Cleaning the dishes
This is the approved revision of this page, as well as being the most recent.
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Using a sponge or brush on Shabbat
- One may not clean dishes or even gently wipe a countertop with a sponge because gripping the sponge will inevitably cause liquid to be squeezed out where one's fingers grasp the material. However, using a sponge which has a handle or a vinyl back one may gently wipe a countertop but it is still forbidden to wash dishes.
- One shouldn't use a dry sponge to wipe up a spill unless the sponge has a handle or vinyl back.
- One may not use a wet brush to scrub if the brush's fibers are soft and dense. However, if the fibers are stiff, sparse, and made out of synthetic material one may use that brush for scrubbing. Similarly, a plastic mesh or wire mesh may be used for scrubbing only if the fibers are thin and the netting is widely spaced. However, one may not use a mesh if the fibers are closely packed; for example, one may not use a steel wool pad. To determine whether the fibers are considered dense or sparse one should conduct the following test before Shabbat: Immerse it in water and upon removing it if the water drains out immediately the fibers are considered widely spaced, however, if water stays absorbed it is considered densely spaced.
- A wet sponge is Muktzeh Machmat Issur and may only be moved if the space it is occupying is needed. When moving a wet sponge one should do so gently so as not to squeeze out any liquid. However, a dry sponge or a wet sponge which has a handle or vinyl backing aren't muktzeh and may be moved for any necessary purpose. 
Dishwasher on Shabbat
- It is forbidden to place dishes in a dishwasher on Shabbat even if it is on a timer and won't turn on until a specified time.
Cleaning Dishes Unnecessarily
- If one doesn't need to clean dishes because one has others or the like see the Hachana page whether it is permitted to clean them.
- Initially one should clean the dishes before Shabbat out of Kavod Shabbat.
- 39 Melachos (vol 2, pg 348-9)
- 39 Melachos (vol 2, pg 349)
- 39 Melachos (vol 2, pg 349-50)
- 39 Melachos (vol 2, pg 354)
- Rav Hershel Schachter (Electric Appliances min 35) explained that even if the dishwasher was on a timer to turn on at midnight and one puts the dishes in at 11pm and then closes the dishwasher it is forbidden since closing the dishwasher enables the dishwasher to function an hour later. If it wasn't closed the dishwasher wouldn't start. He added that it is forbidden to have a mechanic illegally tamper with the dishwasher so that it will start even if left open.
- Rav Hershel Schachter (Electric Appliances min 30)