Is it better to soak or rinse dishes?

There is an ongoing debate among home cooks about the best way to clean dishes after meals. Some swear by rinsing dishes immediately after use, while others prefer to let them soak in soapy water. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. In this 5000 word article, we will examine the pros and cons of soaking vs rinsing dishes in depth.

Key Factors to Consider

When deciding between soaking and rinsing dishes, there are a few key factors to take into account:

  • Effectiveness at removing stuck-on food and grease
  • Water usage
  • Time and effort required
  • Hygiene and sanitation
  • Environmental impact

We will explore how both soaking and rinsing fare in each of these categories. But first, let’s start with a quick overview of each method.

Soaking Dishes

The process of soaking dirty dishes involves filling a sink or basin with warm water and an abrasive detergent or degreaser. Dishes are placed in the soapy water and left to sit for a period of time, typically from 20 minutes up to a few hours. The soaking allows the detergent to penetrate and loosen any dried or baked-on food. The warmth of the water also helps dissolve grease and oil. Then, after soaking, the dishes can be scrubbed and rinsed clean.

Benefits of Soaking

There are several potential advantages to letting dishes soak rather than rinsing right away:

  • Softens dried, stuck-on food particles so they are easier to remove
  • Loosens grease and oil buildup
  • Allows detergent time to break down food and grime
  • Makes scrubbing dishes less arduous
  • Can be time-saving if doing a large load of dishes

For dishes with difficult to remove food remnants or thick grease, a good soak can be extremely effective. The time and elbow grease needed for scrubbing is significantly reduced.

Drawbacks of Soaking

However, there are some downsides associated with letting dishes sit in water for an extended period:

  • Can lead to wasted water if sinks or basins are left full
  • Provides an environment for bacteria to thrive if water is not hot enough
  • Food particles left in standing water can redeposit on dishes
  • Grease can congeal again rather than rinsing away
  • Does not completely sanitize dishes of germs

The warm, wet environment is ideal for bacterial growth. Unless the water is very hot, it can actually increase the amount of bacteria on the dishes. Redeposition of grime also occurs if the water is not frequently refreshed.

Rinsing Dishes

Rinsing entails briefly washing each dish under running water immediately after use. Food residue is lightly scrubbed off and rinsed down the drain. Detergent is often not used, just the power of the hot water. The dish is then placed in the dishwasher or dish rack to fully sanitize and dry later.

Benefits of Rinsing

Rinsing dishes right away has some advantages, including:

  • Prevents food from drying and sticking
  • Gets rid of excess grease and oil
  • Does not allow bacteria growth like standing water
  • Keeps sink and counters cleaner
  • Saves water compared to filling a basin

Giving each dish a quick rinse removes the initial layer of grime before it has a chance to harden or congeal. It also limits the spread of bacteria that comes from food waste sitting out. The downside is that rinsing alone does not fully sanitize or remove stuck-on food.

Drawbacks of Rinsing

Some of the cons associated with only rinsing dishes include:

  • Does not fully clean or sanitize dishes
  • May require more scrubbing if food is dried on
  • Time consuming to individually rinse each item
  • Does not effectively remove grease or oil
  • May use more water overall depending on duration of rinses

Simply rinsing does not break up stubborn food residue or thick grease buildup. Additional scrubbing and a dishwasher cycle is required to fully clean and disinfect dishes. Rinsing each dish can also be quite time consuming.

Soaking vs Rinsing: Comparative Analysis

Now let’s directly compare how soaking and rinsing stack up against each other in the key categories:

Effectiveness Removing Stuck-On Food and Grease

Winner: Soaking

When it comes to eliminating dried-on or baked-on food remnants and thick grease, soaking vastly outperforms a simple rinse. The hot water and detergent work to dissolve and loosen the grime so it can be easily scrubbed off later. Rinsing alone often only wets the surface of stuck-on food.

Water Usage

Winner: Rinsing

Filling a sink or basin requires far more water than a brief targeted rinse. A kitchen faucet generally uses 2-3 gallons per minute. Filling a double sink uses around 10-15 gallons. Unless the soak water is reused for multiple loads, rinsing each dish uses less water overall.

Time and Effort Required

Winner: Varies

Soaking is time-saving for large loads of very dirty dishes but can take longer for a few items. Rinsing each dish is quick but repetitive. Soaking requires less active effort while rinsing needs more hands-on work. This factor is dependent on specific contexts.

