How to Load a Dishwasher the Right Way, According to Cleaning Pros
Chances are, you're making a few mistakes that are preventing your dishes and utensils from getting fully clean. Here's what you need to know about how to load a dishwasher correctly.
I’m not really particular about how to load a dishwasher, but I do have a friend who’s the total opposite. While helping her clean up, I put a spoon in the silverware compartment. She removed the spoon and turned it around, saying, “It needs to face the middle of the washer.” But why? Spoons don’t have eyeballs. What was it supposed to be looking at?
Making a mental note to add the spoon thing to my daily cleaning checklist, I added another spoon and made sure it was facing the same direction as the first one. Dang if she didn’t move it! She said she didn’t want the spoons to nest. What? We’re not talking parakeets here. These are spoons … without eyeballs … and without nesting urges.
Not wanting to lose a friend, I let her load the dishwasher while I wiped the table. After all, I do know how to clean that—and even know how to clean a dishwasher. But I figured I’d better check out how to load a dishwasher if I wanted to keep the peace. After talking to a few cleaning pros, I must say, I was surprised at how much I was doing wrong—and how much my friend wasn’t that far off base. Here’s what I learned.
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Who cares how you load the dishwasher?
There are lots of people, like my friend, who have definite preferences on how to load a dishwasher. In fact, a Bosch survey found that 40% of couples fight over this. But aside from avoiding arguments, there are other benefits to loading a dishwasher the right way. “By loading your dishwasher correctly, not only will dishes be cleaner, but you’ll also load more dishes, and they will be easier to unload,” explains Ron Shimek, president of Mr. Appliance, a Neighborly company.
Plus, if you tend to be a dish crammer like me, you can encounter other issues. Spacing dishes properly will prevent them from chipping and breaking, because it will keep them from knocking together.
According to Shimek, it’s always best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for loading your dishwasher. After all, they know their product better than anyone. While specific how-to-load advice can vary with dishwasher brands, here are some general tips to follow.
Make sure items are dishwasher-safe
Dishwashers can handle most dishwashing chores, but there are some items that you should never put in the dishwasher—like dentures. My aunt secretly ran her husband’s choppers through the dishwasher to remove some ugly stains. It didn’t work, and for weeks, he couldn’t understand why everything tasted like bleach. True story.
Aside from false teeth, however, some things are better off being hand-washed. Dishwasher no-no’s include:
- Plastics (unless they’re specifically marked as dishwasher-safe)
- Insulated drinkware
- Wood items
- Items with sharp blades (like knives, mandolines, graters, blenders and food-processor attachments)
- Aluminum/cast-iron/copper/nonstick cookware
- Pressure-cooker lids
- Antique dishes and glassware
- Fine glassware and crystal
- Milk glass
- Gold/silver/platinum-trimmed china
Make sure the spray arms can spin freely
Tall baking sheets, pots with long handles, and items that can slip below the rack, like knives and spatulas, can interfere with the movement of the spray arm. When the arm cannot spin, it cannot effectively distribute water and detergent onto the dishes in the rack above it. That means the dishes don’t get cleaned and you’ll have to run the load again. Give the spray arm a spin before starting the dishwasher, just to make sure there isn’t anything blocking it.
Point the dirtiest parts of dishes and utensils toward the center
Remember that issue my friend had with the concave parts of the spoons facing inward? There’s a very good reason for that: Since dishwasher arms spray water outward from the center of the dishwasher, whatever’s facing the center will get cleaned the best. Turns out, this is an incredibly important part of learning how to load a dishwasher the right way.
Don’t obstruct the area in front of the detergent dispenser
Once, I loaded a cutting board along the front of the bottom rack, not realizing it blocked the detergent dispenser. The dishes came out dirty, and I had to run the load again. To avoid this problem, always place cutting boards and baking sheets along the rear or sides of the lower rack, dirty side facing the center.
