and film from aluminum utensils, leaving them shiny.

Rubber Gloves

Gloves are helpful for hands sensitive to hot water, to minimize fingernail damage when scrubbing, and to give a better grip when washing breakable pieces.

Dishcloths, Sponges, Dish mops

These provide the basic washing action as each item is wiped clean with the detergent solution, all sides, inside and out. Each type has its advantages, but they all do the job.


In addition to the traditional cotton towel, non-woven fibre cloths and even paper towels can be used to dry dishes, glassware, flatware and pans that are not air dried. Avoid a lint-shedding material.

Detergents and Special Cleaners

Liquid hand dishwashing detergents needed at the sink are described above.

Getting Organized

Clear a space on the counter next to the sink to stock scraped and/or pre-rinsed dishes. Flatware can be soaked briefly in a detergent solution. If any pots, pans or bakeware have been soaking in the sink during the meal, wash them first. Drain this soiled water away and use clean, hot water and detergent for the table service items and any remaining cookware.

Dirty dishes can be stacked on trays, then moved to the sink area as space becomes available. In most kitchens, it’s helpful to place the drain rack on the side of the sink that is nearer dish storage; stack dirty dishes on the opposite side.


Wipe off any leftover food and grease from dishes and cookware using a rubber spatula or paper towels. Never pour grease down the drain; this can cause the drain to clog.

Soak dishes with greasy soils or stubborn baked-on or burned-on foods. To do this, add liquid hand dishwashing detergent or baking soda to the soiled utensils, then fill with hot water. If there are a number of items that need soaking, use a dishpan. Soak about 15 to 30 minutes or during the meal. Then drain the water and wash the dishes and cookware. Some automatic dishwasher detergents may be appropriate for soaking burned-on foods. Be sure to check the label first.

Washing, Rinsing, Drying

First fill the dishpan or sink with water as hot as can be comfortably used, and add enough detergent as the water is running to produce a thick, rich layer of suds. Read the label for the right amount. If rinsing in a separate sink or dishpan, fill it with very hot water.


Using clean hot water and detergent, start with the lightly soiled items, generally glassware and flatware, followed by plates of various sizes, serving dishes, and finally any remaining cookware not previously washed. Change the dishwashing solution if it becomes greasy, too cool, or the suds disappear. Otherwise, film and soil will not be completely removed.

Handle kitchen knives carefully by their handles; don’t pile them into the sink or dishpan, but wash them one by one and rack them with handles up.

There are several ways to wash dishes. Some people prefer to lift each piece out of the suds to wipe it with a cloth or sponge, others like to keep dishes beneath the suds surface so soil floats away. Some stack dishes in the sink or dishpan, others like to take each piece from the counter, wash it and take another.


The hotter the rinse water, the faster dishes will air dry. After racking dishes, pour or spray hot water over them if they haven’t been dipped in a rinsing sink or pan. Rinse inside cups, bowls and glassware.


Air drying is easier than towel drying, and may be more sanitary than drying with a soiled towel. However, wiping with a clean towel is particularly useful when glassware or flatware is spotted or filmed. Buffing silverware with a soft, clean, lint-free cloth actually improves its patina. Paper towels are handy for wiping pots and pans, especially any that may leave traces of grease or discolouration on a cloth towel.


