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How To Load A Dishwasher Correctly: The Definitive Guide

For the love of all things sanitary, stop nesting your dishes.
Photo Taken In Simmerath, Germany
Photo Taken In Simmerath, Germany

Few topics are as polarizing among roommates and clean freaks as the best way to load a dishwasher. Everyone has their own “system,” which they believe to be infallible. But in reality, it’s probably wrong ― at least a little bit.

We got the lowdown from experts on how to properly load a dishwasher so that everything comes out sparkling clean and undamaged. Read on to find out how to improve your dish stacking skills.

How To Load A Dishwasher The Right Way

Top rack: Glasses, mugs and small bowls should go on the top, upside down. If the bottoms of certain cups or dishes are slightly concave, it helps to lean them at an angle to avoid collecting dirty water.

“All plastic items should go on the top rack, too, because the heat comes from the bottom and can warp plastics,” said Heloise Blaure, a chef, blogger at Home Kitchen Land and self-proclaimed dishwasher stickler.

Be sure that any small pieces are secured and won’t fall through the gaps, potentially blocking the washer arm or landing on the heating element.

“Spatulas, ladles, and other large utensils should lie flat on the top level with your coffee mugs and saucers,” Blaure said. If you stick them upright with silverware, they’ll block the water spray and prevent other things from being cleaned properly.

Bottom rack: Plates, large bowls, pots and pans should go on the bottom. Put the biggest pieces to the sides so they don’t block the sprayer.

Utensil holder: Load utensils handle-first so that spoons and the prongs of your forks are facing up. One exception to this rule is knives, which should be placed point-down so that you don’t cut yourself when you unload them.

Watch Out For These Common Mistakes

Figuring out where to put dishes is fairly intuitive, but there are many nuances to loading a dishwasher so that everything comes out as clean as possible. Below are some common mistakes to avoid.

Overloading. Good on you for trying to save water, but know that overcrowding the dishwasher means you’ll end up having to rewash many pieces. According to Whirlpool, crowding dishes and stacking them on top of each other causes “nesting” and prevents dishes from being cleaned evenly.

Placing large, flat items near the door. Whirlpool also noted that flat pans or platters should be placed in racks away from the door, as placing them near the door can block detergent from reaching other dishes.

Laying large pots and pans face down. Big items should be loaded on their sides, not face down. “This is especially important for older dishwashers that do not have an upper spray arm, because whatever pot or pan is blocking the bottom spray arm will act as a shield, preventing water from reaching the top rack,” said Aleka Shunk, a food blogger at Bite Sized Kitchen.

Blocking the spray arm. Just because everything fits inside the dishwasher doesn’t mean your job is done. “Right before you start your cycle, you want to give the arm a quick test spin to see if it spins without obstruction,” Shunk said. If it hits a plate or utensil, move that item before you start the cycle, otherwise the dishwasher won’t clean properly.

Facing everything in the same direction. Water sprays from the center of the dishwasher, so you want the dirtiest part of your plates (the faces) pointed toward the spray. When you load your plates all facing to your right, for instance, you block some of them from having full access to the water. “Instead, you should face them all toward the middle so they get exposed to the spray,” Blaure said.

Leaving a bunch of stuck-on food. You can put unrinsed dishes in your dishwasher, but you should scrape off any chunks of food before loading. “Too many food remnants in the dishwasher can lead to mold and also dishes not coming out clean,” said Melissa Maker, host of the YouTube channel Clean My Space.

Cleaning dishes before loading them. Though you should clean off chunks of food before loading your dishes, it’s possible to go too far. If your dishwasher was made in the past 10 years, there’s no need to pre-rinse, according to Blaure. “Pre-washing is a serious waste of time, water and heat,” she said. If you stop washing your dishes in the sink before they go in the dishwasher, you should see your energy bill drop.

Items You Should Never Put In The Dishwasher

You may be tempted to save time and throw the whole kitchen sink into the dishwasher. However, some items will get damaged by sitting through cycles of harsh soap and extra hot water.

  • Cast iron: Putting cast iron pans in the dishwasher will destroy the coating and cause them to become rusty.
  • Non-stick pans: Even though many non-stick pans claim to be dishwasher safe, repeatedly exposing them to the hot water and detergents will break down the coating. It’s best to hand-wash these.
  • Delicate pieces: Avoid loading anything that could break easily, such as crystal or china.
  • Fine metals and finishes: “Certain finishes such as silver or enameled items should be hand washed only, as the heat and detergents can ruin the finish,” Maker said.
  • Wood utensils and cutting boards: Avoid putting any wooden items in the dishwasher. “Wood is porous and can not sustain the amount of water that a dishwasher uses to clean,” Maker said.
  • Sharp knives: Any chef will tell you that sharp knives are to be hand-washed. “A dishwasher exposes them to too much water and shortens their lifespan,” Blaure said.
  • Anything that is not dishwasher safe: It may seem obvious, but always check dishes to be sure they’re safe for dishwashers. Some items, such as certain plastics, are not.

Tips For Maximizing Your Dishwasher Use

Finally, keep your dishwasher in top shape and use it to its fullest potential with these tips.

Clean your dishwasher regularly. Even if you do a good job of removing gunk prior to washing, food particles, paper towels and other buildup can lead to funky smells and poor drainage. At a minimum, fill your soap dispenser with white vinegar and run an empty cycle once a month. You should also regularly check the food trap and other nooks and crannies for stuck food particles.

Preheat the water. To avoid starting a load with cold water, run the kitchen sink on hot for a couple of minutes to get the heated water flowing. You should also check that your water heater is set to the right temperature ― about 120 degrees Fahrenheit (roughly 49 degrees Celsius).

Organize utensils by type. When loading utensils, organize each holder by forks, knives and spoons. It might not seem like a big deal, but when you go to put all your dishes away, you’ll be amazed at how much faster it goes when all the utensils are already separated.

Skip the heat. You might feel guilty about the amount of water and energy each load requires, but it is possible to keep it to a minimum. “If people want to be more environmentally conscious, they can turn off the ‘heated dry’ option,” Maker said.

Dishwashers aren’t just for dishes. According to Whirlpool, there are several unusual items that people may not know can go in the dishwasher. This includes rubber dog toys, baseball caps, grill grates and rubber rain boots.

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