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How to Load a Dishwasher Properly

Though it might seem like a simple task, there is a proper way to load your dishwasher. Read on to discover the basics of loading your dishes for an optimal clean.

The Proper Way to Load a Dishwasher

Ask one post-dinner question, and you'll get a different answer from every person. "How to load a dishwasher properly" is one of the most commonly asked questions on the internet. Meanwhile, everyone's mother, father, grandma, uncle, and roommate seems to have a different methodology, too. No dishware on the top rack. Never mix up flatware. All large utensils can go on the top rack (here's a hint—these tips are all myths).
Nevertheless, the consensus seems to be "just get it done", and if a sink of dishes is the only thing standing between you and crawling into bed, some important details can fall by the wayside. Load, slam, done. But that can be harmful to your favorite dishware--and the machine itself. Learn more about how to load a dishwasher properly below.
Putting cup into a dishwasher

Top Rack: Glassware, Yes. Wooden Spoons, No.

Let's work from the top of the machine down. The top rack is easiest to reach and easiest to load--maybe that's why we tend to put things here that don't belong. As a general rule, if you don't know that it's dishwasher-safe, wash it by hand.

How to Load a Dishwasher Top Rack

  • Glassware, mugs, cups, and other small items can be washed here. Tiny, delicate ceramics might be too fragile for the dishwasher--hand wash these instead.
  • Dishwasher-safe plastics like cereal bowls and kids' dishes are safe here, too. If these go on the bottom rack, they're close to the dishwasher's heating element and spray arm (where the hot water comes out) and may melt.
  • Along with Large utensils, most of them. All except for wooden spoons and forks, as well as knives that you like. These can get moved around by the wash cycle, and lose their sharp edge.
  • Wine glasses...maybe. Some machines come with adjustable tines and mini-racks that fold down to hold wine glasses and even champagne flutes in place. If you think yours might be too delicate for a wash cycle, you can never be too careful. When in doubt, handwash.

Top Rack Pro Tips:

  • Keep those dishes sparkling by placing items at an angle, used-side down. That's the best way for them to catch the hot water from down below.
  • No double loading or overlapping. Make sure everything has enough room to be cleaned and rinsed. You don't want to run a second load.
  • Wood can never go in the dishwasher, even on the top rack. Yep, that includes bamboo. Bowls, cutting boards, artisanal cups...the high heat, motion, and blow-dry cycle can cause cracks to form. Instead, hand wash and avoid soaking to prolong their life.

Bottom Rack: The Heavyweight Washer

Bottom drawer of dish washing machine
Close to the hot water and the spray arm, the bottom rack of the dishwasher is where your most difficult-to-wash ceramics and cookware belong. Baked-on crumbs, sticky pasta sauces, and sugared desserts can be hard to remove by hand. Instead, we trust the bottom rack to take care of our toughest messes. Set yourself up for success and do it the right way.

How To Load A Dishwasher Bottom Rack

  • Fill this area with plates, bowls, and washable serving dishes. For ultra-clean dishware, make sure you angle all plates and bowls towards the center. That way, they'll have access to the hot water.
  • Having a hard time fitting that awkward mermaid-inspired casserole dish inside? Try keeping it along the side of the rack--these areas tend to fit larger dishes with different shapes.
  • Make sure items are angled with their dirtiest side down. These plates are close to the spray arm, and you want to take full advantage of that proximity

Bottom Rack Pro Tips:

  • If you have lots of large items after a big family meal, check to see if any of the tines on your bottom rack fold down. Some newer dishwashers have this feature, and it helps to fit larger ceramics and saucepans.
  • Don't put tall items in the front. Keep these toward the rear instead to ensure that the detergent door can open. Otherwise, you'll find a set of dishes that are still dirty, and maybe wet too.
  • Detergent matters. Primarily, how fresh it is. Older dishwashing detergent isn't very effective and can leave your glassware looking dull. And more importantly, it's not able to destroy bacteria anymore. A good rule of thumb is to use it within two or three months of purchase.

Silverware Caddy

Even though this technically falls within the realm of the bottom rack, the silverware caddy is a completely different beast. Some newer machines even have a separate, third rack for silverware. Whether you're washing forks, knives, spoons, or sporks, it's important to clean your flatware--these ones go into your mouth.
  • Spoons shouldn't...spoon. It's important to mix silverware up within the caddy. Each section should have a mixture of forks, knives, and spoons. Otherwise, they may nest together and have a hard time getting cleaned.
  • Forks and spoons should be loaded with the handles pointing down, and heads pointed up. That way, hot water can circulate around the heads without being inhibited by the basket's edge.
  • Do the opposite for knives. Blade down, handles up. That way, whoever unloads the dishwasher won't accidentally cut themselves.
  • It bears repeating: high-quality knives shouldn't go in the dishwasher at all. Instead, wash and dry by hand to preserve a sharp edge and good performance.
  • Keep like with like; Stainless steel silverware should be kept apart from silver-plated flatware. That way, there's no chance of scraping your auntie's good silver.

Other Tips

Even if you know how to load a dishwasher properly, it's easy to make other mistakes when it comes to pre-washing dishes and dishwasher maintenance. Make sure you're getting the most out of your appliance and using your time effectively by following these general tips:
Handwashing plate
  • First, make sure the dishwasher you have is best for your household. Check out our dishwasher buying guide to find what you need, and it's important to make sure it will fit before you pick your favorite.
  • Before you load, scrape off large bits of food into the sink (if you have a disposal) or garbage. If your garbage disposal is aging or not very powerful, maybe scrape into the garbage instead. As a general rule, if you couldn't chew it yourself, don't put it down the drain.
  • Always check the manufacturer's instructions on whether something is dishwasher safe--yep, even that sturdy new mug. This goes double for small kitchen appliances like blenders and mixers. Some components may need to be hand washed.
  • Shake up your detergent before adding it to the appliance, whether it's a liquid or powder. Separation and clumping are both bad for a clean cycle.
  • Run your garbage disposal before turning on your wash cycle. They usually empty into the same drain, and you want to make sure the pipe is clear for waste water.
  • Give your dishwasher a head start by running the hot water in the sink ahead of time. The hotter the water, the better your dishwasher will work. Preheating the water can even help shorten the cycle time.
  • Check your hardware, and make sure everything works the way it should: the spinning arm at the bottom should rotate freely, nothing can block the water jets down below, and the detergent door should open unimpeded.
You've got it loaded (finally), with plates angled correctly, fresh detergent added, and your cycle selected. All you have to do is press start, and then it's time to take a break. Next time someone else asks you how to load a dishwasher, you'll be well equipped to help them do it right. Make sure you double-check before they run the cycle, too: you may need to save the good silverware, beloved chef's knives, and wood spoons from a watery grave.

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