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How to Wash and Sanitize Dishes with Bleach

Different clean plates in dish drying rack on kitchen counter

Washing dishes can eliminate visible dirt, but it’s not enough to kill bacteria like salmonella. To sanitize dishes and food containers, rinse them with a bleach and water solution after washing.

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By Mary Gagliardi

Germs and viruses can survive for hours on hard surfaces, so it’s a good idea to give items like dishes and food containers an occasional sanitizing treatment to reduce germy dirt. This is especially true if someone in your household has just recovered from a cold, flu or other virus.

Bacteria on food-adjacent surfaces

In addition to common cold and flu viruses, dangerous bacteria on food-adjacent surfaces can also cause food poisoning. It’s not just a problem for dishes and glassware. Lunchboxes, plastic food containers, water bottles and even stainless steel reusable straws can be affected. Fortunately, it’s also easy to fix. All you have to do is sanitize your dishes in a bleach solution after washing and rinsing them.

Just use this table to determine how much bleach you’ll need to make your sanitizing solution.

ContainerAmount of WaterAmount of Bleach
Large sink3 gallons2 tablespoons
Large dishpan2 gallons1 tbsp + 1 tsp
Small dishpan1 gallon2 teaspoons
32 oz. water bottleFill with water½ teaspoon
24 oz. coffee tumblerFill with water¼ + ⅛ tsp
16 oz. water bottleFill with water¼ teaspoon

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What you need

Steps for sanitizing dishes

  1. 1

    Wash thoroughly

    Fill a sink or dishpan with hot soapy water, and wash your dishes. As you work, transfer the washed dishes to clean water in a second dishpan or the other half of your sink.


    Don’t wash non-stainless steel, aluminum, silver or chipped enamel with bleach. Disinfect these by scalding.

    washing dishes
  2. 2

    Rinse completely

    Drop the soapy dishes into the rinse water. They can stay there while you mix up the bleach and water solution.

    faucet with water
  3. 3

    Prepare the bleach and water solution

    Refer to the guidelines above to determine the ratio of bleach to water you’ll need for your sanitizing solution. Use cool water along with a third dishpan or clean sink to mix your solution.

    pouring bleach mixing with water
  4. 4

    Sanitize the dishes

    Submerge the dishes in the bleach and water solution, allowing them to soak for 2 minutes.

    peron soaking something in a bucket
  5. 5

    Let the dishes drip or air dry

    Remove the dishes from the sanitizing solution and transfer them to the drying rack to air dry. No rinsing is required after sanitizing.

    Different clean plates in dish drying rack on kitchen counter

Frequently asked questions

Can you wash dishes with bleach?

You can wash dishes as usual, then rinse them using a diluted Clorox® Disinfecting bleach solution to sanitize.

Do I need to use tap water for sanitizing dishes?

Yes, only use potable water. This application is not the same as what we recommend to make water safe to drink in an emergency.

Why can’t I just add the bleach to the sudsy water?

The washing, rinsing and sanitizing steps must all be done separately. That’s because bleach breaks down very quickly in the presence of organic matter. So the organics coming off your dishes would very quickly degrade the bleach if they were together in the same solution, and you would no longer have the correct concentration of bleach to kill the bacteria.

Can I use splashless bleach to sanitize dishes?

No — even though Clorox® Splash-Less® Bleach is now EPA-registered, sanitizing dishes and other food-contact surfaces is not an approved use on the EPA registration.

Can I put bleach in my dishwasher with my dishes?

Regular bleach is not intended for use by itself in a household dishwasher. Instead, look for Automatic Dishwashing Detergents that already contain bleach. Commercial dishwashers (like what you’d see in a restaurant or other institution) do allow for bleach use depending on the model. Check the instruction manual or ask a service technician for guidance on proper use.


I bought my bleach at a warehouse store and it has a different name. Can I use it instead?

Yes. Depending on where you buy your bleach, you could also use any of the following: Clorox® Bleach1, Clorox® Regular Bleach3, Clorox® Performance Bleach2 and Clorox® Germicidal Bleach4.

How can I check to see that my bleach solution is strong enough?

Use a chlorine test strip to confirm you have the correct concentration of sanitizing solution, 185ppm available chlorine. If the level is too low, carefully add a small amount of bleach and re-test with a fresh test strip.

If you’re sanitizing a large number of items, periodically re-test the sanitizing solution to make sure you maintain the correct level of bleach active. If necessary, add a small amount of bleach when needed when the bleach active level falls below 185ppm.