Washing Dishes on Shabbos
As part of an overall strategy to minimize unnecessary work on
Shabbos and to enhance the Shabbos day as a day of rest from all weekday
chores and activities, the rabbis forbade washing dirty dishes on Shabbos
unless those dishes are needed for that very Shabbos.(1) It is obvious,
therefore, that all dishes that are to be used on Shabbos should be washed
before Shabbos begins. One should not wait for Shabbos to begin to wash
dirty dishes from Friday afternoon.(2)
QUESTION: Which dishes may be washed on Shabbos and which may not?
* It is permitted to wash dishes after the Friday night meal if they will
be used for the Shabbos morning or afternoon meal. But it is forbidden to
wash the Friday night dishes if they will not be used for any of the
Shabbos day meals.
* It is permitted to wash dirty dishes that accumulated from the morning
or midday meals if they will be needed for the third meal (seudah
shelishis) or for snacks that will be served later on in the day. It is
also permitted to wash all types of dishes which are commonly used
throughout the day, such as glasses, teaspoons and fruit plates, etc,
unless one is sure that they will not be needed again.(3)
* It is permitted to wash all the dirty dishes that have accumulated even
though only some of them will be needed later. Even if one plate or cup
will be needed, it is permitted to wash all the plates or cups that are
* Several poskim debate whether it is permitted to wash dirty dishes for
Shabbos use even if there are other clean dishes readily available. Some
forbid it,(5) others discourage it,(6) while yet others permit it.(7)
While it is customary to be lenient,(8) many poskim recommend that it is
appropriate to be stringent when possible.(9)
* In the case of a family simchah, for example, when used dishes may pile
up and create a dirty, unsightly mess, it is permitted to wash the dishes
[even if they not going to be used on Shabbos], since they are being
washed for the sake of oneg Shabbos and not for a weekday need.(10)
* Dishes that may not be washed on Shabbos may still be stacked in the
dishwasher.(11) One may not sort different types of dishes or cutlery
before placing them in the dishwasher, even if his intention is to make
room for all of the dishes. It is permitted, however, to pick up a few
similar dishes, e.g., a stack of fish plates or cups, and place each dish
in its designated slot. If the dishes were improperly placed, they may not
be rearranged according to size and type so that they will be ready for
washing in the evening.(12)
* A dishwasher may not be operated on Shabbos, even if it was preset by a
time clock.(13) It is also strictly forbidden to instruct a non-Jew - on
or before Shabbos - to operate a dishwasher on Shabbos.(14)
QUESTION: Is it permitted to rinse or soak dishes that may not be
DISCUSSION: Just as it is forbidden to wash dishes that are not
Shabbos, so is it forbidden to rinse them(15) in preparation for washing
them after Shabbos. Soaking dishes in preparation for washing them after
Shabbos is also prohibited. [Note: "soaking" is only prohibited when it
entails a specific, additional act, such as filling a dirty pot with water
to soak it, or filling a dishpan with water on Shabbos and then placing
the dirty dishes in it. If, however, a dishpan was filled before Shabbos
and the dishes are merely removed from the table and deposited therein,
that is permitted.]
There are, however, a number of specific cases when rinsing or
soaking is allowed. It is permitted, for instance, to rinse or soak dirty
dishes which will otherwise become permanently stained, will attract
insects or flies, or will emit a foul odor.(16)
In addition, some poskim permit soaking dishes or pots to prevent
leftover grease or soft food particles from hardening and becoming
difficult to wash after Shabbos.(17) Other poskim do not agree with this
leniency.(18) All poskim agree that once the residue has hardened and
formed a crust, it is forbidden to rinse or soak dishes or pots to prepare
them for washing after Shabbos.(19)
WHEN WASHING DISHES ON SHABBOS IT IS PROHIBITED . . .
* to turn on the hot water tap.(20) On Friday night, when the tank and the
water it contains is still hot, it is strictly prohibited to turn on the
hot water tap even if the boiler was turned off before Shabbos, since the
tank and/or the hot water in the tank will cook the cold water which flows
into it automatically.(21)
* to use a sponge, a wet cloth, a paper towel or any implement made of any
other absorbent material.(22)
* to use steel wool or synthetic scouring pads which trap water between
* to use bar soap.(23)
WHEN WASHING DISHES ON SHABBOS IT IS PERMITTED . . .
* to use hot or warm water that was heated before Shabbos. Hot water
should not be poured directly over globs of fat in order to dissolve them.
* to use liquid detergent.(25) It is preferable to add water to the liquid
soap in order to dilute it before Shabbos.(26)
* to use synthetic scouring pads whose fibers are widely spaced and cannot
* to use a nylon bottle brush.(28)
* to wear rubber or plastic gloves.
* to plug the sink drain with a stopper.(29)
* to empty the refuse which accumulates in the drain into a garbage can.
