- Dish soap gets rid of all kinds of pathogens, including viruses and bacteria.
- The dishwasher is also effective at sanitizing your dishes, since the enzymes in dish detergent combined with scalding hot water are effective at getting rid of germs.
- To stay safe, be sure to use hot water, sanitize your sponges, scrub well, and wash your hands after doing the dishes.
- This article was medically reviewed by Graham Snyder, MD, MS, who is the medical director for the Infection Prevention and Hospital Epidemiology branch at University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The guidelines are clear: To protect yourself from germs that can lead to viruses like influenza and COVID-19, you must wash your hands often and thoroughly for twenty seconds. But what about germs on your dishware?
We spoke to an infectious disease specialist to learn how dish soap can kill germs and the best way to sanitize dishes.
Dish soap does get rid of germs and viruses
Dish soap’s main function is to get grease and food residue off of your dishes. However, dish soap is quite effective at washing germs and viruses off of your dishes too, says Joy Phillips, PhD, research assistant and professor of immunology at San Diego State University. Like hand soap, dish soap does not kill bacteria, but it lifts them off surfaces so that they can be washed away by water.
Phillips says that any soap will work well against washing away bacteria and inactivating viruses, and with the COVID-19 virus in particular, part of this has to do with the fact that it’s an enveloped virus. “This [COVID-19] virus has what they call a lipid coat, which basically means it’s surrounded by a bubble of fat. So, soap disrupts the fat, breaks apart that liquid membrane, and that ends up destroying the virus,” says Phillips.
Dish soap vs. antibacterial soap vs. the dishwasher
While you can buy antibacterial dish soap from brands like Palmolive and Dawn, they really aren’t necessary. The FDA has said that there is no concrete evidence showing that antibacterial soap is more effective at removing germs than regular dish soap and water. It’s more about the actual physical action of washing. Scrubbing with soap will create friction that lifts off microcrobes and grease, getting the job done.
If your household prefers to use the dishwasher, you can rest assured that the germs and viruses are being destroyed, Phillips says. Major components of many dish detergents are enzymes, which clean various particles off the dishes since they have the ability to break down starches and proteins. Most detergents also contain some sort of bleach, which is effective in killing bacteria and viruses.
However, what really destroys the virus in the dishwasher is the scalding hot water. Phillips says temperatures around 55º Celsius, or 130º Fahrenheit, can denature and destroy viruses. As long as you leave your dishwasher settings on hot, this will certainly do the trick.
How to sanitize your dishes effectively
Here are some tips for effectively cleaning your dishes and destroying germs and viruses:
- Make sure to sanitize your sponges and replace them often – preferably weekly – to ensure you’re not cleaning dishes with something that’s already dirty.
- If you’re washing your dishes by hand, Phillips and the CDC recommend getting the water temperature as hot as you can. Wear rubber gloves to protect your skin. The hotter the water, the better.
- Wash the dishes thoroughly, and don’t rush, just as we shouldn’t be rushing through general hand washing. Scrub well, be sure to get in all the nooks and crannies of utensils like forks, and clean the entire surface of all dishes and cookware.
- If you’re looking to be more eco-friendly with your dishwashing, Phillips says using a dishwasher rather than washing by hand is more water-efficient, especially if you are using a newer dishwasher model and running it when the machine is completely full.
- The CDC suggests washing your hands after handling used dishes – especially if someone in your household is sick.
Follow these tips and you’ll be on your way to cleaning your dishes effectively and keeping yourself and your household healthy.
Related stories about sanitation and keeping clean:
- The household cleaners that you should never mix at the risk of creating toxic gasses
- How do viruses spread and how to protect yourself against infection
- Does bleach kill germs? Yes, but you need to let it sit for 10 minutes
- Chlorine kills germs, but its most effective in your pool
- What temperature kills germs? How to use heat properly to get rid of bacteria and viruses
- Does UV light kill germs? Getting an at-home sanitizer may be worth it
- Does alcohol kill germs? Yes, as long as the solution is strong enough
- Does vinegar kill germs? It isn’t the best disinfectant for viruses