What reliably sanitizes dishes is high heat, at temperatures greater than most people can stand. Past 145 degrees Fahrenheit, water easily and quickly
kills bacteria. That's good news for those who own a dishwasher, which run at temperatures ranging from 130-170 degrees Fahrenheit. But most people can't
handle water temperatures over 104 degrees, meaning those of us stuck with the pauper's slog of scrubbing our own dishes have a higher likelihood of
leaving some bacteria on our plates.
What to do? Is hand-washing dishes truly pointless? Why do I stand, every Friday afternoon, elbow-deep in sudsy water?
Those looking for meaning in life often seek deities; I sought a deity of cleaning, Jolie Kerr, who writes a popular cleaning advice column for lifestyle blog The Hairpin. Kerr has tackled everything
from removing leg wax from hardwood floors to de-stinking vomit-stained upholstery, so if anyone has an answer to my cleaning malaise, it would be her. It
turns out Kerr does not, in fact, use the more reliable method of cleaning her dishes, as she hasn't had a dishwasher for the past 10 years, so she made
the perfect disciple for hand-washing.
Her first point of advice: Quit being such a germaphobe.
"Dishwashers haven't been in existence for so long," she said. "It wasn't like people were dying because of dirty dishes" before the advent of dishwashers.
(Even before they were widely used, dishwashers were considered the superior choice, as this 1917 study indicates). Touché.
Kerr echoed Schneider's advice and suggested I use the "hottest water I can," and that, since most people can't tolerate the high heats needed to kill the
most bacteria (and most people don't want to ruin their manicures), I consider using dishwashing gloves. Some actually have the added benefit of being
Hot water is one thing. But do not discount your sponge, either.
Your sponge can be "chock-full of bacteria," Schneider said.
One 1997 study of 10 U.S. kitchens
found that 33 percent of sponges tested positive for E. coli contamination. You're likely scrubbing a bacteria-ridden cleaning utensil all over your
bacteria-ridden plate in an attempt to remove bacteria -- the definition of futility. To sanitize a sponge, Kerr suggested microwaving it for 30 seconds.
And soap? Soap doesn't really matter.
"To some extent, soap is soap is soap," Kerr said. Antibacterial soap does have bacterial-killing qualities, but it takes some time sitting on the plate to
have any effect. Soap is best at loosening the microbes and causing them to slip from a surface while water washes them away.
The final step to the process: acceptance. These dishes aren't perfect. They may be riddled with germs. But I've been eating from germ-riddled dishes for
over two decades now, and I'm not dead yet. So, eating from them for decades more probably won't kill me -- or you.