How to Dry Dishes the Right Way (7 Common Mistakes to Avoid)

How to dry dishes

Today we’re going to learn how to dry dishes like a pro. By the end, you’ll know how and why to avoid 7 common mistakes that most people make.

First thing’s first:

What’s in your dish towel?

Most kitchens are as likely to have a dish towel on hand as a dish sponge.

Dish towels are not inherently a bad thing.

However, when handled the wrong way, dish towels have a dark secret in common with dish sponges.

They are both packed with bacteria.

A study published in the Journal of the American Society for Microbiology revealed that kitchen towels commonly harbor pathogens that can cause food poisoning.

How is that possible, you might wonder?

It happens through 7 common mistakes that most people make when they dry dishes:

1. Using the dish towel to clean things that are not dishes

Something spilled on your countertop, and the closest tool on hand is a dish towel – so you quickly use it to soak up the liquid.

No big deal, right?

Actually, it can be.

Researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder discovered that the harmful (disease-causing) kind of bacteria are fairly evenly spread throughout our kitchen surfaces.

When you use your dish towel to clean your kitchen countertop, you might be contaminating it with bacteria that your dish towel could then transfer to your freshly-washed dishes.

The best solution?

Reserve a dish towel in your kitchen for one task only: drying the dishes.

2. There’s no hand towel in your kitchen

Researchers at Columbia University found that hands of homemakers cultivate a large variety of bacteria such as Klebsiella pneumoniae (dangerous to the human lung), Pseudomonas aeruginosa (antibiotic-resistant pathogen), and Staphylococcus aureus (a common cause food poisoning).

What’s so special about homemakers’ hands?

Most homemakers spend more time in the kitchen than the average adult.

That means that their kitchen hygiene habits – as evidenced by the kinds of bacteria on their hands – give us an exaggerated (and therefore clear) picture of how everyday kitchen hygiene habits might be inviting germs onto our hands.

So how did those bacteria get on the homemakers’ hands?

During meal prep, most people will, at some point, handle a contaminated item (such as raw meat, or an item that touched raw meat), rinse their hands with water (not washing with soap), and dry their hands immediately on a dish towel (rather than a separate hand towel).

This will transmit any bacteria on their hands onto the towel.

That’ s why it’s so important to not only wash your hands with soap, but also to use a dedicated hand towel in your kitchen that is different from your dish towel.

That will prevent pathogens from ending up on the towel you will later use to dry your dishes.

3. You use a dish sponge

What’s the dirtiest item in your kitchen?

Ironically, it’s the very implement that you use to wash your dishes.

A team of German researchers discovered that dish sponges contain up to 45 billion bacteria per square centimeter.

Some of those bacteria are members of a group called Gammaproteobacteria that includes Salmonella (inflammation in your intestines) and E.coli (food poisoning).

When you do your dishes and rinse them with water you remove those bacteria, but there’s one more thing you need to do after having touched a dish sponge:

Wash your hands thoroughly with soap.

If you skip that step and dry your hands on a towel, it will get contaminated with Salmonella and E.coli among other bacteria.

And if you use that same towel to dry dishes, you’ll transfer the bacteria onto your freshly washed dishes.

That’s why it’s so important to use a separate towel to dry dishes.

(If you want to learn more about keeping your sponge clean read this post).

4. You’re not using oven mitts

There’s a hot dish in the oven that needs to come out fast.

So you quickly snatch your dish towel to protect your hands and grab it.

Should be no problem, right?

After all, the heat from the oven would have killed any disease-causing germs on the dish—right?

While that’s true, don’t forget about the other side of the dish towel: your hands.

Since you probably didn’t wash your hands before reaching for the dish towel, you’ll wipe off any disease-causing germs currently on your hands onto the towel that you will later use to dry the dishes.

The solution?

Grab an oven mitt instead.

5. You’re not letting your towel dry

There’s nothing bacteria love better than a warm and moist environment.

Researchers at Columbia University warn that wet towels are excellent breading grounds for antibiotic-resistant pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus, which love to hitch a ride on our hands.

However, a dry towel is a different story.

The lesson?

Make it as easy as possible for all of your towels to air-dry.

Always hang them up to ensure airflow—preferably in a spot with heat or moving air, such as near the oven or by a heating vent.

Allow them to dry completely between uses.

6. Who ya gonna call?

It happens to all of us: drying the dishes with a towel one moment, when a phone call interrupts.

It can be sooo easy to pick up the phone, and then return to drying the dishes.

However, that is a mistake.

Because cell phones are incredibly dirty.

Researchers found that cell phones are covered with a variety of bacteria such as Acinetobacter baumannii (leads to infections) and Staphylococcus aureus (leads to food poisoning).

Don’t give those little germs an easy way to end up on your clean dishes and make you (and your family) sick.

Instead, always wash your hands with soap and dry them on a hand towel before reaching for the dish towel.

Obviously, there are many other things (besides your cell phone) that you should be ware of before handling freshly-washed dishes – such as door knobs, light switches and other frequently-contaminated spots in the home.

Remember: keeping your hands clean will help keep your dishes clean!

7. When was the last time you got out a fresh towel?

A research team at Kansas State University revealed that the most important way to prevent cross-contamination of illnesses at home is to have a clean kitchen towel.

Unfortunately it is common for people to touch dish towels with unclean hands – either before washing their hands, or after washing their hands inadequately – thus contaminating the towel.

And the more people there are in your household, the more likely it is that someone will forget, and handle the dish towel with unclean hands.

What’s the solution?

Get a bunch of inexpensive dish towels and change them out every other day, laundering them when you get a chance and follow the steps outlined in this post.

Easy, right?

That’s how to dry dishes without contaminating them.

But if you want an even more powerful way to keep your freshly washed dishes clean and save a bunch of time then here’s the best tip for you:

How to dry dishes and truly keep them clean

The easiest way to prevent your freshly-washed dishes from getting recontaminated is to simply place them on a clean drying rack and let them air dry.

That’s it.

No pathogens from a dish towel.

And no pathogens from your hands (assuming you wash your hands with soap before putting the dishes away :-)

Just sparkling-clean, sanitary dishes.

And how long should you air dry dishes before putting them away?

That depends on how warm your home is, but generally you should wait until they’re entirely dry.

And there are a couple more tips you should follow.

Some folks like to let their kitchen towels air-dry by draping them over a rack of freshly-washed dishes.

By now, you know why that’s probably not a good idea.

Instead, it’s best to hang up your wet towels to air dry somewhere else (see above).

It’s also a good idea to wash your dish-drying rack on a regular basis, and sanitize it appropriately.

All set!

And since you like clean dishes, here’s one more thing…

You know about harmful bacteria, but don’t forget about harmful chemicals

Most dish soaps contain far more harmful ingredients than you would think.

Nasty, disease-causing synthetic or highly-processed chemicals commonly found in dish soaps – like SLS, parabens, and phthalates – love to cling on to your dishes, and are tough to rinse off entirely.

That’s why you should only use a dish soap that is made from 100% non-toxic, all-natural ingredients, and contains nothing that can get you or your family sick.

To learn more, check out these tips on how to keep your dishes toxin-free.