Scrape but don’t rinse dishes
I confess: I used to scrape and rinse dishes before putting them into the dishwasher, thinking that cleaner is better. But this was a huge mistake. Believe it or not, dishwasher detergent and the dishwasher itself need dirty dishes to get the job done. That’s right—dirt makes it work. “Dishwasher detergent and pods are designed to interact with food particles on dirty dishes,” says Mike Sperduto, a virtual appliance expert at Frontdoor. “In order to clean the dishes thoroughly, the detergent needs leftover food particles for the detergent enzymes to latch on to (and do their work). Rinsing beforehand really affects the quality of the cycle.”
Plus, according to Gerrod Moore, Kitchen Brand Manager at Maytag, many of today’s dishwashers come equipped with technology that not only dispenses the right amount of water but also knows how long to run the dishwasher cycle. “If the turbidity sensor (aka the soil sensor) does not see cloudy water,” he explains, “the dishwasher will short-cycle and not clean your dishes properly.”
Remove labels from jars
I save jars, but I wasn’t scraping off the labels before popping them into the dishwasher. After finding bits of a pickle label floating in my coffee, I changed my ways. Label pieces can also clog the spray arms and the pump, so removing labels now tops my how-to-load-a-dishwasher checklist.
Don’t overcrowd racks
It’s tempting to try to cram dishes into every square inch of the dishwasher. Do that, however, and you’ll end up with dirty dishes. If water from the spray arm can’t reach a dish, it can’t clean it.
Add dish detergent and rinse aids
Grace Cary/getty images
When adding dish detergent, especially bulky pods, make sure the dispenser lid is secure. If not, the detergent will be dispensed too early in the cycle and dishes won’t get cleaned. Also, resist the urge to add more detergent than recommended, even with very dirty dishes. Too much detergent can cloud glassware and leave a film on dishes.
Rinse aids are optional, but if you notice spots on your glasses, you may want to try using one. (This dispenser is typically located next to your detergent dispenser, and you’ll fill them both before running a load.) Rinse aids keep water from forming droplets that cling to the surfaces and leave spots as they dry, and their surfactants cause the water to roll off dishes—something that is especially helpful if you have hard water. If you prefer a more natural approach, use distilled white vinegar.
How to load a dishwasher
With those tips in mind, let’s move on to some pro advice for how to load a dishwasher, rack by rack. We said it before, but it needs to be repeated: Follow the manufacturer’s loading instructions. Owner’s manuals address the specifics of your dishwasher. For example, not all dishwashers have a third rack, and the slots on the racks are configured differently from brand to brand to accommodate different dishes. Silverware compartments also vary in design and function; some are subdivided baskets with large compartments that can each hold a handful of silverware, while others have slots that hold utensils individually.
If you can’t find your owner’s manual and aren’t able to look it up online, follow these basic suggestions from all three of our experts, and you’ll be loading your dishwasher like a pro in no time.
How to load a dishwasher’s bottom rack
The bottom rack is mainly for plates, pots, serving bowls, platters, cutting boards, silverware and baking sheets. Let’s take a closer look at best practices for larger items and assorted utensils.
Serving bowls, pans and cookware
Load these items along the back and sides of the bottom rack, facing the center of the machine. Angle the items downward for more effective washing and drying.
Baking sheets and cutting boards
As mentioned earlier, place large, flat items along the back and sides of the bottom rack, with the dirty side facing the center. If they block the detergent dispenser, dishes won’t get cleaned.
Yes, dishwashers can handle pots as long as they are marked as dishwasher-safe. (Some exceptions include cast iron, aluminum, copper and copper-bottom pots, as well as nonstick, Teflon-coated and hard anodized pots.) Just place pots over the tines on the bottom rack (where the pressure from the spray is the strongest and the heat is most intense) and facing downward. Pots can also be loaded along the back and sides of the bottom rack. Just make sure they face the center of the dishwasher and are tilted downward to get the most spray.
Load plates individually between the tines, facing the center of the machine. Do not put two plates between the same tines or they will not be completely cleaned. Some manufacturers suggest alternating large and small plates to improve cleaning.
