How to Properly Load Your Dishwasher For Best Results

Yes! There actually is a right way and a wrong way.

It might be hard to hear, but there actually is a proper way to load the dishwasher. At least, if you want sparkling cleaning dishes by the end of the cycle.

I know, don’t shoot the messenger—we’re all on the same team here. But if you want your plates, cups, and silverware shining when they exit the dishwasher (and I know I do), there’s a way to set yourself up for success… and then there’s everything else.

Dishwasher loading is a strangely contentious and polarizing topic. 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?

Take a deep breath. We’ve compiled a definitive guide on how to load a dishwasher, including suggestions on cutlery arrangements and pro-tips on how to get your dishwasher to most efficiently clean your dishes.

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Before you load the dishwasher

  1. To pre-rinse or not to pre-rinse? Quick answer: it depends on the type of detergent you’re using. Products like Cascade Platinum ActionPacs contain special formulas with built-in rinse aids to help dissolve burnt-on food and fight grease. Translation: no pre-rinse necessary. In fact, some soaps and detergents actually work better when they have bits of food to cling to. For extra challenging dishes, allow them to soak overnight before putting them through the dishwasher.
  2. Run the disposal with hot water first. Dishwashers and garbage disposals usually share the same water pipes. Make sure that pipe is clean and clear, by running the disposal for a few seconds (with hot water) before starting the dishwasher.
  3. Do a spot-check. Your dishwasher will only function as well as the spinning spray arms inside it. From time to time, give them a spin and spot check. Are they spinning freely without interference? Are the spray holes on the arms free of debris? Check out the soap tray as well, double-checking that its latch is working properly.
  4. 8 is the magic number. Not planning to run the dishwasher because it’s not completely full? Think again. Especially with newer models, it can actually use less water to run the dishwasher than washing by hand. Eight is the magic number. If you have eight (or more) dishes, you’ll likely save water choosing the dishwasher. So run ‘em if you got ‘em!

How to properly load a dishwasher

  • Pro-tip: Practice social dish-tancing. The biggest factor in how well your dishwasher can do its job is how much space you leave between items. All surfaces of dishes, cups, and cutlery should be separate from one another and accessible to the dishwasher’s water streams. When it doubt, space ‘em out.

Leading the bottom rack correctly

  • Face plates toward the middle. As tempting as it is to place all the dishes in one uniform direction, they’ll get cleaner if you face them inward, towards the middle of the dishwasher (or more specifically, the bottom center sprayer). Since the spray arms project water outwards from the center of the dishwasher, the more dirty sides that face inwards, the cleaner the dishes will become.
  • Pots and pans are a judgment call. Pots and pans can live on the bottom rack, but be aware that large items can block water streams from reaching the top rack. Sometimes, you just gotta suck it up and hand wash large items for the greater good of the rest of the dishes.
  • Cutting boards and large trays stay on the bottom. Place them along the perimeters of the bottom rack to save space and avoid water stream blockage.
  • Hand wash wood. When exposed to excessive amounts of water, wooden kitchen implements can warp and crack. So always hand wash items like wooden cutting boards, spoons, and spatulas.

Loading the top rack correctly

  • Cups, bowls and glasses ride up top. Face them downward, at angles, so they can be reached by the appropriate spray arm.
  • Tupperware and thin plastic containers stay topside too. This puts more distance between them and the heating element at the bottom of the dishwasher, so they (hopefully!) don’t melt or warp.
  • Oversized utensils lay horizontal. Spatulas, ladles, whisks, or any other large kitchen utensil should be laid horizontal in the top rack instead of in the cutlery basket, where they can take up unnecessary room and block spray.
  • If it’s fragile, think twice. Wine glasses are generally dishwasher safe in the top rack but you should avoid placing ceramics, fine metals, wood or china in the dishwasher to avoid potential damage, discoloration, or warping. If it’s irreplaceable, you should hand wash it.

Loading the cutlery basket correctly

  • Handle down and mixed up. Basic spoons, forks, and butter knives should be loaded handle side down into the cutlery basket. Be sure cutlery is mix-matched in the basket to avoid literal “spooning,” or nesting, which results in less surface area exposed to the water stream.
  • Sharp knives go blade down. Obviously, because you want to keep all your fingers. You could also consider hand washing them, as this keeps blades sharper, longer.

What not to load in the dishwasher

You may want to hand wash:

  • Wine glasses
  • Ceramics
  • Fine metals
  • China
  • Wood
  • Baking or serving trays
  • Large items that could block the water spray
  • Cast iron (always hand wash… and don’t use soap. Trust us.)
  • Kitchen knives
  • Nonstick cookware
  • Insulated mugs
  • Anything hand-painted
  • Pressure cooker lids
  • ...or anything with sentimental value to avoid potential damage.

Dishwasher hacks

Since we’re on a roll, how about two more dishwasher hacks for the road?

  1. Unload the bottom rack first. There’s always something on the top rack that catches puddles of water—the bottom of a mug, or a reusable storage container. Unload the bottom rack first, and you don’t risk dumping that excess water down onto your dry dishes.
  2. Dryer aids actually help. Cascade Platinum Rinse Aid can help your dishes dry faster, and with less water spots, than using detergent alone. Because, let’s be honest, if you wanted your dishes to be all streaky you’d just hand wash them.

That’s it. Put these tips and tricks into practice, and before long, you’ll be basking in the glory of your perfectly cleaned dishes, straight from the dishwasher, everytime.

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