How to Properly Load Your Dishwasher For the Best Results

Yes! There is absolutely a method to the madness inside your dishwasher.

Most people know how to load a dishwasher, but do you know how to load it properly? To optimize maximum performance?

Dishwasher loading can be a contentious and polarizing topic, depending on where you fall on the Danny Tanner OCD scale and how compliant your housemates are to the unspoken rules. There’s the great debate: to pre-rinse or not? Knife handles: up or down? Are wooden spoons permissible and, if so, do they live in the cutlery rack or the top shelf? What about those flimsy plastic takeout containers you like to reuse for leftovers? We’ve compiled a (not quite) definitive guide on how to load a dishwasher, including suggestions on cutlery arrangements and #protips on how to get your dishwasher to most efficiently clean your dishes.

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To pre-rinse, or not to pre-rinse?

The chicken or the egg? No one has a conclusive answer to this trying question. Definitely don’t throw your dishes into the dishwasher with corn cobs and chicken wing bones on them, but just how much effort should you put forth when it comes to chiseling melted cheese, gooey egg yolks, or sticky grains of rice off of pots, pans, and plates before loading the dishwasher? When it comes down to it, the amount of rinsing required really depends on the type of detergent that you’re using.

Products like Cascade Platinum ActionPacs contain special formulas with built-in rinse aid action to help dissolve burnt-on food and fight grease, so no pre-rinse is necessary. Some soaps and detergents actually work better when they’ve got some bits of food and such to cling onto. Modern dishwashers have smart built-in sensors that can adjust during each wash cycle, identifying how dirty the dishes are and engaging accordingly.

Take note that some proteins and starches, when caked and dried onto dishes, may need some extra scrubbing, regardless of how powerful your detergent is. For best results, try soaking particularly gunky items overnight before running them through the dishwasher to loosen said particles.

If you’re not planning on running the dishwasher right away because it’s not totally full, think again. Not a lot of people know this, but it’s surprisingly more water-efficient to run the dishwasher than washing them by hand. Eight dishes is all it takes to save water with your dishwasher over handwashing. Using the dishwasher actually saves water, time, and energy. So, run ‘em if you got ‘em! And don’t forget the Cascade Platinum – no pre-rinse needed.

Pre-run dishwasher warm-up

There are a few things you can do prior to running your dishwasher that will help with its overall efficiency and washability. If you’ve got a garbage disposal, make sure you run it before running the dishwasher, since both machines share the same pipe. Did you know that? Now you do. Make sure that pipe is clean and clear before running the dishwasher. Dishwashers work best when the water temperature is around 120 degrees Fahrenheit. They’ve got their own built-in water heating elements, of course, but you can jump-start the process by running your kitchen sink until the water runs hot. Also be sure that any and all spinning or rotating devices inside your dishwasher are functioning properly, freely spinning to the best of their ability. It’s crucial that the soap tray fully opens during each cycle, so double-check that its latch works.

Practice social dish-tancing

No pressure, but a major factor in the cleanliness of your dishes depends on their arrangement inside the dishwasher. So, how are your Tetris skills? Space is key when loading the dishwasher. Of course, you want to run it when full, but not too full. You also want all the surfaces of your dishes and cutlery to be separate from one another and accessible to the dishwasher’s water stream.

As tempting as it may be to face all of the plates in one uniform direction, you’ll want to actually face all of the plates towards the middle of the dishwasher (face them inward, towards the bottom center sprayer) on the bottom rack. Since the jets, tubes, and rotating spray devices project water outward from the center of the dishwasher, the more dirty sides that face inwards, the more clean dishes you’ll be pulling out once the cycle is complete.

Pots and pans can also live on the bottom rack, but be mindful: You don’t want to block the water stream with these oversized items. Sometimes, you’ve just gotta suck it up and hand wash those large items for the greater good of the rest of the dishes! Cutting boards and large trays can also go on the bottom, but try to keep them to the perimeters to save space and also to avoid water stream blockage. (Best to hand wash wooden cutting boards anyway, to avoid warping and cracking.)

Water also shoots down and outward from the top of the dishwasher, so when you’re loading the top rack, keep this in mind as well. Cups, bowls, and glasses ride up top, facing down at a jaunty angle so they can best be reached by the bottom spray while taking up less space. Tupperware items can also go on the top rack, so there’s more distance between their plastic and the heating element in the bottom of the dishwasher, so they (hopefully!) won’t melt or warp. Oversized utensils, spatulas, ladles, and the like can also go on the top rack since they might block the spray if you stick them in the cutlery basket below. Fragile items and wine glasses can also go up top — but you should probably avoid putting most ceramics, fine metals, wood, or china in the dishwasher at all, as to avoid potential damage, discoloration or warping.

Last, but certainly not least, is the good old cutlery basket. Your basic spoons, butter knives, and forks should be loaded handle side down. While it may make it less convenient to grab all the silverware at once and put it away in its designated spot, silverware should actually be all mix-matched in the cutlery basket to avoid literal “spooning,” or nesting. When all the forks are in the same slot, they may nestle up all cozy like and not get as clean as they could if more of their surface area was exposed to the water stream. Sharp knives can go blade down, for obvious safety purposes, but they should probably be hand washed anyway to ensure that the blade stays sharp.

Extra credit

Sometimes those Tupperware containers or mugs on the top rack flip around and gather puddles, so be sure to unload the bottom rack first so as to not spill that accumulated water onto your squeaky clean dishes on the bottom rack (or all over yourself). Cascade Platinum Rinse Aid is also a cool product that will help your dishes dry faster and with fewer spots than they would if you only used detergent. Because if you wanted your dishes to be all streaky, you could just hand wash them.

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