Hand washing in the kitchen sink
August 30, 2010 6:04 AM   Subscribe

Is it okay to wash your hands in the kitchen sink?

I was watching a movie the other day and the husband came into the kitchen and started to wash his hands. The wife said "Not here, this is where we prepare food." Admittedly, it was an extreme case (Dirk Bogarde had been servicing his motorbike, and no one wants bike grease in their food), but it got me thinking. What's the likelihood of contaminating food by washing your hands in the kitchen sink?
I admit, I do it occasionally and will change that if there is a compelling case.
posted by unliteral to Food & Drink (37 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't typically roll my food around in what's ever at the bottom of my sink, so this is not something I worry about.
posted by jrockway at 6:09 AM on August 30, 2010 [7 favorites]

Do you put your food in the sink directly? The only food I put in there are potatoes and other veggies that I need to wash - once washed, they get set to the side on a cutting board.

I can't imagine that you'd be contaminating your sink just by washing your hands - you can always take a soapy hand or sponge and clean the sink before you rinse off if it's really a worry.
posted by WowLookStars at 6:10 AM on August 30, 2010

When you wash dishes with your hands, you are also washing your hands, unless you wear rubber gloves when you wash dishes. Of course, lots of people don't wash dishes anymore, they use dishwashing machines - but even then, not everything fits into a dishwasher. Frying pans are still washed by hand. And even the dishes that you do put into a dishwasher, may be pre-rinsed in the sink.

Dishwashing liquid, even if it is not specifically anti-bacterial, kills bacteria. It is OK to wash your hands in the sink.
posted by grizzled at 6:10 AM on August 30, 2010

I think there's more danger of contamination if you don't wash your hands regularly while preparing food. I mean, let's say you cut up a chicken and now you've got chicken juice all over your hands. What do you do? If you walk to the bathroom you're likely to touch doorknobs and drip juice all over the floor.

Whatever cooties are going to come off your hands in the kitchen sink are no worse than any cooties that are going to come from whatever you're preparing.

If you're worried about contamination you should probably use separate towels to dry your hands, dry the dishes, dry fruit, and wipe the counters.

You're fine washing your hands in the sink and the alternative is way worse. That's partly what the sink is there for.
posted by bondcliff at 6:11 AM on August 30, 2010

Well, it was just a movie, but I suspect it was concern over the dirt splashing off the hands and on to areas around the sink, where food is prepared. It's a small risk and probably not a big deal at all, but for some people keeping that separation is important to maintaining cleanliness.
posted by nomadicink at 6:13 AM on August 30, 2010

I wash my hands between cutting up the meat and working on the veggies, don't you?

The kitchen sink is fair game for hand washing of all types. I mean, if the wife's in there working on dinner and I've just been working on my car, yeah, I walk past the kitchen sink and wash up in the restroom. But other than that? No worries.
posted by notsnot at 6:20 AM on August 30, 2010

When I handle meat while cooking, I immediately wash my hands in the kitchen sink. Surely your wife does this, too? Meat is much nastier than motorcycle grease, and you can wash vegetables in a colander set in the sink.
posted by Houstonian at 6:23 AM on August 30, 2010

Only in a professional kitchen are the hand-washing sinks separate from food prep sinks. I don't know of anyone, professional food worker or not, who at home doesn't wash their hands in the kitchen sink.
posted by kpht at 6:25 AM on August 30, 2010

I wash my hands probably ten times during the course of preparing a meal (after cutting up meat, after scratching an itch or blowing my nose, etc.) Of course it's okay to wash hands in the kitchen sink. The only time I wouldn't is if there's actual food in the sink.
posted by Daily Alice at 6:26 AM on August 30, 2010

It was a movie. In Real Life things are typically different which is why we don't have to worry about alien invasions and that stuff.

I'm sure there are some people who are extremely anal about the cleanliness of their sinks to the point where they break out the Comet after they wash their vegetables. That is not common.
posted by JJ86 at 6:37 AM on August 30, 2010

i often wash my hands in the kitchen sink.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:39 AM on August 30, 2010

As somebody who has a soap dish on the window sill behind my kitchen sink I can't see a problem. One would hope that your faucet handles, the sink etc get cleaned regularly like the rest of your kitchen surfaces. So not sure how washing your hands would cause an issue as long as you actually finish any really dirty jobs you may do in the kitchen sink by cleaning your sink throughly.

For example when I clean my kitchen and bathroom I end up filling my kitchen sink with hot water and all purpose cleaner to wipe down cupboards etc. The last job is mopping the floors and as I only have two small floor spaces that require mopping I finish by dipping my mop into the kitchen sink and using that water to clean the floors as well. But once the kitchen floor has dried I drain the water and bleach sink, faucets and draining board.
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:41 AM on August 30, 2010

posted by IAmBroom at 6:46 AM on August 30, 2010

The issue seems to be that the movie character was grubby from mechanical work. Growing up on a farm, we had a separate sink area in our entrance-way. We also had a bar of Lava soap at that sink: people coming in covered in in dirt, grease, and whatever, would scrub up in that sink.

