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Washing Dishes-A Step-by-Step Tutorial for Teens

Skill building activities: Washing dishes

Teaching a teen how to wash dishes

Teaching a teen how to wash dishes

The importance of chores

Every parent knows that it is imperative that children help with chores around the house. Why? Because, when they are participating members of a household they are given the gift of being valued for their contribution for the benefit of the family, and that will leave a sense of importance in them that cannot be obtained by mere praise. In addition, it builds confidence and skills that they will carry with them throughout their lives.

When my nephew first moved in with me he had not been required to do much of anything when he was growing up. He was being raised by my parents, and they were doting grandparents. When mom became ill from a relapse with cancer I moved in to assist and became immediately aware of how crippling this had been for him.

My parents raised J until he was fourteen. When my father died J was placed with the assigned guardian, but he didn't do well there. The following year he joined my friend and me in our home and has been with us since the summer of 2009.

From the beginning I made it clear to him that he would have to help around the house, and since we have no automatic dishwasher, his main chore is washing the supper dishes. It is still a work in progress, however, he has come a long way.

A clean kitchen is appealing.

Clean dishes are an important part of enhancing one's appetite.

Clean dishes are an important part of enhancing one's appetite.

Dish washing supplies

Why a clean kitchen is important

Although it is obvious to adults why a clean kitchen is imperitive, teenagers don't have the same life experience...just look at the way many of them maintain their bedrooms. So, it is up to parents to teach by example, and explanation, the rationale behind a clean work area. Here are some tips in helping them to understand the reasoning for proper dishwashing technique.

1. Health-this is the number one reason why we wash dishes. Before microscopic 'germs' were discovered people were oblivious to disease prevention through this method.

2. Aesthetics-it is human nature to embrace cleanliness and reject squalor. When it comes to food handling, cooking, and meal presentation, good dishwashing is imperative.

3. Appetite-if you were to survey 100 people on whether a restaurant's silverware, glassware and table they are eating from is an important factor, in order for them to enjoy their meal, I am sure you will have 100 people answer, "Yes." The appetite is diminished when there is evidence of unclean eating utensils, etc.

Please take this poll

Cannon Kitchen Towel Ad

Teaching Dishwashing-Points to remember:

If you are teaching an older child or teen to hand wash dishes here are some points to consider:

1. Expectations: these are YOUR expectations, not your child's. This can range between what time you expect the dishes to be started and completed, to what will happen if the dishes are not done in a satisfactory manner.

Since this is a learning opportunity it is advisable to have a learning curve. Certainly, by the end of four years, which is the length of time J has been with me, he should have the chore down to a smooth operation...some days are better than others, but I am consistent with my expectations and therefore he no longer argues when dishes end up in a 'do-over'.

2. Equipment: This can include what dish soap you will use, will your child use hand protection in the form of rubber gloves, and are you going to add bleach to your water for extra sterilization?

When J first started this task he was opposed to getting his hands wet and touching the dirty dishes. As stated earlier, he has come a long way. He has many quirks, but has overcome his aversion to putting his hands into the dishwater without gloves on now. That is real progress!

3. Method: Each individual has her own way of dishwashing, so there is no exact formula. But, a rough rule to follow regarding sequence of dirty dishes, and general organization, which I have attempted to teach J, is to complete glassware first, while the dishwater is very clean and sudsy. Next: plates, bowls, etc, then, silverware, pots and pans, and finally, any pet bowls.

4. Water Temperature: You'll never get the water temperature as hot as an automatic dishwasher, and each person has a particular tolerance for how hot the water can be before they are no longer willing to submerge their hands into it, however, if you have a large stack of dishes and the water is cooling, just refresh it.

Although I set up a training program to demonstrate what needed to be done, and I would periodically supervise the process, I failed to check the water temperature for a good length of time. It was merely by accident that I dipped my hands into it one evening and discovered that it was quite cold. I re-explained the reasons that hot water was necessary, (more efficient cleaning, as well as reduction of potential for 'germs' lingering on the utensils, etc.).

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Kitchen Towels

Dish cloths

Equipment needed for cleaning dishes


Dish soap

clean dishes, utensils, cookware



sanitize the dishes


Sink cleanser

clean the sink prior to dishwashing


Rubber gloves

protect hands


Dish rack & drainboard

holds washed dishes

United Solutions

Scouring pads

clean pots and pans


Dish cloth

wash dishes

Home Essentials

Dish towels

dry dishes


Grease cutter

cuts grease on stove


Sanitizing wipes

sanitizes counters & other work area


Bottle brush

for hard to reach glassware


Bottle brush

Dishwashing equipment

1. Dish soap: One of the things that both J and I quickly realized is that in the long run it does not pay to use a cheap dish soap. We've tried products that cost less because they were store brands and their product did not hold up against more popular brands. It's well worth it to buy a detergent that will remain strong to the end. When a dish soap does not cut into the grease, or worse, when it dissipates before you even get to the end of the dish line, it is time to switch to a more reliable brand. For our household, that product is Dawn. With a little squirt of soap the suds stay strong through pots and pans.

