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Keep Your Home
and Food Safe:

How to Clean, Sanitize, & Disinfect

When it comes to food safety, knowing how to clean, sanitize, and disinfect dishes, utensils, surfaces, and other items that come in contact with your food is VERY important. Cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting are a big part of your food safety repertoire, and doing them right goes a long way toward preventing foodborne illness.

In this article, Stop Foodborne Illness will shine a bright light on exactly what these steps are, how they help kill harmful germs, and how to do them effectively.


Every single time you use dishes, utensils, cooking equipment, and surfaces in your kitchen, they need to be cleaned (and sanitized).

When you clean, you’re removing visible food, crumbs, or dirt from a dish or surface. Before you can sanitize or disinfect something, it must be clean first.

For your dishes, utensils, and cooking equipment, optimally you’ll want to use a dishwasher. Why? Because the dishwasher’s high heat does wonders for killing off harmful bacteria and it may come equipped with a sanitize cycle that uses food-safe chemicals for added effectiveness (more on sanitizing later).

Don’t have a dishwasher?

Use a sink with three basins to wash, rinse, and sanitize your dishes. If your sink doesn’t have three basins, use one or two large pans as the second or third basins, and follow these steps:

Step One:

Scrape food off surfaces before washing.

Step Two:

Wash the dishes in hot, soapy water. Be sure to use clean dishcloths each day and don’t use sponges! They tend to harbor germs.

Step Three:

Rinse dishes very thoroughly in clean, hot water. You want all the soap removed because soap that makes its way into your chlorine bleach solution in Step 4 stops the bleach from sanitizing.

Step Four:

Sanitize the dishes with a chlorine bleach solution OR the hot water method (see the “HOW TO SANITIZE” section below for directions on these two options). Now, you may be asking: How important is it to sanitize? Does it REALLY make any difference? The short answer is YES. If your goal is to do as much as you can to make sure germs are destroyed and prevent foodborne illness, you definitely want to sanitize your dishes.

Step Five:

Allow dishes to air dry. Don’t dry with a cloth or towel; this can spread germs.


Sanitizing is an important food safety step that follows cleaning.

When you sanitize, you’re killing harmful germs with high heat or a chemical solution.

Restaurants, hospitals, daycares, retirement homes, and many other public spaces all sanitize and disinfect their facilities. And we at STOP strongly encourage you to bring this practice into your daily home-cleaning routine.

First, let’s cover dishes. If you use a dishwasher, use the sanitize feature if available. If not, you can soak dishes and wipe cooking equipment with a sanitizing solution or use hot water (as noted above).

Here are directions on two methods for sanitizing:

  • Method #1: Chlorine Bleach Solution: Soak dishes for at least one minute in a sanitizing solution made up of 1 tablespoon of unscented chlorine bleach + 1 gallon of cool water (hot water stops bleach from sanitizing). To make sure your bleach is at the correct concentration, use test strips (a Google search will bring up many retailers that sell these). Remove dishes and allow to completely air dry. Use gloves or utensils to remove dishes from the solution.
  • Method #2: Hot Water: Soak dishes completely covered in 170°F water for at least 30 seconds. Use a thermometer to check water temperature and time your soak with a clock. Remove dishes and allow to completely air dry. Use gloves or utensils to remove dishes from hot water.

When it comes to sanitizing surfaces/other items with a solution, there are three different types with specific purposes:

Sanitizing Solution #1

for Food Contact Surfaces:

Mix ¼ teaspoon bleach
+ 1 quart cool water

Sanitizing Solution #2
for Diapering Surfaces

(Including Areas Contaminated by Blood or Bodily Fluids):
Mix 1 tablespoon bleach + 1 quart cool water

Sanitizing Solution #3
for Toys in Contact with Mouths:

Mix 1 teaspoon bleach
+ 1 gallon cool water
Click image to download this factsheet

You’ll want to use a clean cloth when sanitizing with these solutions.


When using bleach, be sure to CHECK THE BLEACH LABEL
for an EPA statement that confirms it sanitizes.

Bleaches with fragrance you’ll find on store shelves nowadays
are NOT sanitizers.


Disinfecting is even more effective than sanitizing when it comes to destroying germs lurking on surfaces.

When you disinfect, you’re wiping hard surfaces clean and then wiping with a disinfecting solution, which is stronger than a sanitizing solution.

Here’s how to clean and disinfect hard surfaces like tables, chairs, and counters:

Step One:

Remove food, crumbs, and dirt.

Step Two:

Wash with hot, soapy water using a clean dishcloth.

Step Three:

Mix up a disinfecting solution of ¼ cup of chlorine bleach with one gallon of cool water.
Use a spray bottle to spray surfaces with the solution (use the heavy spray setting) and wipe the surfaces thoroughly with a clean cloth.

Note: When it comes to using disinfecting wipes you’ll find at your grocery store, these are better than not disinfecting at all; however, we don’t recommend these wipes as your best option.

For optimal germ-killing, stick with the solution + method listed above.

Step Four:

Allow to air dry.

STOP recommends cleaning and disinfecting your tables, chairs, and counters after every use.

TIP: Ask your local health department for assistance using chlorine test strips to verify the strength of sanitizing solutions.

Keeping your kitchen, dishes, utensils, serving areas, and surfaces clean and free from germs is an ongoing job that needs daily attention from everyone in your household. Share this article with each person in your family so they’re knowledgeable, too, on how to help make sure your kitchen doesn’t cause foodborne illness.

Thanks in advance for helping us spread the food safety word!