12 Cleaning Tips to Make Holiday Dishes Less of a Chore

While cleaning up the table after a big holiday meal isn't always fun, these tips can help make the job easier.

thanksgiving meal spread on white table

Better Homes & Gardens / Andy Lyons

The holidays are a joyful, festive time, but they also come with a lot of extra work, from decorating to shopping, cooking to cleaning. One of the least welcome seasonal chores is washing holiday dishes, but alas, they need to be done.

When faced with a big job like holiday dish cleanup, applying a strategy and breaking it down into distinct tasks will make it less overwhelming.

12 Tips for Holiday Dish-Washing

In addition to the sheer volume of pots, pans, serving pieces, utensils, and glassware used to prepare and serve holiday meals, there are delicate and specialty pieces that require careful handling. And pans used to cook and reheat dishes often result in stubborn stuck-on messes. Ahead, you'll find tips and tricks to help you master the art of holiday dish-washing.

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Start with an Empty Dishwasher

Emptying the dishwasher is a chore that people tend to put off, but during the busy holiday season, it's a good idea to be vigilant about putting dishes, cutlery, and glasses away after running the dishwasher. Doing so will set you and your kitchen up for success when it comes time to clear the holiday meal from the table and tackle all those dishes. This makes it easy to load as many dishwasher-safe items as possible before taking on the things that need to be washed by hand.

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Practice Good Sink Management

Keeping your sink clean and free of stacks of dishes, utensils, and glassware will make a large-scale dish-doing operation run more smoothly. Stack dirty dishes, pots, and pans next to the sink, rather than in it, so there is plenty of room to actually wash things. Placing items that need to be washed next to or near the sink will also help decrease the chance that something gets broken or damaged.

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Use Good Dish Soap

Holiday foods tend to be richer and heavier than everyday meals, and they make a bigger mess of pots, pans, and serving pieces. Using a premium, grease-cutting dish soap will help make those tough cleaning jobs easier, faster, and more effective.

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Use the Right Sponges and Scrubbers for the Job

Specialty sponges and scrubbers, like Dobie Pads, chainmail scrubbers, and bottle brushes, can be immensely helpful when cleaning special occasion dishes and cookware. Stock up on these dish helpers, along with good dish soap, extra dish towels, comfortable dish gloves, and heavy-duty hand balm, as part of your holiday meal shopping so you have them at the ready when you need them.

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Have Dish Towels on Hand

It's easy to overlook the importance of dish towels, but it's a mistake to do so. Consider the number of dish towels you think you'll need, then double that number so that you have plenty on hand to lay on a countertop to act as a draining station, in addition to ones for drying hand-washed items.

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Paper Towels Have Their Place Too

Paper towels are useful for wiping out greasy pans and serving dishes prior to washing. They can also be used to dry pots and pans that might have a small bit of greasy residue left behind after washing.

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Work in Order

While you don't need to follow it strictly, there actually is an order for washing dishes. The order in which to hand-wash dishes is: Glassware, including crystal and glass plates; plates; flatware and serving pieces; serving dishes; pots and pans.

Regardless of the order in which you wash, it's a good idea to wash like things together. Doing so allows you to dry and put similar items away, and completing smaller items first helps create space for washing larger, more awkward pieces, like roasting pans and greasy serving platters.

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Utensil Management

Make quick work of washing utensils by using a dishpan (or any similar wide, shallow vessel) to soak them. Place utensils in the dishpan with dish soap and hot water, and set the dishpan aside on a counter while you wash plates and glassware. Soaking silverware, even for a short time, allows soap and hot water to break down grease and stuck-on food, making it easier to wipe and rinse utensils clean.

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Save Scorched Pots

To make short work of washing stubborn, stuck-on food without requiring vigorous scrubbing, try this easy trick. Pour a liberal amount of baking soda in the bottom of the pan, cover it with a few inches of water, and bring it to a boil on the stovetop. Then, remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool before washing it with hot, soapy water. Stuck-on or burnt food will come off with only minimal scrubbing.

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Rescue Sheet Pans and Baking Dishes

Rather than using elbow grease to scrub baking dishes and sheet pans, deploy a degreaser instead. Start by scraping off and/or rinsing away food, then lightly spritz the surface of the sheet or pan with an all-purpose cleaning spray. Set the pan aside while washing other items, allowing the all-purpose cleaner time to penetrate greasy or stuck-on messes. Finally, wash with soap and hot water as usual.

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Avoid Hot Water with Starch or Dairy

Hot water makes starchy and dairy-based foods stickier and therefore harder to clean. When rinsing pots, pans, and serving dishes used for starchy or dairy-based foods, use cool water. Once the piece has been rinsed well, use hot water and soap to wash as usual.

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Dry as You Go

Ideally, when it comes to washing a giant mess of holiday dishes, you will enlist someone to serve as the designated dryer. If there aren't extra hands around to help with the drying, consider washing and drying in batches. For example, wash the dinner plates, setting them aside on a dish towel to drip-dry as you work, then shut the water off, grab another dish towel, dry the plates, and put them away. Working this way also gives your hands a break from hot water and/or dish gloves.

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