Here's Why You Should Think Twice About Letting Your Dishes Soak

When you've got something baked or caked onto your dishes, pots, pans, or baking ware, leaving it in the sink to "soak" serves two purposes: it helps to loosen up what's stuck, and it also gives us a free "I'll deal with it later" excuse when we don't feel like scrubbing at the moment. But as Life Hacker asks (rather bluntly, if we may say so), "Before you walk away from that sink filled with soaking dishes, ask yourself: do they actually need soaking, or are you being lazy?" In most cases, it says, if we are washing our dishes right after we use them and not allowing food to dry or stick over time, soaking becomes unnecessary in most cases (except baked-on messes).

But soaking is good, isn't it? Hot water, soap, time to loosen anything icky? Unfortunately, if your end goal is truly-clean dishes and a healthy kitchen, soaking may not be your best bet. 

Why soaking your dishes isn't the best idea

The first thing that should make you think twice about soaking your dishes in your kitchen sink is what's in the sink before you place the dishes in it. Bacteria you've washed off your hands and any bacteria you might have washed off of meat or other products are likely lurking right where you left them: in the sink (via YaYaMaria). Not only that, but even if you fill the sink with piping hot water, as the dishes soak, that water cools off. According to Associate Professor Barbara Mullan from Curtin University who spoke to ABC News on the subject, "water temperature under 60 degrees [is] the perfect breeding ground for bacteria." So if you let your dishes sit in stagnant water, "You will end up with a lovely bacteria soup." Further, she says, "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."

Yikes! So what do you do about baked-on messes? If you have a pan with food burnt onto it, Mullan suggests putting the pan back on the stove, putting some water in it, and turning the burner on high until the water boils. This should release anything burnt or caked on. Then let the water cool a little, rinse out and scrub anything left over. You can also deglaze a pan with vinegar.