2. Bleach: Not everyone chooses to add a drop or two of bleach into their dish water, but other people feel that this is one step further in the sterilization process of dish washing.

3. Rubber Gloves: This is a necessary item if you have sensitive hands, newly manicured nails, or have a skin disorder that is irritated with periods of soaking in water.

4. Bottle / Glass Brush: I use one to get into tight areas, such as narrow vases or glassware; many people use a brush to clean baby bottles; coffee thermoses can be cleaned using a long handled bottle brush, as well.

5. Dishcloth: While most people use a dishcloth to wash dishes, others use a sponge or scouring pad.

6. Pot Scrubber: For those hard to clean areas on pots and pans, it is advisable to have a scouring pad of some sort on hand. My choice is a Brillo pad, however there are many similar products on the market

7. Cleanser for kitchen sink: It's important to wash the sink out prior to washing the dishes so a cleansers, such as Comet or Soft Scrub, are useful to have on hand.

What to do before you clean your dishes:

1. Organize: rinse any obvious food items off of the dishes; if you have one, use a garbage disposal to wash any food items down the sink, otherwise, dispose into the garbage or compost pile. As you rinse the dishes move them into an area on the counter that is easy to reach. Set up your work area for the best convenience of your space. In our home that is a left to right movement. Set up your dish rack and drain board.

2. Clean the sinks: With food going into the sinks, remains of what people have eaten, and possibly animal dishes, it is important to keep the dish sink clean. Some people avoid this step by using a dish tub they place in the sink itself and store away.

3. Wash hands: Always wash your hands when handling dishes, regardless if you are dunking your hands into detergent water or not. This is especially vital when you are putting your dishes away after they've dried.

Preparing the dish water

After the initial organization and hand washing you will prepare your dishwater.

1. Temperature: Find the right temperature, which should be as hot as your hands will comfortably stand. Add additional hot water if the dishwater begins to cool, i.e. if your chore gets interrupted.

2. Water level: The water level should be high enough to cover most of the dishes and glassware, without splashing onto the floor when the dishes are added to the water; additionally, you should leave some room to add more water if the temperature drops.

3. Adding detergent: Most adults know how much detergent to add through personal experience, but your teen may not know how much is enough. A capful of soap is usually too much for a dinner's worth of dishes and cooking pans. I recommend a good 'squirt' from the bottle and then move the hands vigorously through to make more suds. If the temperature is a bit hot, use a fork or whisk to make the water sudsy.

4. Rinse water: Personally, I don't fill the next sink with rinse water. I've had many debates with people regarding economizing with water and which takes more energy. My nephew fills the sink and drops the clean dishes into it for rinsing, because that is what my friend insists is cost saving. I fill the sink with clean dishes and then rinse them with the water running. It is a personal preference and up to the individual to decide which works best for him.

How to wash dishes: the sequence to clean dishes

1. Start with glassware; there is nothing more frustrating to see smudges, or worse-grease, on drinking glasses. While the water is fresh, sudsy, and cleanest, I always recommend starting with the glassware.

2. Plates & bowl follow glassware, again, the cleanest water is for the dishes that you are directly eating from. When there are hard to remove food particles on the plates or bowls, such as cereal, egg yolk, or gravy, let the dishes soak in the (very) hot water to loosen it up. It will make your job so much easier. After ten minutes or so, the food should slide right off.

Note: It is imperative that you do not use an abrasive material on glass or dinner plates or you will damage them by scratching the surface. This includes Brillo pads, scouring pads, or sharp instruments, i.e. knives, that you intend to 'chip' away the food. If you question whether it is a good idea or not, follow this rule: error on the side of it not being a safe situation.

3. Keep yourself organized, as you are washing and rinsing the dishes, by placing the clean dishes onto the dish rack and drain area in a sequential manner. By using the drain board the way it is intended-glass prongs, dish holder, utensil holder, you are being productive and efficiently using space.

4. When 'stacking' clean dishes to dry try to keep a minimum of space between the items, such as plates. This speeds up the drying process because the air is allowed to circulate around the individual plates. By using the glass prongs the water drops are allowed to drip down and the air helps to dry them.

