Learn more about how to clean wine glasses — from glass cleaners, dishwashers & best practices — including when to clean and dry your wine glasses.

How to Clean Wine Glasses

Do your wine glasses look as spotted as a leopard in bright light? How do get them to look like they would be ready to grace the table of a Michelin star restaurant without employing a professional dishwasher and a team of sommeliers?

There are many possible avenues to getting your glasses anywhere from clean to spotless, depending on your time and patience for such tasks. It also depends on the types of wine glasses themselves, from their materials, weights and heights to the thinness of their rims. Here, we will explore glass cleaners and dishwashers, best practices – including when to clean your glasses, and drying wine glasses.

Should I Use a Special Wine Glass Cleaner?

Even cloudy wine glasses don’t need a special wine glass cleaner, but there are several wine glass cleaners on the market. Also, some say that vinegar is a good, all-natural and inexpensive option.

I am not a fan of special cleaners. Years ago I used Wine Enthusiast’s Stem Shine Glass Cleaning Liquid. Despite my many attempts (see some of my techniques below), the glasses always had a chemical residue smell. I gave up and tossed the cleaner. As for vinegar, have you ever cleaned your coffee pot with vinegar? That acrid smell permeates the first several batches of joe. Vinegar is what happens when wine goes bad… why combine the smell of a wine fault with good wine?

I use regular dishwashing liquid. Today, I use Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Dishwashing Liquid (I haven’t had any problem with any “flavor”) and plenty of hot water. I used to use good ole’ Palmolive Ultra Strength, and I didn’t have any issue with lingering soap smells either. Use as little as possible to get the classes clean and again, be sure to rinse especially well with water that is as warm as you can tolerate.

Others are purists and want nothing but water or wine in their glasses. I understand this, but I’ve noticed that unfiltered water – which is what comes out of most taps - can smell up wine glasses, too. In New York City, where I live, late summer water can smell a bit funky when algae and other organisms begin growing in the city’s reservoirs. Also, if you don’t wash your glasses immediately and have red wine stains – or harder yet, lipstick stains – it can be tough to get the job done with just H2O.

Best Practices for Cleaning Wine Glasses

I do think an important reason I don’t notice glass dish soap residue smells is that I change my sponges regularly. Sponges gather food smells and grease, and they develop their own odors. In an ideal world, I’d have a sponge just for glasses, but so far I’ve not managed to make that happen!

I strongly prefer sponges to dish towels because they are easier to manage in the glass. With dish towels, extra material can accidentally slip into the glass, making it harder to extract a hand and increasing the risk of cracking a rim. Not good for the glass or the hand.

Which brings me to another suggestion, however unsexy it may seem: wear well-fitting, thick dish gloves with textured fingers. (Do not use medical gloves as they are often powder coated, which interferes with the cleaning process.) If a glass breaks in your hands, a thick pair of dish gloves may help protect your hands. Additionally, gloves keep your skin’s essential oils on you rather than getting them on the glass so that you just have to clean them that much more carefully. Dish gloves help you clean more quickly, and, if you’re like me, you’ll be more likely to stick to hand-washing your glasses when you don’t suffer from dishpan hands.

Before we move from this section, I should also mention brushes. I sometimes use brushes for cleaning decanters (I’ll be delving into that tricky topic in the next post), but I rarely use them on wine glasses. They are often too long for the glass and don’t mold well to the many different bowl shapes you might use. Wine cleaning brushes can, however, be great for reaching the bottoms of flutes. They are also excellent for scraping off mimosas’ OJ pulp that always clings to the sides of glasses.

Is it Safe to Clean Wine Glasses in the Dishwasher?

Some wine glasses are fine to clean in the dishwasher. Glass is sturdier than crystal, but certain crystal glasses can work in the dishwasher, too, on both the top and bottom racks. Make sure that the glasses are perfectly stable and that there is no chance of them clinking during the washing process.

If you’ve invested in the stemless plastic glasses like GoVino, do a test run on one of your glasses in the top rack. The water going into my Bosch dishwasher is too warm, and it crinkles the plastic.

While washing wine glasses by hand is generally the safer route, especially for crystal glasses, remember that hand-washing has one major enemy: the faucet! It is all too easy to clip a glass on one, especially if you are chatting or cooking while cleaning (see below on my suggestions about when to clean glasses.) As odd as it may sound, cleaning wine glasses requires focus!

What is the Best Way to Dry Wine Glasses?

There are as many ways to dry wine glasses as there are to clean them, and the combination of personal preferences and glass types means there’s no one way to get the job done.

If you don’t care about spots, air-drying the glasses on a lint-free towel or paper towels is a good first step. The inside of the glasses will collect moisture, so they will need to be turned over for the inside to dry. Drying racks are more effective (and are almost critical for decanters, as the next blog post will discuss), if you have the space for them.

If you hand dry your glasses, always start with clean towels. There is almost nothing more off-putting than a dirty cloth smell in your next glass of Pinot Noir. It can be as bad as a corked wine! Also, be sure to have multiple towels on hand because once a towel is damp, it will only smear the water droplets and create streaks.

The best towels are lint free towels, like flour sack towels. I recently received these from A2DCreations via Etsy, and I LOVE them for drying wine glasses. They’re pretty large, so I can dry an extra glass or two with them. (They’re also just fun and funny!) Microfiber glass polishing cloths are also effective. Cheap paper towels (the nice, really soft ones are usually too linty) can work in a pinch, but you’ll need to use lots of them. Most tea towels and fluffy dishtowels will leave you with glasses so linty that you’ll need to wash them again to get them sparkly clear.

Last, but not least, when drying – and washing for that matter – your glasses, do not hold them by the bowl and the stem. Sooner rather than later, you’ll pop a bowl off the base using that rough technique. Always cradle the bowl with a towel in one hand and gently wipe the glass with the other hand.

When To Clean Your Wine Glasses

Now that you’ve formed your game plan, I suggest you also consider when you clean your wine glasses. I much prefer to wake-up to a clean kitchen, but if I’m especially tired or enjoyed an extra glass over the course of the night, I sometimes wash glasses in the morning when I am feeling more alert.

Additionally, cleaning isn’t just about dirty glasses. If you store your wine glasses in boxes, be sure to wash them several hours to a few days before you are ready to use them. (Yes, you should likely wash or at least hot water rinse them, even if you stored them well-cleaned. Boxes – and even old cupboards or cabinets that aren’t often accessed – can smell dusty and musty.) If any soap aromas remain in the glasses once you’ve primed them, they could change the way your wine smells. So, be sure to give the glasses time to air out. Additionally, you’ll want to be sure you’re glasses aren’t coming straight out of the dishwater or dishwasher. There’s nothing like the disappointment of ratcheting up the temperature of a refrigerated Sauvignon Blanc or perfectly cellared Cabernet Sauvignon with a toasty glass!

If you have any tips or discover any along the way, let us know. We’re all looking for a great new life hack! Also, if you have any additional questions, just ask us here.

For wine serving tips, visit the Entertaining section of our website.

Christy Canterbury is a Master of Wine, journalist, speaker and judge based in New York City. In 2014, she was short-listed for the Roederer Online Wine Communicator of the Year Award. Her work has been published in Decanter, Wine Enthusiast, Edible Green Mountains, Wine Searcher, Food Arts, Snooth, Beverage Media, TimAtkin.com, Civiltà del Bere, Wine Business Monthly, TASTED, Selectus Wines and in other outlets.