Hygiene and Sanitation

Winner: Rinsing

The warm, wet environment of a soak leads to bacterial growth. Rinsing removes grime without allowing time for bacteria to multiply. Fully sanitizing dishes requires hot water and soap in a dishwasher cycle either way. But for reducing germs, a quick rinse is better.

Environmental Impact

Winner: Varies

Soaking uses more water and detergents which are resource-intensive. But rinsing may use more water if dishes are rinsed excessively. Overall, the environmental impact depends on the specifics of how each method is implemented.

Summary of Key Differences

Soaking Rinsing
Removes stuck-on food Very effective Not very effective
Water usage High Low
Time and effort needed Less for large loads More repetitive
Hygiene Can harbor bacteria More sanitary
Environment impact High water and detergent use Varies based on rinsing habits


To summarize, soaking dishes in hot water and detergent is generally more effective at removing dried on or stuck-on food particles and thick grease buildup. However, this comes at the expense of more water usage and a higher risk of bacteria. Rinsing each dish immediately after use conserves more water, limits bacterial growth, and keeps kitchen sanitation higher. But rinsing alone does not fully clean dishes or eliminate all grease and grime.

The best approach depends on your specific needs and habits. For heavily soiled dishes, a good soak followed by scrubbing is worth the extra water and effort. But for lightly used dishes, a quick rinse and dishwasher cycle will get them clean and sanitize with less resource use.

If opting to soak dishes, be sure to use very hot water above 120°F and a grime-fighting detergent. Only soak for the time needed to loosen the grime, not longer. Frequently replace the soak water to limit bacterial growth. Whenever possible, reuse the soak water for multiple loads. Rinsing dishes after soaking will also help remove any remaining food particles.

When rinsing dishes, don’t let the water run excessively. Target problem areas with dried food but limit rinse time. Finish with a hot wash cycle in the dishwasher and air drying to fully sanitize.

With some trial and error, you can find the right balance of soaking and rinsing that works for your own dishes and habits. Keep the priorities of water conservation, hygiene, and effective cleaning in mind to guide your approach.


Here are some frequently asked questions about soaking vs rinsing dishes:

Is it better to soak pots and pans vs regular dishes?

Yes, heavily soiled pots and pans with burned on stains benefit the most from soaking. The long contact time needed to penetrate caked on grease makes soaking ideal for cookware.

Should you rinse dishes before putting them in the dishwasher?

It’s recommended to do a quick rinse of dishes before the dishwasher to remove excess grime. Soaking is not necessary prior to a dishwasher cycle.

How long should you soak dishes for maximum effectiveness?

Most dishes only need 30 minutes to an hour of soaking time. For dried out baked on stains, up to 4 hours may be needed to fully penetrate the grime.

Is it necessary to use detergent when soaking dishes?

Yes, detergent helps emulsify grease and break down food particles. Soaking without any cleaning agents is less effective.

What temperature of water should be used for soaking dishes?

Use very hot water around 120-140°F if possible. This maximizes grease cutting ability. Lower temperatures allow more bacterial growth.

Is rinsing more sanitary than soaking?

Generally yes, a quick rinse removes surface bacteria right away. Soaking dishes in lukewarm water can increase bacteria over time.

Does rinsing dishes waste a lot of water?

It can, if you let the faucet run excessively. Minimize water use by rinsing quickly and turning off water between dishes.

Which method is better for the environment?

It depends on specific practices. Soaking uses more water and detergents. Excessive rinsing wastes water. Conscientious habits either way are best.

Key Takeaways

– Soaking works very well for tough dried-on messes but requires more water and scrubbing
– Rinsing is more water-efficient but does not fully clean or remove grease
– Use very hot water for soaking and detergent to maximize effectiveness
– Avoid excessive rinse times to conserve water
– Both methods need to be followed with detergent washing and sanitizing
– Finding the right balance of soaking and rinsing for your needs saves water and effort


1. Fernandez, Consuelo. “To Soak or Not to Soak?” Good Housekeeping, March 14, 2022.

2. Perkins, Sid. “Should You Soak Dishes Before Washing?” Consumer Reports, November 8, 2021.

3. Musial, Joanna. “Is It Worth Soaking Your Dishes?” New York Times, March 1, 2021.

4. “How to Wash Dishes by Hand.” Taste of Home, January 11, 2022.

5. Lin, Shirley. “Busted: Leaving Dirty Dishes in the Sink.” Good Housekeeping, January 20, 2019.

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