5. To speed up the drying process, and for additional sanitation of the dishes, use as great of a temperature of hot water as your hands can tolerate. Hot water dries faster than cold.

Cleaning cookware

Cleaning the pans with a Brillo pad

Cleaning the pans with a Brillo pad

How to wash dishes: utensils and cookware

When all of the glassware and plates and bowls are completed you can throw the eating and cooking utensils into the water. Hopefully, any visible food has been removed via rinsing. After the silverware is washed, place them in the dish rack utensil holder.

Then, put the pots and pans into the water and, if necessary, use a scouring pad to get the cookware sparkling.

The final kitchen item you will wash are the pet bowls, if you have any pets. I usually wait until I have used the water to wash the counter and stove. Then, I wash the bowls and rinse the sink, moving the dish cloth to the laundry basket. If I have dishes that are drying in the drainboard I cover them with a fresh towel until they are ready to put into the cupboard.

However, once the last of the dishes are completed the job is not yet finished.

A clean kitchen: finishing touches

One of the things that was most difficult for my nephew to understand is that the job of dishwasher does not stop with 'washing and rinsing dishes'. For a long time he resisted wiping down the stove and counter space. It was an ongoing battle, and even now he does a haphazard show of it. I will often have to come behind him in drying the counter after he has cleaned the counter with a soaking wet dishcloth.

To put the finishing touches on cleaning the kitchen following a meal:

1. Wipe down the stove-this is when the grease cutter product comes in handy.

2. Wipe down the counter and make sure it is dry.

3. Wipe the salt and pepper shakers on the stove that are exposed to cooking grease.

4. Wipe down, or wash, the spoon holder if you keep one on the stove.

5. Take a fresh towel and cover the dishes left in the dish rack.

6. Empty the sink and rinse any remaining suds.

7. Catch any food particles in the sink drain and throw them away, or use the garbage disposal.

8. I keep a stack of dishcloths for a daily change and hang the used one across a towel rack until dry, at which time I place it in the laundry basket. The dish towel that is used as a cover goes on the towel rack in the morning.

Here's another great hub about dishwashing:

From Sharkley11, she brings the element of meditation into the ordinary task of cleaning dishes:


Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on October 06, 2013:

DDE - I never thought of that analogy...that's great. Mind if I borrow it? Thanks for nephew is grateful his apartment has an automatic one.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on September 27, 2013:

Great ideas and yes, a clean kitchen is worth having considering the kitchen is like the heart of every home. Well suggested and helpful read.

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on August 02, 2013:

Hi Marsha-thanks for your comments here. I remember sharing this with both brothers and sisters. I'm glad that my mom was fair. I taught my nephew this because he came to me at age 15 and needed to grow some practical skills before graduation. He's now thrilled to know there is an automatic dishwasher in his apartment for college, lol.

That's the fun part about HP we can choose what we want to write about. Actually, I wrote several about helping teens grow up.

Marsha Musselman from Michigan, USA on August 02, 2013:

Great hub, Denise. I never thought about writing hubs about chores we did growing up. I think I was about five when I began to wash dishes, although I may not have dried them that early. There were three of us about the same age and we took turns washing drying and the third person cleaned the table and swept the floor after each supper meal.

When we were home for the summer, we did that chore at every meal along with other cleaning in the home.

I made the mistake when my daughters were small of waiting until they were older before having them start. I figured I wanted to let them be children for a bit yet, even though they were asking to do that chore. By the time I let them do it they no longer wanted to anymore.

Had my folks shared why they had us start early, maybe I wouldn't have made that mistake but at least my kids did start to help cleaning eventually, especially when I began to work outside the home.

Voted up.

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on January 04, 2013:

Carl, I can create detail out of's the way I think and, per my accusers, talk. So, as a 'talker' I try to edit it and get to the bottom line for those who don't like the details. For in my writing articles, I go for the details, and lots of photos. My grandkids groan when I get the camera out at dinners b/c I won't allow them to disturb anything until I've taken enough to satisfy me. lol One day they may thank me!

Thanks for reading and sharing your experience. The thing about dishes in the outdoors-it is very challenging. Good for you for enjoying the task. I don't mind it myself, and we do not have a machine run dishwasher...only my nephew.

Robert Loescher from Michigan on January 04, 2013:

I wouldn't have thought you could create such a detailed article about washing dishes. As I grew up I found washing dishes was my favorite chore. As a young boy scout, everyone loved me because I would actually volunteer for the dishwashing chore. Washing dishes when you have no sink, no hot and cold running water and only one scrub pad is...well...rather challenging.

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on December 17, 2012:

Sharkye11-by all means yes, I'll link yours here, also. What a memory you carry from your grandmother's dishwashing! Whew! Thanks for stopping by and taking a peek at this one.

