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April 12, 2010

The three-sink glass cleaning system

scrub a dub dubEver wonder how bars clean their glasses?

It's as easy -- and as gross -- as one, two, three.

This is how it works -- or, how I understand it works: Bartenders or bar backs take a dirty beer mug, and dip it in a sink filled with a warm soapy mixture of water and cleaning solution. Occasionally, the glass is scrubbed a bit. The glass is then dunked in a second, neighboring sink of lukewarm half-soapy water.

Finally, the glass is submerged in a third sink of cold water, wiped with a towel, filled with beer and served to someone.

Raise your glass if this grosses you out.

Let's be honest here. Since the sinks are close together, there is some overflow between them. The "clean" water inevitably gets soapy and so forth.

It's debatable how clean the glasses actually get ...

Probably depends on how often the first sink is washed out and refilled, which, during peak hours, is probably not often. Same goes for the towel.

Maybe it's not so bad. There might be a positive here -- what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? Look at it this way: The lingering bacteria and soap bubbles helps strengthen your immune system against more dangerous infections.

Not all bars clean their glassware this way. Restaurant/bars tend to have a dishwashing machine in the back. And a few places, like Pub Dog in Federal Hill, have dishwashers behind the bar.

This whole discussion raises the debate: At what point does this really matter? Alcohol is a poison, after all. What's a little more bacteria tossed into the mix?

Over the years, I've seen my share of three-sink glass cleaning systems. When I do, I try not to think about what's really in my glass.


(Baltimore Sun archive photo)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:10 AM | | Comments (23)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


Hey Sam,
You are partially correct, the first sink is warm, soapy water with brushes to clean the glasses, second is clean water, third is cool water with a sanitizer like this:|5153994874

Any place that doesn't at least try to do it like this is just gross and in violation of Health Dept. regs.

Drinking - it's a dirty job but somebody's got to do it. And no ever thanks me either.

Pop quiz.. what's the grossest thing that has intruded into your drink?
I have to say either a gnat ( dead) or a orange seed in my whiskey shot. I still shudder at the memory of that hitting the back of my throat.

Now that you mention this... in the future, I won't be as annoyed about being served a plastic cup...

Once, I did watch a bartender use a special under-the-counter glass dishwasher. He placed the glasses upside down on top of a grate, closed the lid, and then, I imagine, the machine sprayed soap and water up through the grate into the glasses. They were dry when he opened it too, so I imagine it used air or something at the end. Whole process took less than a minute.

Yeah, I've always been under the same impression as LGood: that the third sink has a chemical sanitizer in it. So, instead of a bacterial infection, you'll get cancer.


Sure, it's gross. Until you go into the men's room and get an eyeful of real bacteria.

Better than the spit and dirty rag they used to use.

The third sink contains a sanitizer. Even if it didn't, the alcohol content in your drink will kill off any bacteria that may linger.

@Steve -- You sure about that? I don't think beer or wine have enough alcohol in them to kill off bacteria.

The sanitizer works, but if it isn't fully dried, you drink some of it....big D! YAY!

@Sam -- You're right, I didn't think about people who drink beer on tap. That may pose a problem.

Additionally, who drinks wine at a bar?

Additionally, who drinks wine at a bar?

This is a joke, right?

And this is why I like to use the same glass over and over. There was a place I used to frequent where the bartender refused to let people use the same glass again. Refused. Did I mention that he was insane? His reasoning was that the germs from your mouth would infect you if you drank from your own glass.


Come on Sam they only dry glasses with a towel in old black and white movies. The 3 sink system is health dept approved way of doing it. I will admit that it depends on the bartender how clean your glass is.

I remember going to the TGIFridays in Towson (long ago) and their frosty beer mugs came out of the cooler rimmed with blue ice. Yup, that's the sanitizer.

I think the auto-germaphobe theorist just had OCD.

The beer glasses at that place sat upside down in a reach-in cooler. Have you ever SEEN what's at the bottom of those?

For that and other reasons, I try to get a room temperature dry glass. It was the subject of my first guest column here in 1967.

Dishwasher are great space savers and they work terrific but the health dept still wants you to have a 3 compartment sink, depending on the inspector. I think as long as you have a 3 compartment sink in the establishment you are okay to have a dishwasher.

I would rather drink out of a bottle or a plastic cup then anything that has been in a 3 compartment sink.

Zink on Sinks

Quit warshin dat mug in the Zink!

There's a reason you'll rarely see me drink anything but bottled beer, even at the many establishments where I occasionally tend bar.

Sanitizer really is great doesn't get the crusties or lipstick off of glasses, though. And I love seeing my compatriots take those nice "clean" glasses and set them upside down to dry on filthy rail mats. Just sayin'

With the amount that I drink. healthy choices aren't my first concern.

Many of the places I drink craft beer, they will even double-check the glasses for cleanliness before they pour my beer. Of course, it helps to buy Belgian beers and high-end British beers and cask ale, not Miller Lite--and to go drinking on non-weekend nights.........

At what alcohol level will the alcohol in the drink actually work as well as whatever system they have going on back behind the bar? I imagine soaking a glass in vodka is better for disinfecting than soapy water, albeit much more expensive. Should I just let my Heavy Seas sit a bit in the glass before I drink from it?

Seriously, though, I don't like soap on my beer glass. It kills the head, and that makes me angry.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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