The American Cleaning Institute (ACI)

Getting Kids to Wash the Dishes

You teach them to read. You teach them to look both ways before crossing the street … and to be kind to others, and to brush their teeth before bed. But have you taught your kids how to do the dishes?
father and child doing dishes

Cleaning up after oneself is an important life skill – something that every child should learn, not just to endear themselves to future roommates or spouses, but to feel like a contributing member of the family unit. Children may grumble at first, but ultimately, they want to be useful.

There are many ways you can go about this and it will vary depending on the age and number of children in your house. Perhaps each child gets a night to take care of it on his or her own, or several kids can work together, with one child clearing the table, while another scrapes the dishes clean before loading the dishwasher. If you’re worried about smaller, less-nimble hands carrying breakable items, put the youngest in charge of utensils (minus the sharp knives).

Do you compost? Teach children what items get thrown away, and what might go in the compost bin. If you have a garbage disposal, teach children what is safe to put down the drain and what isn’t.

Teach kids how to load the dishwasher properly – lining up like items to maximize space and efficiency. Remember, plastic containers and cups go on the top! And sharp knives should always face downward.

As a parent, you will know when your child is ready to take an active role in cleaning tasks in the home. At the appropriate age, you may want to introduce them to dishwashing detergent – whether you use a single-load packets, powder or gel. Remind them that the cleanser is not a toy and not something they should put in their mouths or eyes. And they should always read and follow the directions on the label and wash their hands after handling any cleaning product.

Hey, Kids:
Let’s Do the Dishes!

Cleaning up after eating is an important life skill! It can also lead to fun teachable moments in your home. Use this checklist as a guide for making quick work of post-meal cleanup.

Have each child choose one night each week to take care of the dishes;


Try the team approach, so kids can work together to "divide and conquer:

  • Clearing the table
  • Scraping the dishes
  • Loading the dishwasher
  • Washing/drying (for hand-washed items)
  • Younger children can be in charge of non-breakable items and utensils (minus the sharp knives!)

Teach children what items:

  • Get thrown away
  • Go in the compost bin (consider starting a compost pile if you don’t already have one)
  • Can -- and can’t -- go into a garbage disposal, if you have one

Do a Dishwasher "Demo." Show kids how to load the dishwasher properly, such as:

  • Lining up like items to maximize space and efficiency
  • Putting plastic containers and cups go on the top
  • Loading sharp knives facing downward
  • Reading the label on dishwashing detergent packages
  • Adding dishwashing detergent (for older children only)

And just for fun … each night, have a different family member choose "music to do the dishes by." Dancing is allowed … but only as long as it’s done safely, far away from breakable dishes and sharp utensils!

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