Can You Wash Dishes In Cold Water? (Find Out Now!)

Ossiana Tepfenhart
by Ossiana Tepfenhart

If there is one thing that seems to dry out my hands, it’s washing dishes in piping hot water. And sometimes, I forget my gloves. That’s why, on occasion, I get the urge to turn down the temperature so that I can avoid slathering my hands in super thick lotion. I still often wonder if it’s really safe, or if it’s effective.

It is possible to wash dishes in cold water, however, it will not kill the bacteria that causes food poisoning. The only way to make sure that your dishes are fully sanitary after a cold water wash is a rinse in hot water.

Food safety is a number one priority in my house, and it should be in yours, too. It’s time to talk about getting those dishes clean.

Do You Need a Maid Service?

Get free, zero-commitment quotes from pro contractors near you.

Is It Okay To Wash Dishes In Cold Water?

It depends. If you want to wash and rinse with cold water, the answer is a very strict, very solid no. Here’s why an “all-cold” wash session is never a bright idea:

  • Cold temperatures will get your dishes visibly clean, but will not kill bacteria. Cold doesn’t kill bacteria. It puts bacteria and similar pathogens into a state of hibernation. So it can slow down the growth of it, but it will not kill it. This means that your plates and pans can still turn into a food poisoning hazard later on.
  • Many dish soaps are not anti-bacterial. Surprised? So was I. If your dish soap does not say “antibacterial” on it, the soap actually will not be capable of killing the bacteria from your food. If you want to do an all-cold wash and rinse, you need to use antibacterial soap.
  • Sometimes, it won’t even be visibly clean. Cold water can lead to grease stains and cloudy film on certain kinds of dishes. This occurs when the water is too cold to fully break up the grease and stains on your dishes.
  • The “visibly clean” issue can put people into a false sense of safety. Yes, it looks clean. It’s not. This can lead to problems if you usually wash with hot water and have a batch of “not actually clean” dishes.
  • Finally, there’s also the fact that it takes longer for dishes to be scrubbed clean when you use cold water. As someone who hates spending time scrubbing the dishes, I can attest to this. Hot water breaks down food and grease faster than cold water does.

To avoid the food safety issue, you have to rinse your dishes in hot water. There’s no other way about it.

Is It Okay To Wash Dishes In Warm Water Instead Of Hot?

Believe it or not, warm water does just as well as hot water when it comes to dishwashing—at least when it comes to antibacterial traits. Bacteria generally dies at 110 degrees Fahrenheit, with only a minor improvement when things get even hotter. This means that washing your stuff in warm water will make your dishes safe enough to eat from.

The good news about using warm water is that you also don’t have to insist on buying antibacterial dish soap. So, you might also get a little money saving and freedom to use the soap you want. (I totally understand how important this is. I can’t stand using dish soap that smells crappy.)

What Is The Best Temperature To Wash Dishes In?

According to the FDA, commercial areas are supposed to wash dishes at around 110 degrees minimum. This is a good guideline for anyone who wants to have dishes that are guaranteed to be safe. That is, after all, the FDA’s entire job, you know.

If you use a dishwasher, the heat you get from the machine might be higher. Most dishwashers will use water heated to anywhere from 130 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit.

Do You Have To Use Dish Soap To Clean Your Dishes?

If you are washing your dishes in warm to hot water, the answer is actually no. Dish soap is primarily there to help break up the grease and help food unstick from the pots and pans that you use. If your dishes are already clear of grease and you have been able to scrub away all the grit, there’s no reason to use soap.

The only times you need to use soap is if you are washing your dishes in cold water. And then, it’s both to help your grease get removed from dishes and to help get rid of the bacteria that built up on them.

Do You Need a Maid Service?

Get free, zero-commitment quotes from pro contractors near you.

Related Questions

Why is it so much easier to wash dishes in hot water?

People prefer piping hot water for several reasons. Aside from its bacteria-killing perks, hot water also makes for an amazing solvent. It’s able to break apart grease stains and rapidly dissolves a lot of the food that seems to bind itself to plates. If you want to have a fast way to do the dishes, then it’s best to crank up your water’s heat to the max. (Just wear gloves to protect  your hands.)

What’s the fastest way to get food off of a dish?

If you’re having a hard time with your dishes, then you are going to have to turn the water heat up. Apply a little dish soap to the dish of your choosing, and then use a scrubbing sponge to help slough off the food particles. Most people find that it is easier and faster to do it while you let water run on the dish. However, you don’t have to do that if you don’t want to.

Why is Dawn dish soap so effective?

Dawn dish soap is famous for its heavy use of surfactants. Surfactants are chemicals that reduce the surface tension of liquids. In this case, Dawn is known for breaking apart the use of grease. That’s what makes it one of the best dish soaps in terms of grease cutting, and why most people tend to use if for projects that involve similar needs. For example, it’s good for cleaning carpet stains for this reason.

Related Guide

Ossiana Tepfenhart
Ossiana Tepfenhart

Ossiana Tepfenhart is an expert writer, focusing on interior design and general home tips. Writing is her life, and it's what she does best. Her interests include art and real estate investments.

More by Ossiana Tepfenhart