To keep cutlery from sticking together (or nesting—yes, my friend was right), mix together spoons, forks and butter knives with the handles facing down. This will also ensure that the dirtiest parts of those utensils get the full force of the water power. Sharp knives should be placed with the blades facing down (handles up) so you don’t cut yourself when unloading them. I prefer to hand-wash sharp knives because I’ve found that the blade tips cut into the plastic coating in the silverware holder over the years. Eventually, those spots rust and discolor cutlery that comes in contact with them.
Note: If you have silver or silver-plated cutlery, do not wash them in the same load as stainless-steel utensils. Doing so will cause a chemical reaction that will damage both the silver and the stainless steel. Personally, I hand-wash my silver-plated cutlery.
Large cooking utensils
When you’re cooking a big meal, it’s nice to know you can load spatulas, spoons and other utensils in the dishwasher. If you don’t have room on the upper racks, they can go in the silverware holder. “Just don’t put them in the front basket section (where they can block the soap dispenser and keep water from reaching the other cutlery),” says Moore. “And make sure they don’t hit the spray arm under the top rack.”
How to load a dishwasher’s top rack
Olena Ivanova/Getty Images
The top rack is mainly for glasses, smaller bowls, large utensils and plastic items. These items are not suitable for the higher-pressure spray and temperatures of the bottom rack.
Cups and small bowls, including dishwasher-safe plastic items
Place these items upside down, between the tines, facing the center. Position them at an angle so they get water from below and so the water won’t pool inside them. If any bowls are placed along the outer edges of the rack, make sure the insides face the center. Finally, don’t stack items on top of one another. They won’t get clean. Pro tip: If your items are still wet after a cycle, try this genius dishwasher hack to get them dry.
Large cooking utensils
Large utensils, such as spoons, spatulas, whisks and tongs, should be laid flat on the rack for the best cleaning. Put large spoons and ladles face-down on the rack so water won’t collect in them.
“Place glasses over the slanted tines,” says Sperduto. “This allows water to drain better from the concave bottoms.” I knew there were slanted tines, but I never realized how I was to position glasses over them so the concave bottoms wouldn’t collect water. (Another good reason to read the owner’s manual!) By placing the glasses over them at an angle, they really don’t collect water like they did before—I’m sold!
How to load a dishwasher’s third rack
Third racks used to be available with only the best dishwashers. They are now becoming more common, but not all dishwashers have one. (Mine doesn’t, but I wish it did!) Third racks free up space on the second rack and in the silverware holder. Most third racks are shallow, making them perfect for flat items like mini bowls, long spoons and spatulas. Some third racks are a bit deeper and can hold small bowls, mugs and oversized kitchen tools.
In deeper third racks, there are slanted tines for mugs. Load the mugs upside down on the slanted tines to prevent water from pooling on the concave base.
Bowls, measuring cups and measuring spoons
Place these items upside down on the rack so they don’t collect dirty dishwater. Not only will that keep the dish from getting cleaned, but the water that pools in them could also spill onto the clean dishes below and create a mess! On another note, resist the urge to put larger items over the handles. That interferes with the cleaning process.
Oversized cooking implements
Place long spoons, spatulas, ladles and whisks flat on the third rack. Remember to face the bowl of spoons and ladles down so they will not collect water.
Fit extra spoons, forks and knives in the cutlery grooves, or lay them flat. That comes in handy when the silverware holder is overflowing.
Now that you know how to load a dishwasher, make sure you’re not doing any of these things that shorten the life of your dishwasher. Make a few tiny tweaks and you’ll add years to your favorite appliance—and save money too.
About the experts
- Gerrod Moore is the Kitchen Brand Manager at Maytag and a seasoned marketing and sales leader with six years of experience in the appliance industry. Passionate about improving life at home for consumers, he currently manages product strategy for the Maytag Brand’s kitchen business.
- Ron Shimek is the president of Mr. Appliance, a Neighborly company. With more than 20 years of franchising and leadership experience, he joined the Mr. Appliance team as president in April 2019.
- Mike Sperduto is the virtual appliance expert for Frontdoor and has 15 years of experience in the appliance industry.