Photo: Frank Herholdt/Getty/Getty Images
There’s nothing quite like dishwasher-clean — steamed, sanitized, sparkling — dishes, but that’s not always an option. If you’re living without a dishwasher, or otherwise choose not to use one, you know how time-consuming a task this can be (not to mention a straight-up unpleasant one). You’re on your feet, picking off baked-on food, covered in splashes of dirty water, only to get your dishes half as clean as they would be out of a dishwasher. The latter, we can help with. We’ve rounded up all the best things we’ve written about on the Strategist for hand-washing dishes — and talked to some new cleaning experts — about the best stuff out there to help you wash your dishes, including the best soaps, the best sponges, and the best gloves.
According to our experts, though, more important than having the right equipment is creating good habits around this chore. Ty Rosa, of A Sparkling Clean Life, and Jessica Haizman, podcast host and cleaning expert, both recommend cleaning dishes as they get dirty instead of waiting for the end of the day. “Quickly wash something, dry it, and put it away, and once it’s out of sight, it’s completely out of mind,” says Rosa. “Those are the things that really make a difference in people’s lives. Not thinking about those dirty dishes in the sink all the time as you walk by it sort of helps you open up your mental bandwidth to handle the other important things that you have to do.”
With that in mind, here are the more tangible things that will help you hand-wash your dishes and get them as close to dishwasher-clean as possible.
“My favorite thing to clean anything with is blue Dawn,” says Rosa. “You can clean your bathrooms with blue Dawn, you can clean your whole kitchen, you can clean your floor, you can clean pretty much anything with blue Dawn.” This new version, she says, is even better. “They came out with the Dawn Powerwash, which is more potent than the actual blue Dawn detergent and you can just spray it on and wipe away,” she adds. Rosa likes to spray it on and walk away for five minutes to let the product do the work. It’s relatively new to market, but it’s blown up on TikTok, where the hashtag #dawnpowerwashspray has over 21 million views. That’s actually where I — someone who is without a dishwasher and thus relegated to hand-washing my dishes — first saw it and was intrigued enough to purchase it. While I miss how sudsy traditional Dawn gets, like Rosa, I’ve found that this lifts whatever you have stuck on your dishes and you really can just wipe it away.
We’ve recommended Branch Basics a number of times. It’s a soap concentrate, so you can dilute it with water to make different-strength cleansers for just about everything in your house. Haizman likes it especially for dish soap since the ingredients are so clean. “They’re really great quality ingredients, which is important because you’re washing your dishes, you’re eating off those dishes, so whatever you’re washing them in is going to leave some type of residue. I think it’s super-important to make sure you’re using nontoxic products,” she says. Gay Browne, the author of Living With a Green Heart, and Kimberly Button, the creator of GetGreenBeWell.com and author of the Ultimate Home Detox Guide, have recommended this as one of their favorite all-purpose natural cleaning products as well. “This concentrated, multipurpose, all-in-one cleaner is only made of plant- and mineral-based ingredients,” says Browne, who adds that “it also cuts out packaging waste” because its concentrated formula is designed to be diluted with water, meaning you’ll go through a bottle a lot slower.
Dr. Bronner’s is another popular concentrate. Haizman uses it, and so does singer Jhené Aiko, who told us, “I use it as a bodywash. I use it as a bath soap. I’ve washed my hair with it. I’ve washed dishes with it. I’ve washed my crystals in it, too.” Micaela Preston of mindfulmomma.com is partial to this Sal Suds Biodegradable Cleaner, which she says is powerful enough to clean your floors, dishes, furniture, and even your car, but gentle enough not to irritate your skin.
For pots and pans that are really worse for the wear, Rosa likes Bar Keepers Friend. There’s one made specifically for cookware, but she prefers this soft cleanser. “You can leave it on overnight or even just a couple of hours and things that have been tarnished or rusty for years, like you don’t even remember the original color of the pot, it’ll come out.” She likes that it’s liquid, compared to the cookware version, which comes in powder form. “For everyday use I like to use the soft cleanser, rather than the powder. It’s just less messy to not have to deal with a powder,” says Rosa. “This goes on almost like a liquid detergent type of consistency, and it really makes the stainless steel completely shine.”
Becky Rapinchuk, the founder of Clean Mama, is a fan of her own brand’s dish soap. “It’s safe to use and it’s sudsy, which is hard to find with natural dish soap products,” she says. “A lot of times, they don’t have enough suds in it.” She likes to fill the sink with soapy water that’s “hot as I can handle it,” she says, and she’ll soak the dishes and wash and rinse them individually.
