Bread and water makes dough, but it also makes glue. Here's how to clean it up.

By Margaret Eby
Updated July 04, 2020
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If you, like many folks, have gotten into the habit of baking during these past few endless-feeding months of self-isolation, you’ve probably hit upon a sad and sorry truth: Bread dough is a pain to clean up. Every time I feed my sourdough starter (switching it to a fresh container when I do), or attempt another artisan boule, batch of cookies, or pie crust, I’m left with a sink full of the worst kind of dishes. Bread dough is flour and water. You know what else flour and water makes? Glue. 

Over many days of scrubbing and googling and throwing out yet another gummed-up sponge, I’ve hit upon a few tricks that help the clean-up process a good bit, even though, I regret to say, I haven’t found one that conjures a flock of songbirds to do all the dishes for me. Still, follow these and your quarantine bread-making will be a little less excruciating to clean up after.

1. Use Cold Water, Not Hot

One of the easiest but most crucial tricks I learned in my trawling of internet baking forums is that the temperature of your water matters not just for baking, but also for cleaning. Hot water strengthens the gluten in the flour. It’s a good thing for bread dough, but it also means that it makes the mess you’re attempting to clean up extra sticky and impossible to clean up. Use cold water and soap to do the first round of cleaning of bowls and utensils, giving them a good soak if you need to. (Just avoid soaking wooden spoons and rolling pins!) Once the big lumps of dough are gone, you can switch to warm water again. 

2. Bench Scrapers Are Incredible

You know how great bench scrapers are for manipulating dough and scraping it off your counter? They’re similarly great for removing crusted on dough scraps from surfaces. Use a bench scraper as your first line of attack and you’ll end up with a lot less to clean.

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3. Get a Good Non-Porous Sponge

The other thing that a has helped tremendously is getting a scrubber that doesn’t gum up as easily with dough. This Kuhn Rikon silicone sponge is under $6 and holds up well to the rigors of scrubbing away sticky bread dough, plus you can easily sanitize it in the microwave or dishwasher, so it’ll last a lot longer than the average kitchen sponge. 

4. Try a Bristle Brush

Another great option to have around is a tough scrubbing brush. I picked up one of these Japanese scrubbing brushes on my trip to Japan last year, and I’ve reached for it again and again when other scrubbing implements just won’t cut it. You can buy them online—they’re also great for scrubbing potatoes and other vegetables. It’s not a bunch of birds, but using a combination of these cut down on the time I spent wrestling bread dough from my bowls and counters.