Special Tips for Hand Dishwashing

  1. When scraping dishes, put food scraps into a plastic bag, garbage disposal, in the sink or directly into a kitchen waste can lined with a bag. Very wet garbage can be drained first in a colander set in the sink, then discarded into a garbage can. Use an empty food can to collect excess grease, pan drippings, or any kind of wet waste.
  2. Do not soak cast iron utensils. To retain their “seasoning” and discourage rusting, wash in hot water using a sponge or cloth. Scour stubborn stains with a steel wool soap pad rather than soaking in detergent which removes the built-up fat that seasons the utensil. Rub vegetable oil on any scoured areas to reseason. Dry pans briefly over heat on the range to prevent rusting from moisture.
  3. Do not soak aluminum utensils for excessive periods of time, as exposure to water can cause aluminum to darken.
  4. Change the dishwashing solution and rinse water when they cool down or before they become noticeably greasy.
  5. Clean greasy pan bottoms as well as the insides. If a grease film remains, the bottom will blacken when the pan is used again.
  6. Non-stick finishes on pans need a thorough cleaning to retain non-stick performance. Use a plastic mesh scouring pad designed for cleaning non-stick surfaces or a “light duty” plastic-coated sponge, or sprinkle baking soda on the bottom of the pan. Use plenty of hot water and detergent to remove any greasy film.
  7. Oven-glass casseroles and dishes can show cloudy areas even when clean. This is usually a food film of protein origin (milk, cheese, egg, meat juice). Rubbing with a sponge or cloth and white vinegar will usually remove the film.
  8. When there is illness in a family, such as colds, flu or a communicable disease, doctors often recommend a degree of isolation and use of disposable eating utensils. While careful dishpan practices can help home sanitation, and clean dishes are seldom the carriers of disease organisms, do follow doctor’s advice. A 5-minute soak (after washing) in a solution of 1 tablespoon (15 ml) liquid household (sodium hypochlorite) bleach to 1 gallon (3.8 L) of water should kill household germs. This method is not recommended for silver flatware which may tarnish.

CAUTION: Because of the variety of ingredients in hand dishwashing detergents, check with the detergent manufacturer before mixing sodium hypochlorite bleach and hand dishwashing detergents. Some formulations contain ingredients that are incompatible with the bleach and hazardous gases may be released.


To Common Hand Dishwashing Problems

Problem Cause Solution
Grey or metal marks on dinnerware Knife or fork drawn across the surface of some types of dinnerware, generally the stronger, harder ceramic materials. Scour gently with mild abrasive cleanser, baking soda or plastic mesh pad.
A spoon used to stir in a stoneware cup. Same as above.
Spots and film on glassware Wash water temperature too low. Increase water temperature and rinse thoroughly in hot water.
Insufficient amount of detergent. Increase amount of detergent.
Burned-on food in pans Cooking at too high a temperature or too long a time. Bring a solution of baking soda and water (3 tablespoons to 1 quart) to a boil in the soiled pan. Remove from heat and add 1 tablespoon of liquid hand dishwashing detergent and allow to cool. If soil remains, scrub with baking soda sprinkled on a plastic scouring pad or sponge; rinse and dry.
Baked-on food in casseroles, other bake-ware of glass or glass-ceramic material Cooking certain types of food such as those containing cheese, gravies, eggs or pie fillings. Scour gently with mild abrasive cleaner, baking soda or plastic mesh pad.Soak in a solution of liquid hand dishwashing detergent and/or baking soda and water to loosen soil. Do not use any automatic dishwasher detergent product for hand washing unless recommended by the product manufacturer.Do not use metal scouring pads as they may scratch the surface.
Coffee, tea stains on plastic or china cups Cups not rinsed and washed soon after using. Use a special cleaner made for coffee pots and cups, or a solution of 1 tablespoon (15 ml) liquid or powdered sodium hypochlorite bleach in 1 quart (.95 L) of water. Certain oxygen bleaches can be used. Follow label directions.Another method is sprinkle baking soda onto a damp cloth or sponge, rub surface until clean, rinse and dry.Avoid the use of an abrasive cleanser which may abrade the surface and make the cups more subject to stains.
Darkened aluminum Exposure to certain minerals and alkalis in some foods and water. Boil a solution of 2 to 3 tablespoons (30 to 45 ml) of cream of tartar, lemon juice or vinegar to 1 quart (0.95 L) of water in the utensil for 5 to 10 minutes. Then lightly scour with a steel wool soap pad.Cooking an acid food such as tomatoes will also remove the stains and will not affect the food.Clean with a metal cleaning product recommended for use on aluminum. Follow package directions.
Staining of non-stick cookware Minerals in water, baked-on fat, food stains or the use of excessive heat. Use any one of the following solutions:

  • To 1 quart (.95 L) of water, add 1/4 cup (60 ml) coffee pot cleaner, Or
  • To 1 cup (240 ml) of water, add 3 tablespoons (45 ml) of oxygen bleach.Let the solution simmer in the stained pan for 15-20 minutes. Wash the pan thoroughly, rinse and dry. Then recondition the pan with cooking oil or shortening before using.To prevent staining, use the lowest heat that will do the job.