Perhaps it is this old-fashioned way of doing things that the movie is based on. But really- there isn't a problem with using the kitchen sink
posted by Eicats at 7:02 AM on August 30, 2010

Response by poster: Look, let's not get sidetracked here. I know it was movie but that doesn't mean it might not be a concern. The scriptwriters lived in the real world and included it in the dialogue not just because of the power play within the movie but also because of the weird mid 1900's fear of any germs. I was just wondering if there was any substance to the theory, e.g. I have just been doing some gardening - is it okay to wash my hands in the kitchen sink or will I leave flecks of potentially harmful microbes around?
Also, my kitchen sink is steel, not the 1950s porcelain.
posted by unliteral at 7:03 AM on August 30, 2010

That depends, have you been been our gardening? handling dangerous chemicals? or is this just the ordinary, "I need to wash my hands" ?

Judging by the number of alive people who have indicated that they've washed the hands in the kitchen sink, I'd say it's ok.
posted by nomadicink at 7:17 AM on August 30, 2010

I'm quite a germaphobe and I think it's okay. I do wipe down my sink often with a soapy sponge, and clean the taps, and like WowLookStars' method, the only food that sits in the sink is food about to be washed.

If someone came in visibly covered in dirt, well, I'd be upset because I have carpet, but I'd probably still let them wash up in the kitchen since it's the biggest sink. I would just also clean the sink after. If they're covered in something like motorcycle grease, then they need to wash their hands elsewhere because I imagine it's harder to clean the sink of that and I'd rather it end up in the bathroom where I'm less likely to end up ingesting it from.

So I think the likelihood it pretty slim, unless you never ever clean your sink and there's bits of food everywhere and you're in the habit of leaving your vegetables sitting in it and not washing or cooking them after. And even then, I think you're more likely to have problems from raw meat and eggs with the sink, than from washing your hands.
posted by quirks at 7:17 AM on August 30, 2010

I work in a grocery store where we have a kitchen that prepares food, and the health department mandates separate hand-washing and food-preparation sinks. Obviously at home it's a little less serious, but I figured I'd mention that in a professional kitchen you must use separate sinks.
posted by Slinga at 7:17 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

There is no problem with washing your hands in the kitchen sink. I really doubt that any more "flecks of potentially harmful microbes" would be in your sink after you washed gardening hands than after you rinsed a cutting board after your used it to cut raw chicken. This is not something to worry about.
posted by mskyle at 7:23 AM on August 30, 2010

The book Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House has a short blurb about this (page 105), stating that it's just 'good kitchen manners' to only use a kitchen sink and countertops for food prep. It is to prevent any contamination of food. Any hand washing should be done outside of the kitchen (but once handling food, you can wash your hands in the sink).

Do I follow this? No. If I faithfully followed everything outlined in that book, I'd be cleaning 24X7. But I do clean my kitchen sink with bleach more often.
posted by bCat at 7:26 AM on August 30, 2010

I think it would be bad manners to not wash your hands after peeing in the sink.

Seriously, unless we are talking about dangerous chemicals, of course it is ok to wash your hands in the sink. I do think (and maybe this is what that movie scene is referencing) that it is better to wash super greasy hands in the utility sink or outdoors, but even then the worst case scenario is that you have to clean the sink after. And remember all the non-food things that happen in kitchen sinks, like baths for babies, and washing of clothes.
posted by Forktine at 7:31 AM on August 30, 2010

Best answer: I was taught that it's rude (not unhygienic, if you clean the sink up, but just rude) to wash up randomly in the kitchen sink. Unless I have a specific reason to be in the kitchen (cooking, doing dishes), I always walk around to the bathroom sink.
posted by anaelith at 8:01 AM on August 30, 2010

When I used to work in a restaurant kitchen there were two separate sinks; one for food prep and one for everything else. This was apparently a legal requirement and was one of our inspection points.

Similarly, when I was looking into registering my home kitchen as a food-prep area in order to sell homemade food at markets, the inspector was very concerned that there was another sink for me to wash my hands in as well as the kitchen sink for food prep.

So, yeah, while it's perfectly normal to wash your hands in the kitchen sink, there are situations where it wouldn't be ok. I'm not clear exactly on why it's not ok - but there must be some concern over public health. If you're not feeding the litigious five thousand, though, you're probably ok.
posted by citands at 8:05 AM on August 30, 2010

Response by poster: This was apparently a legal requirement and was one of our inspection points.
Do you know how this legislation came about, after studies/research?
posted by unliteral at 8:25 AM on August 30, 2010

theoretically, your hands could have virtually anything on them. In a kitchen (especially a commercial kitchen), splashing from you washing your hands could land on food prep counters. Per the national sanitation foundation, commercial kitchens should provide separate facilities for activities where such cross-contamination could occur (see http://if-srvv-edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fs076 ). The chance is miniscule, but that's the reason.
posted by Chris4d at 8:37 AM on August 30, 2010

As long as it's not on the food, it is ok. As a precaution I bought some 7th Generation surface cleaner that supposedly kills 99% germs naturally, including salmonella. Spray, leave it on 10 min, you can rinse if it's near food items. Smells like tyme. I spray the sink before bed every night just as a precaution (and since we disinfect our child's nebulitizer treatments in the kitchen).
posted by stormpooper at 8:44 AM on August 30, 2010

The only person who's ever said anything like that to me was my grandmother, and I was flabbergasted. Really? Somehow it's unsanitary to wash my reasonably clean already hands in the sink used for washing dishes and preparing food? The dishes and food have pretty nasty things on them already. (But I never went to wash my hands in her kitchen sink again.)

