Wash Rinse Sanitize: Ultimate Guide to Manual Warewashing

What is Warewashing?

Warewashing (or ware washing) is a process of cleaning & sanitizing dishes, glasses, flatware, pots, pans and other ware used in the preparation, serving and storing food. During the cleaning process various chemicals, water and motion are used to achieve optimal results.

When we say “cleaning“, we typically think of removing visible dirt off the washware surface by scraping excess debris off, washing and rinsing it. However, warewashing includes another, crucial step called “sanitizing” which reduces and kills dangerous, health-threating microorganisms from the washware. Without sanitizing your business would be breaking numerous health laws which would eventually make it impossible to survive.

All foodservice businesses rely heavily on clean and well sanitized dishes, so warewashing accounts for approximately 15% of their total operating costs. There are two kinds of warewashing, so every foodservice establishment must have either a 3-compartment sink (manual warewashing) or a properly functioning commercial dishwasher (machine warewashing) to operate legally.

Commercial Dishwasher: Machine Warewashing

Machine warewashing is using machines and equipment to perform cleaning and sanitizing of the dishes, which makes it far less labor-intensive than manual warewashing. Moreover, it maximizes efficiency, increases food safety and provides fast and efficient cleaning of each piece of washware.

Heavy traffic and the need to comply with all local and government laws and regulations make a commercial dishwasher without a doubt the greatest equipment investment any foodservice business could make.

When it comes to temperature requirements, there are two main types of commercial dishwashers: high-temperature and low-temperature dishwashers . The difference is in the way these dishwashers sanitize the dishes at the end of the washing process.

Namely, high-temp dishwashers use hot water of at least 180°F to sanitize the washware, while low-temp dishwashers use chemicals  as they cannot reach such high departures necessary for the sanitation.

3-Compartment Sink: Manual Warewashing

The manual warewashing is washing the dishes by hand. However, manual warewashing in a commercial kitchen involves more than simply running some water and soap over the washware.  There are certain standards that must be met to comply with various health codes.

The process itself is time consuming and labor intensive and is therefore impractical for all except the smallest facilities. However, regardless of the size, Food and Drug Association (FDA) encourages all commercial kitchens to “provide a stainless-steel sink with no fewer than 3 compartments” even though a commercial dishwasher is being used in the kitchen in question.

Some health departments also allow 2-compartment sinks in establishments that see low dishwashing traffic. Similarly, some businesses may also choose to install a 4-compartment sink that provides either an additional tank for soaking utensils or a garbage disposal unit.

The triple sink is required for both food and drink commercial establishments, so a dishwasher or a glass washer cannot be a substitute for the 3-compartment sink. The main reason why FDA and a lot of local codes insist on these sinks is to create an appropriate alternative or a backup in case the commercial dishwasher breaks down or fails to operate properly.

In situations without any dishwasher issues, the sinks can be used as pre-soak tanks for pots and pans and other washware with heavy soil before they are inserted in commercial dishwashers.

3 Compartment Sink Setup

The name “3-compartment sink” comes from the fact that this sink has three identical compartments set up next to each other. The idea is to provide the same warewashing results as a commercial dishwasher would – properly cleaned and sanitized dishes.

The first compartment is designed to wash the dishes, the second one to rinse them and the third one to sanitize them. There should also be two equal drain boards on both sides of the sink: a drainboard for scraping off food debris located on the left, before the first compartment, and a drainboard for drying the dishes on the right, after the third compartment.

The triple sink compartments must be “large enough to hold the largest pot, pan or piece of equipment”. Each tub must be large enough to allow you to submerge one half of your largest kitchenware in it.

The drainboards should be at least the same size as the compartments or larger, and the recommended size by FDA is 26-48″ long and 30″ wide. They should also have a pitch of 1/8″ to 3/8″ per foot toward the sink.

Also, all dish tables and drain boards must drain to the sewer. The floor drain should be in the immediate proximity of the sink, in areas where wet washware is air-drying.

Racks, dish tables and shelves should also be kept close to the sink, and it is recommended by FDA that all chemicals (cleaners and sanitizers) are kept on a wire shelf below the drainboard.

Before you proceed with warewashing, you will need to prepare the area, sinks and the dishes for manual washing. Each sink should be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized before you begin a new warewashing session. Make sure you completely empty and clean the sinks every four hours or so.

Also, make sure you are equipped with heavy-duty, longer length dishwashing gloves and a waterproof apron before you begin, as those will protect your hands from chemicals and protect your uniform from getting wet.

