Uncleanable dishes?
June 27, 2012 3:00 PM   Subscribe

How can I remove greasy film from glass and plastic dishes?

Well, this is embarrassing. I threw a bunch of dishes of varying degrees of dirtiness in the sink to soak, forgot about them, and went away for three days. Now I have several glass cups and some tupperware coated with a nasty greasy film. Regular washing and scrubbing with steel wool pads didn't quite get rid of it. I really don't want to throw these out. I have access to the regular soaps and stuff and a single basin sink. I don't have a dishwasher. Is there a way to get these back to the way they were?
posted by ninekinds to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A short (5 minutes maybe) soak in near-boiling water with a few drops of quality (like Dawn) degreasing dish soap. Then wash the dishes as normal with a (clean, non-greasy) sponge. Should do the trick.

Steel wool isn't what you want for grease, and will likely damage your dishes.
posted by phunniemee at 3:11 PM on June 27, 2012

Yeah, I have some plastic dishes that only feel really clean if they go through the dishwasher, but in my pre-dishwasher days, very hot water, good detergent, and a soft, rather than scratchy washing up sponge worked very well.
posted by Kaleidoscope at 3:21 PM on June 27, 2012

Steel wool is for hard residue like caked-on rice or burnt fat. It scratches and ultimately destroys your things.

Elaborating on what phunnimee says: Clean the sink. Fill it up with hot water. Add dishwashing detergent, and the to-be-washed goods. Use a soft brush or a clean cloth or sponge. Dry with clean dish towel, and for glass cups: polish at the end with a clean micro fiber cloth.

[This happens in one form or another every day here. Dishwashing basics, really]
posted by Namlit at 3:24 PM on June 27, 2012

Response by poster: Guess I should have clarified: the very hot water, dishwashing soap, and dishcloth routine is how I do the dishes regularly. I already did that, and then followed up with steel wool on some of the glasses just to see if it did anything since it was what I had on hand. Looking for something extra to do for this specific situation, not for everyday dishwashing.
posted by ninekinds at 3:36 PM on June 27, 2012

Try adding a tablespoon of ammonia to the dishwater. Obviously, make sure you don't add anything with bleach into the mix.
posted by runningwithscissors at 3:38 PM on June 27, 2012

Leave them outside in the sun for a few days. Ultraviolet radiation really does a number on thin organic films.
posted by flabdablet at 4:17 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the lab the go to material to clean glassware is acetone. It will dissolve all kinds of non-polar things like grease and is relatively non-toxic. The bad news is that it is pretty flammable and will do a number on a lot of plastics and painted surfaces. I'd say, wet a rag with acetone (in a well ventilated space away from any source of ignition) and then immediately wash the item as per normal.

It would be hit and miss on the plastics depending on their type.

WD-40, being a short chain oil is good for taking things into solution so that you can wash them clean with normal soap and water. I've used it to remove some horribly persistent label adhesive from things before.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:18 PM on June 27, 2012

I found this link on Pinterest today. She uses it for her toaster, but it might work for you.
posted by TooFewShoes at 4:37 PM on June 27, 2012

I don't know what kind of dishwashing liquid you're using, but Dawn has never failed to remove grease from my dishes. Plastic, glass, stainless steel, etc. Heck, they use Dawn to clean off animals who've been exposed to oil spills.

Apply a drop or two of Dawn to a dishrag/sponge. Get the greasy kitchen item wet under the faucet. Scrub in the Dawn until a fine frothy explosion of suds occurs. Rinse kitchen item thoroughly. No more grease!
posted by ronofthedead at 4:40 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would basically just try washing your stuff again, only this time use a clean, new sponge or a rag straight from the drawer. Your old sponge/rag may have too much grease in it to ever get things truly clean at this point. That may be where the fine layer of grease is coming from, actually.
posted by Scientist at 5:12 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Don't be frightened, soak in water, and bleach. Rinse. Now you have sparkly stuff. If that still doesn't work, see if you can find Calgonite. Are you too young to know what that is? It's for automatic dishwashers, but it will clean anything (especially clogged jets in the jacuzzi.) Hot water, Calgonite, soak, rinse, done. Good luck.
posted by Yellow at 5:43 PM on June 27, 2012

You can buy sour salt which is citric acid in powder form in the grocery. I soak my veggies in the citric acid initially to clean them, then soak my dishes in the citric acid before I wash them with regular detergent. Citric acid is used regularly in food. It takes off the residue very nicely. Wear gloves to protect the skin on your hands.
posted by effluvia at 6:41 PM on June 27, 2012

Do you have a friend with a dishwasher, and if so could you take them over there?
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:15 PM on June 27, 2012

I know you said you don't have a dishwasher, but can you get a dishwasher tablet or powder?

I was volunteering at a school canteen (cafeteria) today, and the manager told me she couldn't get some trays clean of grease. She filled a sink with boiling water, threw in a dishwasher tablet and let the trays soak in there until the water was cooled enough that she could scrub with a nylon scrubber. They came up beautifully clean.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 12:57 AM on June 28, 2012

If you do use dishwasher products, don't put your hands in the water. Gloves only. It is exceptionally alkaline and will eat the oils right out of your skin and then start eating you. (It works by saponifying food grease into soap in the hot wash cycle.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:29 AM on June 28, 2012

Have you tried baking soda? If that's too weak, use Simple Green cleaner. Comes in a spray bottle and removes grease much better than Dawn. Also great for cleaning a greasy stove. Never use with bare hands though, it's hellish on the skin.
posted by The Toad at 10:19 AM on June 28, 2012

I would suspect that your dishwashing detergent is sub-standard. I have been getting by without a dishwasher for the last 10 years, so I'm pretty familiar with this problem. As a wannabe-hippie-frugal-type, I spent a long time experimenting with watering down dishwashing liquid to make it last longer, buying cheap off-brand liquids, buying the ultra-expensive eco-friendly brands, and even Dr. Bronner's.

All of these methods worked moderately well for most dishes. None of them worked well on grease. By "well" I mean, "after hand-washing in warm-to-hot water, does not need to be washed a second time due to grease."

After re-washing one too many plastic items, I finally gave up and went to Dawn. It really is the best for getting grease off dishes. (One of plastic's properties is that it is oiliophilic, which means that it particularly attracts and holds grease.)
posted by ErikaB at 12:24 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

If Dawn doesn't work I always step up to TriSodiumPhosphate for this kind of thing. You can buy it anyplace that sells paint and a tablespoon in a big sink of water will be sufficient. TSP is a very effective cleaner, it used to be in lots of different detergents, and was only removed because large quantities cause algae blooms. But a little in moderation is safe (it's a food additive) and ok for your sewer. Observe the safety precautions on the package.
posted by Mitheral at 5:32 PM on June 28, 2012

Vinegar cuts grease without scary chrmicals or involved procedures. Ditto lemon juice. Just rinse it well.
posted by windykites at 10:06 AM on June 30, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions. A dip in (diluted) bleach did the trick.
posted by ninekinds at 4:57 PM on July 1, 2012

You've probably just killed a greasy biofilm then, as opposed to removing a simple grease coating.
posted by flabdablet at 1:13 AM on July 2, 2012

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