3 Dishes You Might Not Have to Wash (Which is Good, Because You Weren’t Washing Them Anyway)

published Nov 10, 2021
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scooping some cumin out a spice jar with a measuring spoon, baking sheet with carrots
Credit: Sarah Crowley

Washing dishes isn’t just about removing food residue so you can use a plate or fork again. Cross-contamination is a real risk when you’re using kitchen serving tools, especially when dirty hands, meat, and other bacteria sources are involved. That said, not all plates, cups, and utensils come into contact with these germs — so do you really need to apply the same washing practices across the board? 

According to Alex Varela, general manager of the Dallas-based house-cleaning service Emily’s Maids, it depends. While some surfaces might just need a quick wipe or rinse, not all scenarios are created equal — and when it comes to your health, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. 

Here are some common do-I-wash-it scenarios and Varela’s expert input on each one. 

Credit: Kitchn Video

A measuring cup you only used for water

According to Varela, you probably don’t need to actually wash this — unless, of course, you grabbed the cup and your hands were dirty, especially if you touched potential contaminants, like raw meat. In that case, wash it or throw it in the dishwasher to prevent cross-contamination. 

If you’re sure the measuring cup is clean, Varela advises letting the cup dry completely before putting it away, particularly if your area has hard water. “Hard water includes a higher number of minerals, such as calcium,” he says. “If you don’t let it dry with the top side facing down, you may get a small calcium stain on the bottom. Nothing dangerous to worry about, though.”

Credit: Joe Lingeman

A measuring spoon for dry goods

Measuring out sugar for a recipe, without any residue to speak of on the spoon? It’s probably OK to simply rinse (and thoroughly dry) the spoon before putting it back in the drawer. But ultimately, Varela says, it depends on the dry food you used, and whether it leaves a visible residue on the spoon.

On one hand, he says, by only rinsing with water you are creating a good environment for microbial growth: a food source and water. However, the act of rinsing should remove most food that was present in the spoon to begin with. 

The material of that measuring spoon is also important. For example, plastic spoons naturally resist bacteria because they’re not porous, while wood would be more likely to contain bacteria. If it’s the latter, give it a wash.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani | Food Stylist: Jesse Szewczyk

A bread knife

If you’re literally just slicing bread or a bread-adjacent food, Varela says it’s likely fine to wipe it with a cloth to remove crumbs and debris, then put it back on the rack. There are a few important exceptions. 

For example, if the bread contains “special” ingredients such as cinnamon, raisins, or cheese, you’ll need to wash it. And if your bread is fresh from the oven or still warm, bread particles will stick to the knife and be harder to remove with just a cloth.

Varela adds that when you plan to use the bread knife again also plays into your choice. If you probably won’t take it out of the rack for 5 to 7 days, there’s a slight chance mold could grow on it and you wouldn’t notice. “So, if you don’t plan on using it for a week or more, my suggestion would be to wash using soap or at least rinse with water,” he says.

In the end, remember: Bacteria and viruses are always in the air, and lingering on most surfaces. Some of them are harmful, while some of them are totally harmless. “This is just about increasing or decreases the chances for microbial growth,” Varela says.