* under extenuating circumstances, to plunge a blocked drain with a rubber
1 O.C. 323:6 based on the Talmud, Shabbos 118a. Rashi and Ra'avad (Hilchos
Shabbos 23:7) explain that the basic concept behind this rabbinic decree
is to avoid "unnecessary toil for weekday purposes." This may be the
Rambam's opinion as well; see Magid Mishneh, ibid. [Based on this
explanation, some poskim hold that if the dishes are washed in order to be
used next Shabbos and they will not be used during the week, it is
permitted to wash them (Salmas Chayim 1:75). But other poskim do not agree
(Tehillah l'David 302:6), and and it is customary to be stringent; see
Tzitz Eliezer 14:34-2.]
2 See Machatzis ha-Shekel 302:6.
3 Mishnah Berurah 326:28, 29; Ketzos ha-Shulchan 146:16.
4 Mishnah Berurah 323:26; Aruch ha-Shulchan 326:7; Ketzos ha-Shulchan
5 See Be'er Moshe 6:82 quoting Ohel Moed who permits washing dishes only
when there are no other dishes available.
6 Tosfos Shabbos 323:8; Minchas Shabbos 80:254; Aruch ha-Shulchan 323:7.
7 Harav M. Feinstein (oral ruling, quoted in Kol Hatorah, vol. 54, pg.
18); Harav Y. Kamenetsky (oral ruling, quoted in Emes L'Yaakov O.C.
323:6); Bris Olam (Ofeh 90).
8 Shevet ha-Levi 5:39.
9 B'tzeil ha-Chachmah 4:130; Shevet ha-Levi 6:42; Machazeh Eliyahu 62-3.
10 Tzitz Eliezer 14:37-1, quoting Teshuvos M'harshag O.C. 1:61, based on
Mishnah Berurah 302:19. See also Da'as Torah O.C. 444:1 (s.v. v'im).
11 Igros Moshe O.C. 4:74 (rechitzah 4). But this is permitted only for
those who generally clear their dirty dishes straight from the table into
the dishwasher; Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 12:35.
12 But it would be permitted to rearrange the dishes according to size or
type it the intention is to make more room for all the dishes in the
13 Minchas Shelomo 2:20; Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 12:35. See also
Igros Moshe O.C. 4:60 who prohibits operating any appliance on a time
clock on Shabbos.
14 O.C. 307:2. A dishwasher may not be operated in one's home even if the
non-Jew offers to operate the dishwasher without being told to do so; see
The Monthly Halachah Discussion, pgs. 264-268 for more details.
15 When dishes are stacked in an empty sink, the routine use of the sink
for washing hands or food etc. is permitted, even though the dishes in the
sink will inadvertently be rinsed off; see Mishnah Berurah 321:21.
16 She'arim Metzuyanim B'halachah 80:27; Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah
12:2; Machazeh Eliyahu 55:5. [In the unlikely event that soaking or
rinsing will not remedy these conditions, then washing is permitted as
17 Minchas Shelomo 2:35-12; Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 12:3; Machazeh
18 See Me'or ha-Shabbos, vol. 1, pg. 115 quoting Harav Y.Y. Fisher;
Nishmas Shabbos (O.C. 323:361).
19 Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 12:3.
20 If the hot water tap was turned on inadvertently, it should be turned
off as quickly as possible; see Nishmas Shabbos 318:73-2. See also
Shulchan Shelomo 318:1-1 and Orchos Shabbos 1:90.
21 Igros Moshe Y.D. 2:33; O.C. 5:20-4; Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 1:39
and Tikunim U'miluim 31, note 4.
22 O.C. 320:17.
23 Based on Mishnah Berurah 326:30. See dissenting opinion in Yabia Omer
24 Mishnah Berurah 253:100; Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos
25 Aruch ha-Shulchan 326:11; Kaf ha-Chayim 326:43; Harav Y.S. Elyashiv
(quoted in Shalmei Yehudah 9:3).
26 To satisfy the view of Igros Moshe O.C. 1:113 who discourages the use
of liquid soap on Shabbos; see Az Nidberu 10:16.
27 Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 12:15). See also
Yabia Omer 4:30-19.
28 Be'er Moshe 1:43.
29 Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 12:16.
30 O.C. 308:34.
31 While many poskim allow unclogging a blocked sink or stuffed toilet
with a plunger, there are those who do not, maintaining that this may
constitute "fixing" the drain, which may be a violation of Makeh B'patish;
see the various opinions in Igros Moshe O.C. 4:40-9; Minchas Yitzchak
5:75; Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 12, note 50; Yabia Omer 5:33.
Weekly-Halacha, Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and
Torah.org. Weekly sponsorships are available--please send email to the moderator, Dr. Jeffrey Gross firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rabbi Neustadt is Rav of Young Israel in Cleveland Heights. He may be reached at 216-321-4635 or at email@example.com.