Now, I wash my hands many, many times a day, for many reasons (perhaps including a touch of OCD, I'm not sure). When hanging out in someone's kitchen, because it was so important to my grandmother, I figure it's at least good manners to ask if they mind if I wash my hands in their kitchen sink. No one else has ever expressed reservations. They usually express confusion that I would think it's a problem.
posted by galadriel at 8:50 AM on August 30, 2010

I have never heard of anyone who had a problem with hand washing in the sink, provided there wasn't food in it. I would think oddly of someone who was unnerved by me simply washing my hands in my kitchen.

For me, it's not something I'd really worry about, especially considering the amount of times I have dropped my toothbrush in the sink in the washroom and thought nothing of it. At least most things that would touch the kitchen sink get cooked before being eaten, and not just stuck back in one's mouth dripping with toothpaste and hand wash poop residue and such.

I think the issue is more mental than anything based on the fact that it's where we prepare food. The same as when I will pour tap water from the bathroom if someone is using the kitchen sink. Some people just can't get past the fact that although it's a BATHROOM it's the same water main and pipe system that comes out in the KITCHEN.

If anything, I'd guess I'd be more concerned about chemical contamination from agents used in the garden or any harsh cleaners getting into the sink and then into food.
posted by Debaser626 at 10:25 AM on August 30, 2010

Sure, why not?
Then wash the sink if you think it needs it.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 10:27 AM on August 30, 2010

Bear in mind that in a commercial kitchen you are also required to change from your 'street' clothes into chef whites before commencing cooking (as a chef rather than a waiter who was coming in and out).

Rules are far more stringent in commercial kitchens because you are far less likely to be sued in your home by someone who had a bad reaction to something they ate there.
posted by ellieBOA at 12:20 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

In my husband's family, it is forbidden to wash one's hands in the kitchen sink. And they're not farm workers or mechanics, just regular suburbanites. Really bizarrely fastidious suburbanites.
posted by HotToddy at 1:15 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's only a problem when Person A's busy working at the counter next to the sink, and Person B is a known splasher of sudsy water. Soap tastes terrible.
posted by VelveteenBabbitt at 1:51 PM on August 30, 2010

My mother-in-law said something like that to me once. I wash my hands prior to starting to prep food, so she asked me to help prep something and since I'd been sitting around for a while and herding kids, I went to wash my hands... it was a bewildering exchange for both of us.
posted by susanbeeswax at 10:53 PM on August 30, 2010

I don't know what movie we're talking about, but I think there's a connection with the notion of wives being territorial about their kitchens. So whether there was the possibility of germs or not, this was a fairly stereotypical 50s "get your dirty/greasy/manly self out of my spotless kitchen!" kind of scenario. It sounds like a variation on things I have heard any number of women of that generation say to their husbands or other men.
posted by bardophile at 4:41 AM on August 31, 2010

Best answer: The reason for not washing ones hands in a kitchen sink is that doing so creates a cross-contamination vector. The general rule of kitchens is that you shouldn't bring any dirt into the kitchen that hasn't come from food. Perfect world, you wash off the general every day grime somewhere else, and then you go into the kitchen wash your hands at the separate handwash sink, and then commence to food prep. In a restaurant, you'd actually want three sink areas: handwash, food prep and dish washing. If you have to combine food prep and dish washing, there are pretty strict protocols that say how everything must be sanitized in between.

At home, the preferred method would be to enter the kitchen with generally clean hands. Wash the sink and prep areas, and then prep the food. Wash them again, and then wash the dishes. (Because you don't want any cross between your raw food and your clean dishes.) If there is a chicken/egg/pork step in there, there should be another washing step in there too. There is nothing wrong with mid-process hand washing in that sink, provided the sink is washed before it is used again for something that could cross contaminate.

(PS to whomever: wiping things down with a soapy sponge just redistributes the germs. Sponges are gross.)
posted by gjc at 6:14 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Unilateral - I don't, I'm afraid, and I knew you were going to ask that even while I was posting!

I've just had a really quick google and nothing has leapt out, though I'm curious too now and will keep looking. gjc seems to have it in principle, however - it's just another way of making sure food is only prepared in 'safe' areas. One assumes the legislation is based on something, though I personally think it's probably more about (economic) risk management in keeping down the numbers of people who sue despite low chances of contamination via sinks.
posted by citands at 1:48 PM on August 31, 2010

Response by poster: I no longer wash my hands in the kitchen sink.
posted by unliteral at 4:29 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

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