When it comes to keeping your kitchen clean and maintaining the condition of your tableware, nothing is more important than knowing how to wash your dishes. Cheryl Mendelson, author of "Home Comforts," shares her techniques for keeping dishes clean and sparkling.
Begin by assembling your equipment: a dish pan, a drying rack, dish cloths or sponges, pot scratchers, brushes, detergent, and rubber gloves. Scrape any extra food off the items you're washing, then assemble them to one side of the sink in the order they'll be washed: Put the glassware and silverware closest to the sink so they can be washed first; because these pieces need to be shiny, they will benefit most from pure, soapy water. Arrange the rest in the following order: table china, serving dishes, cooking utensils, and broiler pans or similar items.
Fill the dish tub with water as hot as you can stand it (rubber gloves will help your hands withstand hotter water), and add enough detergent to turn the water moderately sudsy. The hotter the water, the more likely the glasses and silver will dry without spots or streaks. Place a few items in the tub -- don't overcrowd them -- and wipe them with a circular motion. When you've cleaned a few items, rinse them in very hot water, and place them in the dish rack to drain. When the tub's water cools or becomes dirty or oily, drain it, then refill the sink with fresh hot, soapy water.
Cheryl prefers using washcloths because they're easy to launder, but if you use a sponge, it will need to be sanitized periodically to prevent germs from collecting inside. Even sponges that claim to be antimicrobial still allow certain bacteria to grow; soak your sponges in a mixture of bleach and hot water to sterilize them. (Some people send their sponges through a cycle in the dishwasher, but this doesn't sterilize them effectively.) Although antibacterial detergents are now widely available, they can be harsh on the skin. Any dish detergent used with suitably hot water is adequate.
When working on your pots, use nylon mesh pads for nonstick cookware, and steel wool or metal scrubbers on cast iron and stainless steel without a satin finish. Always check the manufacturer's instructions before washing one of these items.
There are basically two methods of drying, and both require that you put your dishes away as soon as they're dry to avoid splashes, spills, and germs. The first method is air-drying; when air-drying, be sure to wipe any water spots off with a dry towel. The other method is wiping dishes dry with a towel right away -- though kitchen-safety experts say that damp towels are breeding grounds for germs. If the water you use is hot enough, it will evaporate off the dishes almost immediately; if you do use a towel, be sure it is dry and clean before starting.