As mentioned before, manual warewashing must be done in a 3-compartment sink the correct order to follow is: Wash – Rinse – Sanitize.

However, since guidelines include the prewashing step and the step where we lay the dishes aside to air dry as well, it is safe to say that the 3-compartment sink procedure actually has 5 steps it total: Prewash – Wash – Rinse – Sanitize – Air Dry.

There are certain guidelines for each of these steps intended to ensure proper cleaning and sanitation of the dishes.


Step #1: Pre-Wash

Before you submerge a dish into the first sink, you’ll need to prepare it for the first sink or washing. This means that you’ll need to scrape off any excess food into the trash can, as you want as little soil as possible to enter the water. There can also be an overhead sprayer hose for easy removal of the food soils before the first sink.


Step #2: Wash (Sink Compartment 1)

When washing the dishes in a three-compartment sink, the first compartment should contain a solution of water and one of the following cleaning agents: detergent, soap, degreaser, abrasive cleaner or acid or alkaline cleaner, as the first compartment is meant for washing the dishes.

The temperature of the water used for washing must be at or above 110°F. However, some local codes might require different temperatures, so we can say that the minimum warewashing temperatures go between 95-120°F. The temperature can also depend on the detergent manufacturer’s specifications.

The washing step might include scrub brushes, dish cloths or glass brushes depending on the type of washware and how soiled the dishes are.

The wash water should be drained, and the sink refilled with a solution of clean water and detergent when the water becomes too dirty or the suds are gone.


Step #3: Rinse (Sink Compartment 2)

The second step of the 3-compartment sink procedure is rinsing, so the wareware should be transferred to the second, rinsing compartment. The exact temperature of the rinse water depends on the local health codes, but the absolute minimum is 120°F.

The purpose of this step is to use clean water to rinse the soap, detergent or other cleaning agents that remained on the dishes during the washing step. Since the soapy dishes are being submerged in the rinsing compartment, the water in it will pretty soon become too soapy. As soon as it does, replace it with fresh water to ensure the soap doesn’t enter the last compartment.


Step #4: Sanitize (Sink Compartment 3)

Now that all visible impurities are removed from the warewash surface, it’s time to sanitize it, deep clean it or remove all harmful bacteria and other microorganisms from its surface.

Same as with commercial dishwashers, sanitation can be performed in two ways: by using sanitizing chemicals or by using hot water.

Option 1: Sanitizing Chemicals

When it comes to sanitizing chemicals, they must also meet rigid standards that ensure they kill 99.9999% of harmful bacteria and germs after a 30-second period. It is recommended to use sanitizing chemicals approved by US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

You’ll need to consult your local health codes to determine the concentration, corresponding temperature and the exact sanitation time (varies between 7-30 seconds) or use according to manufacturer’s directions. Important is never to rinse the dishes after the chemical sanitation step as the rinse water will rinse off the sanitizer and contaminate the surface.

You’ll also use approved test kits for determining sanitizer strength and whether you achieved the correct concentration levels, as the amount of the sanitizer added to the water is critical. If you add too little, it might not be effective and might leave harmful microorganisms on the washware. If you add too much, it may cause taste or odor problems, could be toxic or simply a waste of money.

There are different types of sanitizers that you could use, but the most common types are chlorine, quaternary ammonium solution and iodine. Each sanitizer has pros and cons, so here is the list of the most important ones:


  • Pros: Relatively inexpensive, kills most microorganism, does not form film, easy to measure with test strips;
  • Cons: Corrodes metal & weakens rubber, breaks down quickly, irritant to skin, eyes and nose, may leave water spots.


Quaternary Ammonium Solution

  • Pros: Non-corrosive, can be applied as foam for visual control, doesn’t give off strong odor;
  • Cons: Relatively expensive, not effective against certain microorganisms, not effective in hard water.



  • Pros: Non-corrosive, stable and has long shelf life, kills most organisms, including yeast & mold;
  • Cons: Expensive, may stain plastics and porois materials, not effective on temperatures higher than 120°F.


The required temperatures and concentrations vary depending on the type of sanitizer. For example, the minimum temperature for a chlorine solution is between 75°F-120°F with 7-10 seconds soaking time in 25-100 ppm. On the other hand, the quaternary ammonium solution requires a minimum temperature of 75°F with 30 seconds in 200-400 ppm. The iodine solution requires a minimum temperature of 75°F with 30 seconds in 12.5-25 ppm.