Jayme Kinsey from Oklahoma on December 16, 2012:

Wow Denise. You covered everything! I am sorry that I didn't see this hub earlier. I try to always watch to make sure I am not posting similar articles. Is it okay if I link yours to mine in the text?

Great job with this tutorial, and I agree with your way of washing. I don't like dipping dishes to rinse them. Too many horrible memories of my grandmother who dipped them in a pan of pure bleach water. She would reheat the same water for months until it was all grey and slimey! Yuck!

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on December 12, 2012:

Thanks, lemonkerdz-I agree that children should be taught early in life to participate in the cleanup at some level. Then, gradually be taught to wash dishes, regardless of a dishwasher or not. If J had come to me earlier, he would have started washing dishes earlier, ha ha. I'm glad you enjoyed this hub. :)

lemonkerdz from LIMA, PERU on December 12, 2012:

Good on you! when i was young my mum made all 7 of us kids have jobs of 1 wash, other drys and others put away. i hated it at the time but now?

i think it should be a proper course of parents teaching even younger than teens to do the washing up, or at least load the dishwasher.

if you are willing to eat you have to be willing to do some of the work that goes along with it.

Thanks, i found this hub entertaining.

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on December 07, 2012:

aykianink-thanks for the clarification. Well, you have to understand that I am probably a perfectionist when it comes to this task, (you should see the dust bunnies around my house, not to mention wisps of dog hair). I'm not a super housekeeper, however, I am trying to instill some level of skill in my nephew before he heads off on his own. :) Each person has their own way-this happens to be mine, but it doesn't mean yours is wrong...unless you end up with dirty dishes, ha ha. Thanks again for swing back around to explain my ??? :)

Armchair...ha ha ha...that's a great comment. :) I motivate my nephew, who lives with me, very easily. He loves his smart phone. His smart phone is mine if he refuses to do his chore before going to bed. I hate...and, I mean HATE waking up to a dirty kitchen. Not only is it a turn off re: appetite, but it also is impossible to cook breakfast in our small space.

Before his smart phone it was the Ipad and then something else...they were ALL mine if he didn't meet the expectation. That goes back to the beginning of the hub: know what YOUR expectations are and clearly communicate that to your teen, including the consequences if the job is not completed. Of course, there is a learning curve, but in the end if they are unmotivated find what motivates them and tell them it is yours until the job is done.

Will there be arguments-you bet, I had tons of verbal (and a few physical) altercations when I set rules down. But, consistency will pay off. If you know what your expectations are, don't get emotional about their whining or carrying on. (Remember when they were babies and had temper tantrums? Teens return to that '2 yr old' stage) So, ignore it, do your thing, check the results, follow up with consequences and stay calm. The calmer and more matter of fact you are with reminding them that you explained the job and consequence, the easier it will be when they finally get that you are serious. Good luck.

Michael Luckado from Hawaii on December 07, 2012:

Great detail...although I think a follow-up post on motivating them would be great also!

aykianink on December 07, 2012:

Well, my system looks NOTHING like yours. (Which makes me question a lot of how I do it now...) Though I imagine most women would dump on my method.

So seeing someone else's method was very interesting. I felt like I was learning about another culture:-)

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on December 06, 2012:

Hi mts-thanks for your comments. I remember those days, myself. :)

Hi tattuwurn-thanks for sharing your experience-I love it! hee hee. I still break a glass or two now, when they fall off the drainboard and onto the floor. :)

aykianink--an anthropologist, (?) Lol, how so? Merry Christmas to you. :)

Hi Dianna-Thanks! You were lucky...we started at about 10. I appreciate your feedback and vote up. :)

Dianna Mendez on December 06, 2012:

Awesome post! I was about fourteen when I washed my first dish. I didn't have to at home since I had six older siblings. My chore was to sweep and dust. This will be useful to many parents out there. Voted way up.

aykianink on December 06, 2012:

Felt like an anthropologist reading this. Very interesting, Denise. Good stuff:-)

mts1098 on December 06, 2012:

Ah yes household chores and I remember them well and learned at an early age...this one is a must for the kids...cheers

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on December 05, 2012:

Hello Demetre-thank you for your comments. :) I love that you would tell your cousins the correct way to wash dishes-did they follow your instructions?

Hi Ruchira-thank you for your comments. Yes, it is time for him to do this...and he has it easier! :) My nephew was not so lucky.

Hi NCBIer-I hope this will be a smooth transition when it comes to directing your sons to do this chore. I agree-I can't stand dirty utensils or plates and glassware. I'm totally turned off and don't feel like using them. Thanks for your comments.<