How Long Can You Leave Dirty Dishes in The Sink?

Piling the dishes in the sink unwashed for hours may look harmless until you get a stomach upset after eating from one.

While many people think soaking dishes makes them easier to wash, in the real sense, it makes them even dirtier.

Furthermore, the longer they stay idling in the sink, the more microbes they accumulate.

So, How Long Can You Leave Dirty Dishes in The Sink?

Zero waiting period sounds almost right but can depend on an array of factors. The main objective is to prevent the pile from becoming an eyesore or health hazard in your kitchen area. Plates with leftover sauce in a sink with water may not accumulate microbes at the same rate as another set of plates with breadcrumbs in a dry sink.

Here are more factors to consider:

1. The Type Of Leftovers

Some food leftovers attract tons of microbes in a short time while others do not much.

Sugary or acidic foods, especially those with strong odors like plum jam, tomato sauce, and pineapples are a magnet for bacteria – just a couple of hours are enough to make the dishes unsuitable for reuse without passing in boiling water.

In contrast, leftover pizza doesn’t attract anything serious over the same period.

Leftover pizza is less sugary and gets dry and crusty with hours of lying idle in the open.

Such food debris simply dries up on plates and may probably stay harmless for a long time until mold stars grow by chance.

Dishes with acidic and sugary food leftovers should be washed in under 3 hours.

Seafood is the second-worst food you could leave lying idle in the sink, second only to sugary and acidic foods.

The CDC recognizes seafood as a source of diverse bacteria, parasites, and viruses.

Some of these microbes are harmless while others are pathogenic.

Either way, the longer these microbes stay on the plates in the sink with water the better the opportunity to propagate and spread to nearby items including faucets.

Common seafood-associated diseases include Salmonella, Calicivirus, and Hepatitis.

Therefore, dishes with seafood leftovers should be washed clean with hot water immediately after you’re done eating.

2. Does The Sink Contain Water?

A sink with still water speeds up the build of microbes on dishes than a dry sink.

3. How Dirty Are The Dishes?

Dishes with a lot of food leftovers should stay in the dish for the shortest time possible (less than 6 hours if you are very busy) than dishes with fewer leftovers.

Why Should Wash Your Dishes as Quickly as Possible?

The right word is ‘immediately.’ NEVER let a mountain of dirty dishes stack up in your sink no matter what. The only moment dishes should sit idle in the sink is when they are soaking (more on this later).

The first reason why you should wash your dishes immediately is to prevent them from stinking and attracting flies.

You probably don’t know this but the reason why your kitchen space has a fly problem (even cockroaches) is that you like to leave your dishes idling in the sink for ages.

Secondly, if you let your dirty dishes pile up, you increase the amount of time needed to wash the entire mountain.

Therefore, the best way around this is to wash the few items immediately as they come.

How Long Should They Soak?

For really stubborn stains, say, scorch marks or dried stew, you will be compelled to let your dishes sit in the sink longer than your averagely stained dishes would.

Water needs time to penetrate the hardened crusty coat.

Let’s say your dishes are severally stained (can be scorch marks or dried and hardened bean stew that won’t come off with a simple scrub), here’s the amount of time it would take to soak them. Note that soaking only applies to the dirtiest of dishes with the most stubborn stains.

1. 1-hour Worth of Soaking – 50% Removed

Take your skillet and dishes and soak them for 1 hour in a sink half-full of clean cold water.

You can be assured to eliminate 50% of the sauce and stew stains in that period.

2. 2 Hours’ Worth of Soaking – 80% Removed

Brownie stains are some of the toughest stains you could want to remove from your pan.

You don’t even need to buy a special cleaning agent to remove – a 2-hour soak in water is enough to dissolve the dirt and remove 80 percent with a gentle scrub.

3. 3 Hours’ Worth Of Soaking – 90% Removed

Save for burnt food stains, no stain can survive a 3-hour soak.

Whether you are dealing with hardened mashed potato dirt or crusts of debris stuck on the surface of your dishes or pans, you can be assured to get rid of about 90 percent of it after 3 hours of soaking.

Do Infinite Soaking Remove Burnt Food Stains?

No, it doesn’t. If you soak the stains for 3 hours and still fail to remove 90% of them, you need to try out something more advanced. There are so many commercial dishwashing agents perfect for stain removal.

Burnt food particles are a different kind of dirt especially if they are stuck on your cookware.

If it is a stew, for instance, extreme heat normally turns it into carbon, causing it to stick very tightly on the surface of your pans.

Even the newest pan in your collection of cookware has tiny imperfections on the surface that make the burning stew stick to it even tighter, making it harder to scrub off after soaking.

At that juncture, you will need the service of a cleaning chemical (start with Bar Keeper’s Friend).

Even better, a mechanical action such as scrubbing it with a tough cleaner can be cheaper and effective; passive water soaking won’t do the job.

What’s The Fastest Method to Scrub Your Dishes Clean by Hand?

A dishwasher is among the most integral kitchen appliances in any modern home but that doesn’t mean it can’t be replaced by skilled hands.

While soaking your dishes may seem time-consuming, it loosens food debris more conclusively, allowing you to scrub your dishes quickly so that you can move to other pressing kitchen chores.

For greasy dishes, start by preparing a decent amount of boiling water and dipping your dishes in there for a few minutes.

Proceed to scrub the food leftovers with a soapy scrub.

Wear a pair of gloves to protect your hands from the scalding water intended to get rid of the pathogenic microbes.

You can skip the boiling water part if your washing agent has anti-microbial properties though such dish cleaners aren’t commonplace.

So the fastest method of washing your dirty dishes and the rest of the cookware (if necessary) is to first arrange them in order – from the smallest items to the largest.

Items such as spoons, crockeries, cups, and glasses should come first, followed by large items such as bowls, plates, and serving bowls.

The dirtiest items should come last on the list.


So how long can you leave dirty dishes in the sink?

There are different kinds of stains so it will depend.

Dishes with acidic and sugary food leftovers should be washed in under 3 hours.

Items with seafood leftovers should be washed clean with hot water immediately after you’re done eating.