Back in 2019, we dubbed this the next status dish soap. “It’s (entirely) sulfate-free, biodegradable, and endorsed by Sandeep Salter, the owner of stylish Brooklyn Heights home-goods shop Salter House, who stocks it between other status cleaning supplies, including a horsehair scrubber brush and a Japanese broom,” writes Katy Schneider.
We’ve also looked into the best-rated dish soaps on Amazon, and found that Mrs. Meyers takes the cake, according to reviewers. It has over 15,000 reviews and 4.8 stars. Reviewers like that it’s natural, so it doesn’t irritate their skin, and that it actually gets the job done. One reviewer says, “There is just no cleaner feeling. Your magical liquid has brought harmony to our household.”
All the soaps on this list so far have been liquid, but senior writer Liza Corsillo recently introduced us to this ecofriendly bar soap, “made with natural plant oils like coconut, olive, and castor seed as well as kaolin clay in place of harsh detergents, so it’s nondrying, biodegradable, and truly zero waste since it comes wrapped in a compostable envelope,” she says. “After using it for over a month on plates, glasses, greasy pans, the top of my stove, and even a cashmere sweater I wore while cutting beets, I can say that washing dishes with it is decidedly more enjoyable.”
If you’re not happy with any of the dispensers these soaps come with, Haizman recommends putting them into the Soap Daddy dispenser. You just “push on it so it will release soap up into the sponge, which is really cool, and really efficient because you don’t have to use two hands. You can one-hand release the soap,” she explains. For bigger items — like soaking a pot — “you simply lift up the soap and you can squeeze it and it squirts out the bottom,” Haizman adds. But she isn’t the only fan. This item is so popular that it’s sold out everywhere and only currently available on eBay for three times the price. You can sign up directly on the Scrub Daddy website to join the wait list.
All of the experts we spoke to recommend washing and drying your dishes right away. “Rather than washing all the dishes and then leaving them on a drying rack, I would much prefer to dry them and put them away so that there’s no clutter,” says Rosa. To get her dishes dried quickly, she likes these dish towels from Williams Sonoma. “They’re really absorbent and they don’t stain easily,” she says. “I have found, for us, kitchen towels get stained very easily. These are 100 percent cotton, so it’s easy to just wash them.” And because they’re affordable, she buys them in bulk and has enough to switch out nightly. “You don’t want bacteria from your cooking from last night to be on your hands the next day,” adds Rosa.
Rapinchuk prefers flour-sack towels when she is drying glassware or stoneware dishes. “It’s a superthin, 100 percent cotton, old-fashioned kind of towel,” she says. “They’re really great because they’re lint-free and thin so they dry quickly after you wash your dishes.” So quickly, in fact, she says you can dry your breakfast dishes with it, and then by the time lunch rolls around, it’ll be dry enough for your lunch dishes, too.
Haizman is all about microfiber towels, which she says are not all made equally. “ I’ve tried so many microfiber towels and I cannot find any that are similar to this,” she says. Unlike other microfiber towels she’s used, “they don’t stick to your hands, but they are very, very absorbent — they’re just a really great towel.” She says she’s tried upward of ten different brands and these are “by far the best.” Unfortunately, she’s so obsessed with them that she’s been raving about them on TikTok, so they are often sold out. Keep checking back for a restock; according to Haizman, they’re worth the wait.
Both Rapinchuk and Haizman like these over-the-sink drying racks for things they’d rather not hand dry. “I really like them because they’re dripping right into your sink,” explains Haizman. “They’re also easy to rinse off, roll up, and put under your sink so you don’t have to have them out 24/7,” which saves counter space.
If you are looking for a more traditional drying rack, this is the best rated on Amazon. It’s sturdy and holds a lot, but is still compact enough to rest fully in most sinks.
Rapinchuk loves all the Full Circle brushes, but for standard everyday dishwashing, this one is her go-to. She likes that it’s both wooden and plastic and that the head is removable and replaceable for keeping it clean. She says she’ll pop the head in the dishwasher to sanitize it, but if you’re reading this, you likely don’t have one of those. “You can put in the washing machine and then just air dry it,” she says. “You can also put it in a cup of water and put it in the microwave for a minute or two. You could pour hot boiling water over it from a tea kettle, you can soak it in vinegar. There’s a lot of different ways that you could sanitize.”
Rapinchuk says this one is great for glassware. “It has a softer, almost foamy bristle,” she explains. “Those work really well if you’re doing wine glasses or even a water bottle or something like that.”
She uses this sturdy-bristle brush for her cast iron.
