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Can You Wash Dishes Without Hot Water?

Tired of scalding your hands while washing dishes? Wash them without hot water, no matter what your grandma’s always told you.

Doing the dishes is one of those things in life we simply have to deal with. Some don’t mind; others deem it the worst chore around the house. Whatever your stance on it, the indisputable truth remains: It ought to be done, and it won’t happen on its own.

When it comes to giving your plates a scrub, do you really have to use hot water? Our readers asked, so we rolled up our sleeves and got our hands dirty to find out.

Technically speaking, yes, you can wash dishes without hot water. But you should reconsider for a few reasons. First of all, hot water works well to tackle grease build-up and stuck-on food. Secondly, it reduces bacterial counts better than cold water does.

Heat kills bacteria, so hot water is the best solution for sanitizing dishes. It won’t eliminate the bacteria completely, but it can help reduce the population to a safer level. That doesn’t mean you have to wash your dishes solely with hot water, though: You can also choose to do so with lukewarm or cold water.

Think we’ve lost it? Read on, and we’ll share some facts for you to back this up. Plus, as an added bonus, we’ve thrown in a few tips that will make your dishwashing days much more enjoyable.

Washing Dishes with Cold Water

Even though your mother or grandmother may totally disagree with us, we promise we make a compelling argument. While we don’t recommend cold water for gunky grease, we do think it’s quite alright with dishes that are mostly clean and with food residue wiped off.

To do the dishes with cold water, add detergent, give it a swirl, scrub thoroughly with the green end of a soft sponge, and then rinse. To sanitize dishes, utensils, glasses, and mugs, it’s a good idea to dip them in a solution of 1 tablespoon unscented bleach and 1 gallon of water for a minute—then rinse, pat dry, and leave to air dry.

Researchers Said this About Dish Water Temperatures

A lot of people think that scalding hot water is the answer for dishes. And for good reason: the Food & Drug Administration recommends washing dishes at 110°F (43.3°C). The problem is that most of us find water that’s heated to this temperature a little too hot to be comfortable, so we usually make it cooler.

To understand just how much of a problem this is, in 2007, researchers from Ohio State University took a look at both hot and lukewarm water when used for washing dishes.

The researchers published their findings in the Journal of Food Engineering. They found that, even when they washed dishes in cooler-than-recommended water, the bacterial populations dropped to acceptable levels in the FDA’s Food Code.

They also found that milk dried on glasses and cheese dried on plates are breeding grounds for bacteria that require extra scrubbing and sanitization. With their prongs, forks wound up being the dirtiest pieces of dinnerware of them all; lather generously and scrub thoroughly.

One important step of the washing process, which we often neglect at home, is dipping the dishes in a sanitization solution, be it diluted bleach (rinse required) or quaternary ammonium (no-rinse required; simply air-dry).

Tips for Better Dish Washing

Even though you hate it, it has to be done, which is why we’re here with a few tips on how to get better suds and a brighter shine.

Prep Your Dishes

If there is one thing you should do before scrubbing, it’s prepping. Prepping your dishes ensures that they will be easier to wash and that your drain won’t get clogged. In order to do it, all you have to do is grab a fork or paper towel and scrape or wipe everything up.

If you have dishes that have bits and pieces of food that have stuck on and dried, you may need to soak them first. Then, you can rinse them off and wash them, doing so with little to no elbow grease. (For sanitary reasons, it’s recommended to do the dishes before food dries out on them.)

Put Them in Order

Did you know that, when washing dishes, order matters? That’s right, you should really think it out and get all of the small and easy-to-clean dishes out of the way first.

That is usually silverware and cups, allowing you to clear up and space and get ready to put in some elbow grease. You may want to switch to a sponge or a scrubber too, making sure you get all the gunk and grime off and that your dishes will rinse clean.

Upgrade Your Tools

We can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard from people that don’t think about their sponges or scrubbers. Just like anything else, they should be replaced too, making sure that they’re working well and not crowing their own little colony of bacteria.

If you cook often, you wash often. If so, you might need to think about replacing your scrubbers and sponges twice a month. Of course, if you notice peeling, shedding, or a bit of a stench, then it’s probably time to replace it. 

It’s not just about replacing often but also about taking a look at what’s on the market, seeing if you can find tools that make your most-washed dishes easier to scrub. A set of heavy-duty scrub sponges, a sturdy pair or two of gloves, and a container large enough to dip dishes are all good tools to add to your arsenal.

A Little Goes a Long Way

When washing dishes, it’s easy to go overboard, not only with water but also with dishwashing soap. With both, a little goes a long way, and can actually make your dish washing experience more pleasant.

Add a bit of dish soap to your sponge and scrub your dishes without water, only rinsing off when done. Then, turn on the water a little low to rinse off. This will keep you from running up the water bill and from using too much soap.

Watch Water Temperature

While you can use cold water, especially if you sanitize the dishes in bleach or quart afterwards, you want to give your favorite dishes a douse of hot water a time or two. Do the same if you’ve got dishes that were in the fridge too long or for those that you left out to be able to come back and wash later.

One thing we like to do in the HCW test kitchen is to make the tap water as hot as possible when we rinse the soap-lathered dishes. We hold each piece of dinnerware under the steaming water for as long as possible, letting the heat do its work.

Suds Don’t Scald

Though it’s been passed down from generation to generation, you’re not putting yourself at risk if you wash dishes without hot water. As long as you don’t let dishes sit out and collect bacteria, all you’ll have to do is add some soap to a sponge and rinse off.

To make your life easier, be sure to incorporate a few of our tips into your washing routine, ensuring that you’re using your time and efforts wisely. We know it’s not the best chore to do but, keeping dishes clean is a must, keeping harmful germs away and preventing your home from smelling a bit icky.