We’ve all been guilty of leaving dirty dishes in the sink, filled to the brim with soapy water, under the pretence of “letting them soak”. Some of us do this on a daily basis and, if we’re being honest, we can admit that it’s because we’d rather just deal with them a little later. No judgement here! But here’s why letting dirty dishes soak may actually make things a whole lot worse for us, and why it’s best to wash them as soon as we’re done with them.
It certainly does seem like a reasonable notion that letting dirty dishes soak will make them easier to clean later. That’s probably why this particular procrastination technique has endured for so long. However, the reality is that it may be doing a lot more harm than good. Instead of making our dishes easier to wash up later, what’s actually happening is a whole lot grosser.
“The longer you leave your unwashed dishes in the sink, the more time microbes will have to grow on them,” writes Michelle Debczak for Mental Floss. “This is especially true if you let your kitchenware marinate in warm water, which can quickly turn into bacteria soup”.
Germs come in a whole bunch of forms, and from a variety of sources. “Letting it soak”, though, is a particularly bad idea if you’ve worked with raw meat or seafood. These ingredients are often contaminated with E.Coli or Salmonella, and letting contaminated dishes linger in your sink just gives those pathogens time and room to spread.
But they’re not the only foods to blame. Germs can also originate on your fruits, vegetables and dairy – or even from your hands, or sink pipes. In the warm, moist environment of your kitchen sink, these germs have the perfect conditions in which to multiply – and fast.
“In other words,” writes Debczak, “they’re breeding grounds for microbes”.
Echoing this, is Perth Health Psychologist Barbara Mullan. “You’re putting dishes into water temperature under 60 degrees and that’s the perfect breeding ground for bacteria”, she says.
“You will end up with a lovely bacteria soup, then you will stick your hand in the sink to pull the plug out and do the dishes, and if you don’t wash your hands properly you are going to cross-contaminate the kitchen.”
If the idea of these potentially dangerous pathogens breeding in your kitchen sounds disgusting to you, it’s probably best to make a habit of doing the washing up ASAP. And if we’re really honest with ourselves, we know the dishes are really easiest to clean when the grime is still fresh anyway. Use hot water and soap every time, and remember to replace your kitchen sponge regularly, as these make a great home for pathogens too!
Mental Floss has a whole bunch of other tips to make washing up that much easier too, so really, we have no excuse to get rid of dirty dishes as they happen. Gone are the days of letting plates pile up by the sink and – hopefully – also the days of germs using our kitchen sinks as convenient accommodation.