“I absolutely love the Scrub Daddy sponges,” says Haizman. “I love them because they don’t scratch, but they are a lot tougher than a regular sponge.” She says they have more of a scrub brush on one side, and regular sponge material on the other, meaning you can “scrub a really tough stain off of a pan, then flip it over and scrub the inside of your nice china.” It helps that the smiley-face design also brings a little fun to the dishwashing process, but Haizman says that’s a practical feature, too. “You can stick a spoon in there and clean all four sides of the spoon at the same time in the eyeball or the mouth or however you use the sponge,” she says.
Less cute, but still functional is this Scotch-Brite sponge. “I’ve tried many different sponges, and that one, especially for dishes, works really well because it gets rid of all the grime,” says Rosa. “It’s so easy for us to not wash our dishes properly — you just ate, you’re tired, the last thing you want to do is wash your dishes — and this is a really good tool that grabs as much as possible.” She recommends the rough side for non-coated cookware, and for anything “on the nicer side,” you can use the soft sponge.
If you’re someone who lets their dishwashing sponge get to a scary place (no shame — we’ve all been there), this sponge will let you know when it’s ready to be replaced. The pattern will slowly fade, and once it’s all gone you know it’s time to give it up. In addition to that, writer Sam Todd tells us it’s made of quick-drying foam that’s treated with an antimicrobial agent, which inhibits the growth of bacteria, mold, and mildew. “I’ve never caught a bad smell from one, they don’t stay damp for long (even when I forget to wring them out), and bits of food and grime don’t really get stuck to them,” he adds.
Sometimes the best sponge isn’t even a sponge at all. Writer Lauren Ro has written an entire story dedicated to ecofriendly sponge alternatives, and topping that list is this Swedish dishcloth. “They’re an ecofriendly alternative because they are made with absorbent cellulose from wood pulp, rather than plastic,” according to Preston, making them biodegradable and compostable. They’re also super-absorbent and last longer than regular sponges, because you can bring them back to life in the washing machine when they get grimy.
Photo: Courtesy of Unity Weaver
Writer Rachel Khong is a member of team dishcloth, too, and beyond being more sustainable and long-lasting, she also finds the functionality to be superior to a sponge. “A cloth can be bunched up to fit inside glasses,” she says. “Or it can be spread to cover the curves of a bigger pot or bowl. Finding the perfect configuration (bunched, folded, splayed) is part of the dishcloth user’s delight.” She believes she’s perfected the use of the dishcloth, though: “Gloveless, I dip the cloth into sudsy water and rub it over each dish, letting its gentle bumpy texture remove stuck food. Then, I put on my dishwashing gloves, turn the water to scalding hot, and rinse the dishes clean. Finally, I wash the dishcloth with hot water, wring it out, and leave it to hang dry, which it does quickly and miraculously.”
Photo: Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine
If you exclusively hand-wash your dishes, your hands can really take a beating under hard water, rough sponges, and drying soaps in the sink for upward of 30 minutes a day. “If you hand-wash any number of dishes, Mommy Hands will change your life,” wrote Khong in an ode to these Korean rubber gloves back in 2017. She says they’re thick, glide smooth on to your hand (while being appropriately grippy on the outside), long enough to cover your forearm, and basically are “superior to American rubber gloves in every way.”
I am living without a dishwasher for the first time in my life, and as I navigate this new obstacle (at a time when I’ve never cooked more in my life, no less), I’ve tried a number of new things: Dawn Powerwash, a wooden scrub brush, and these gloves. They were sent to me in a very unrelated mailer but I’m so glad I found them. The silicone bristles are directly on the palms and fingers of the gloves eliminating the need for a brush or sponge altogether, which simplifies what already feels like a very tedious process. As you pick up your dishes and lather and rinse them as you normally would they automatically get a scrub at the same time. Admittedly, they aren’t as thick as “Mommy Hands” (I lost my first pair to a sharp knife) but they’re great for the everyday plates, bowls, and frying pans that pile up.
According to writer Lauren Ro, soaking your dishes is a key step in the hand-washing process. “They allow dirty dishes to soak and therefore release whatever gunk is stuck to them more easily by the time you break out the sponge and the Mommy Hands,” she says. Her mom introduced her to this one, which she says fits perfectly in her sink. “It also has plenty of room to soak our family of three’s daily jumble of plates, coffee mugs, glasses, sippy cups, plates, bowls, utensils, and cutting boards, softening any lingering grime on them so that it more or less comes off with a few swipes when I go to wash the dishes,” she says, adding that it shaved 15 minutes off her dishwashing time.
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