Wash dishes the easy way: 6 cleanup tips you need to know

Save water and elbow grease with these tips for your dirtiest dishes.

Molly Price Former Editor
4 min read

Commit these time-saving dishwashing tips to memory.

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In my house, it feels like the dirty dishes regenerate every time I empty the sink. Turn around to put away the cereal and -- POW! -- more dishes. Where do they come from? I didn't even know we still had those bowls.

There are a few ways you can streamline your dishwashing routine for quicker and more effective clean-up. Here are some top tips for getting dishes clean without doing quite as much work.


Using a dishwasher can be more efficient than washing your dishes by hand.


Use a dishwasher often

This feels counterintuitive, but if you're running the dishwasher a lot, don't fret. It may seem like hand-washing dishes after meals and snacks is the easier, faster and more water-conserving way to go, but you'd be surprised.

According to the EPA and a 2016 study by the Water Research Foundation, the average dishwasher uses about 6 gallons per load, while older models can use up to 10 gallons. An Energy Star-certified dishwasher can use as few as 3 gallons per load, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. 

Pair that with the fact that your kitchen faucet probably uses around 2 gallons per minute and, unless you can get your dishes washed in 5 minutes or less, a dishwasher just makes sense as the most efficient way to clean dishes. Of course, not every home has a dishwasher. If you're washing dishes by hand, keep reading. There are other ways you can make life easier after meals. 


Soak the dirtiest dishes for easier cleanup. 

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Let really dirty dishes soak

Gross, but effective. After loading the dishwasher, you can let your hand-wash items soak rather than spend minutes (and gallons of water) washing them over and over under the running faucet. You can soak them one at a time, or fill the sink a little and let them marinate. You don't need a full sink to soak dishes effectively.

The best way to do this is to lather all your dishes at once. Then, plug the sink and run some hot water over all of them. Turn the faucet back on only when you're ready to rinse everything. Your dishes do need clean water to be sanitary, but soaking them all together in a few centimeters of dishwater isn't a health risk as long as you soap and rinse well at the end. 

Dishes in a kitchen

Stacking plates uses less water per plate.

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Organize your sink

If you are going to soak dishes, there should be a method to your madness. It might sound odd, but stacking and nesting dishes inside one another is one way to save water. You'll soak everything without filling each bowl up with its own water.

While you won't want a stack of dishes to sit in your sink for days on end, nesting them is a good way to make the work go faster -- and use less water, too. 

For example, the hot soap and water surrounding the forks and small dishes sitting inside a larger bowl will begin dissolving bits of stuck-on food, which will make them that much easier to clean.  


Garbage disposals are useful, but rely on water flow.

Ditch the disposal

In-sink garbage disposals are an easy way to get rid of gunk, but they also require running water in order to operate safely. Try this instead: Scrape your food into the trash or a compost receptacle rather than the garbage disposal. 

It's faster, and you avoid forgetting which food items should never be put down a disposal, like bones and fruit pits. Scraping food into the trash will keep you from unintentionally harming your sink's disposal system or clogging your drain.   


A cheap pot scraper can solve a lot of dish disasters.

Rich Brown/CNET

Swap your sponge for a pot scraper

If you hate soaking and scrubbing dishes, you're not alone. CNET Executive Editor Rich Brown recently sang the praises of one tiny kitchen tool, a $5 pot scraper that does the heavy lifting.

It's a cheap, handy piece of plastic that can tackle stuck-on food and keep you from needing to soak a dirty, burnt lasagna dish in water for hours on end. The pot scraper's hard (often silicone) edge and angled surfaces give you more leverage when it comes to getting crud off those pans. 

You can also use it as a generalized scraper after meals. Just scrape food off each plate before you put it under the faucet. Do this before the food has a chance to dry on the plate. The more work you get done before you need to lather and rinse, the better. 

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Soap and shake

It might not be as fun as it sounds, but this method of washing your dishes could save you some serious cleaning time. Simply add soap and hot water to any containers you're washing, snap on the lids and shake them periodically. Think of it as a handmade dishwasher. 

You'll only put water in the containers once, and agitating the soap every so often will get every inch clean -- or at least cleaner than you otherwise would. After getting out most of the peanut butter or oil, stick it in the real dishwasher as you normally would. This only works with items that have a lid, so don't go spinning suds around your kitchen from an empty bowl. 

If you're interested in more kitchen and home water hacks, you can find tips online for everything from how to make your own distilled water to how to make a simple sprinkler system and ways to get started with composting