Is warm water enough to kill cold and flu germs? What about E. coli and other bacteria? Whether you do your dishes by hand or just throw them in the dishwasher, it’s important to know the best bacteria-killing techniques so that the meals you serve don’t come with a side of salmonella!
Keep a clean sponge. If you use kitchen sponges, just rinsing them with dish soap isn’t enough. To kill all the bacteria, wet the sponge and microwave it on the highest setting for two minutes (let the sponge cool off before using it again). You can also use a dish brush with nylon bristles – they aren’t as prone to bacteria buildup and they’ll make dish duty a little easier!
Check the water temperature. To kill most types of bacteria, water needs to reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit (read: scalding hot). The water in most dishwasher cycles will reach this temperature, but the water from your kitchen sink may not. Inspect your hot water heater to see how hot your tap water can get. If you do all of your dishes by hand and are really worried about germs, it may be worth setting your heater to 140 degrees, just note that this will use more energy than a lower setting, and there is a potential danger of scalding your skin when water is run on its hottest setting.
Know your dish soap. Did you know that most dish soap isn’t designed to kill bacteria? Its purpose is to lift food and grime off of surfaces so that food can be easily rinsed away. Unless your dish soap has antibacterial ingredients, it’s not actually made to disinfect your dinner plates – that’s a job for hot water! Note: Studies show that regular dish soap and hot water can clean dishes just as well as antibacterial soap, so it’s not always necessary to sprint to the store for some new suds.
Purchase a pair of rubber gloves. You want your water to be hot (see step #2), but 140 degrees Fahrenheit can scald you if you aren’t careful. Ouch! If you’re washing dishes by hand, we recommend you grab a pair.
Take extra time to wash silverware. All dishes are not created equal. Forks and knives can harbor more bacteria than plates and cups because of hard-to-reach prongs and grooves. Take the time to lather, rinse and repeat for your cutlery.