Ask a Gear Head

Do You Really Have to Use Different Measuring Cups for Liquid and Dry Ingredients? 

It might seem like a pain, but there’s a reason you should keep both sets on hand.

Published May 16, 2022.

Dear Gear Heads, 

I see people on TV using one set of measuring cups for liquids and another set for dry ingredients like flour and sugar. Is that really necessary? I have a small kitchen and I hate doing dishes, so I’d really prefer to buy (and use and clean) only what I really need. 


Jean in Alliance, Ohio  

Liquid measuring cups and dry measuring cups have one big thing in common: They hold the same volume. A 1-cup liquid measuring cup and a 1-cup dry measuring cup, for example, both equal 16 tablespoons. But the experts on TV are correct: You can’t use them interchangeably. (I hate doing dishes, too, Jean. But hear me out.)

We’ve tested using dry and liquid measuring cups interchangeably, and the results are clear: For the best and most accurate results, you should use liquid measuring cups to measure liquids and dry measuring cups to measure dry ingredients. Here’s why. 

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Dry versus Liquid Measuring Cups: Why It Matters Which One You Use

1. It’s easy to overfill dry measuring cups when you use them to measure liquid. 

Have you ever filled a drinking glass so full that the water actually sits above the rim? That’s due to the liquid’s surface tension, and the same thing happens when you fill a dry measuring cup with liquid. Odds are good that you’ll accidentally be adding excess liquid to your recipe. 

2. It’s easy to spill when you measure liquid in a dry measuring cup. 

Even if you take care not to overfill a dry measuring cup with liquid, it will still be filled to the brim. Unless you possess superhuman steadiness, you’re practically guaranteed to spill that liquid. 

Liquid measuring cups have extra space at the top to prevent sloshing or spilling liquids. This means that you don’t have to pause to clean up a mess and—even more important—your measurements remain accurate. 

3. Dry ingredients don’t settle into an even layer inside liquid measuring cups. 

When you pour dry ingredients such as flour, oats, or sugar into a liquid measuring cup, they tend to mound in the center. Because the measurement markings are down inside the cup, you cant sweep across the top with the back of a knife to ensure accuracy, like you can with a well-designed dry cup (more on the “dip and sweep” method below). It’s practically impossible to get the contents perfectly level, and no one wants to take the time to gently smooth things out with a spoon. Any peaks or valleys will make your measurements inaccurate. 

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How to Accurately Measure Ingredients

Of course, for the most accurate measurements, a kitchen scale is the best option. But measuring cups still have a place in the kitchen. Once you go to the trouble of investing in dry measuring cups and liquid measuring cups, you want to make sure that you’re using them correctly. Here’s what to do. 

  • Dry measuring cups: Use the “dip and sweep” method: You “dip” the cup into a container so that it’s completely full and then “sweep” the excess off the top and back into the container. 
  • Liquid measuring cups: Place the cup on a level surface and lean so that the measurement markings are at eye level. The bottom of the meniscus (the curved surface line at the top of the liquid) should be even with the measurement line.

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