Option 2: Hot-Water Sanitation

The other way to sanitize your dishes is by using hot water. In case you go for this method, you’ll need to get a sanitizing sink heater installed under the sanitizing compartment. The purpose of the heater is to keep the water circulating and at or above 171°F which is the minimal temperature required to properly sanitize the dishes. 30 seconds will be sufficient time to reach satisfactory sanitizing results on this temperature.

You need to know that there are various sanitizing sink heaters, so you’ll need to know the exact size of the sanitizing compartment in square inches to choose the correct one.

Step #5: Air-Dry

As for the area designed for drying the dishes, the FDA’s guidelines say that you should never wipe the dishes with a towel after they are sanitized, but always allow them to air dry on a designated draining area. Important to make sure is that the drainboard is self-draining, as that will prevent the water from accumulating and bacteria from breeding.

Swing Mark – Automatic Control Sanitation Valve for 3-Compartment Sinks

Swing Mark is an automatic chemical dispensing mixing valve for 3-compartment sinks. What is great about it is that it helps eliminate the guesswork regarding the proper detergent and sanitizer concentrations as it always automatically determines EPA regulated mixture of sanitizer and detergent per amount of water in the sinks.

Besides making sink warewashing undeniably easier and faster, Swing Mark is also easy to install and adjust and it adapts to most standard faucets and sinks. These are just some of the reasons why restaurant bar owners prefer to have Swing Mark valves installed on their 3-compartment sinks.

The plumbing connection, however, needs to be made by a qualified service person who will comply with all Federal, State and Local Health, Plumbing and Safety codes.

Using Swing Mark consists of four easy steps:

Step #1: Swing the Swing Mark dispenser valve over the first sink and turn on the water; the Swing Mark dispenser will fill the sink while automatically determining the proper amount of detergent;

Step #2: Swing the Swing Mark valve over the second sink; the dispenser valve will fill the second sink with clean fresh water;

Step #3: Swing the Swing Mark valve over the third sink; the dispenser valve will fill the third sink while automatically determining the proper amount of chemical sanitizer;

Step #4: Swing the Swing Mark out of the way; after all sinks are filled and ready for manual washing, swing the valve out of the way to prevent dishes, glasses and other washware from hitting the valve.

5 Reasons Why Getting a Swing Mark is a Great Business Move

  1. Swing Mark saves money, as it provides accurate portion control;
  2. Swing Mark provides safety, as the detergent and sanitizer are mixed with water and added to the correct sinks;
  3. Swing Mark saves energy, as it doesn’t require electricity or batteries;
  4. Swing Mark is completely automatic, so you don’t have to deal with faucets, buttons, spoons, tablets or powders; simply “swing” or move to the “flow” position;
  5. Swing Mark saves time, as there are no delays caused by guessing or measuring.
Swing Mark Automatic Dispenser Valve – Chem Mark, Inc.

Swing Mark Automatic Valve & 3-Compartment Sink Chemicals – Chem Mark, Inc.

Chem Mark, Inc. is your trusted warewash and sanitation professional in Los AngelesRiverside,  and San Diego!

For more than 50 years we’ve been helping local restaurants and bars impress their customers and health inspectors with clean and sparkling washware.

We can help you with both machine and manual warewashing solutions, as we lease or rent, service and maintain CMA & ADS dish machines, and sell, lease and repair customer owned Swing Mark automatic valves.

Our lease contracts include Chem Mark, Inc. chemicals for both low- and high-temp commercial dishwashers, or necessary 3-compartment sink chemicals, such as:

  • Sani-10 Disinfectant & Sanitizer – quaternary ammonium, EPA registered sanitizer that can be used in low-temperatures;
  • Chem Mark Sunbrite – economical, lemon-scented detergent;
  • Chem Mark Azure Blue – premium, thick, blue detergent;
  • Eco-Green – plant-based high-sudsing liquid detergent.

What we do:

  • Sell Swing Mark 3-compartment sink valve
  • Lease Swing Mark 3-compartment sink valve
  • Repair customer owned Swing Mark
  • Provide 3-Compartment Sink Sanitizers
  • Provide 3-Compartment Sink Detergents

Chem Mark, Inc. is here to help you do what you do best by completely taking care of your warewashing solutions! Give us a call at (714)-784-5522 (CHEM) and ask about Swing Mark automatic 3-compartment sink valve sale and lease deals or ask about our commercial dishwasher rent or lease contracts!