Dishwasher Safe Symbols: The Ultimate Guide
Confused about those markings on your dishes? Allow us to translate.
It’s tempting to just throw everything into the dishwasher. Doing the dishes is boring and time-consuming and dries out your hands. We get it. But there are actually a lot of items that shouldn’t be thrown in the dishwasher. So how do you know when something can be washed in the dishwasher versus needing to be done by hand?
As a general rule of thumb, the following items tend to be dishwasher safe:
- Ceramic plates, bowls and mugs
- Stainless steel
- Plastic and wood composite cutting boards
- Metal utensils
- Measuring cups
- Measuring spoons
- Kitchen shears
But to be certain, you can check the bottom of any item to see if it’s got a dishwasher safe symbol stamped on it. Surely you’ve noticed these symbols on your dishware before, especially on the plastic items such as containers or cups. No, they’re not the little numbers with the arrows—those are the recycling symbols.
What do dishwasher safe symbols mean?
The dishwasher safe symbols aren’t exactly universal and come in a variety of formats. Dishwasher safe symbols are often pictured as a couple of circles, usually one smaller and one larger, that represent plates. These cartoon plates then appear as if they’re being rained on, either with images of water droplets or diagonal lines. If you use your imagination, this simple symbol depicts dishes in the dishwasher, which gives you the green light to go ahead and toss that item in. If you look closely, sometimes the dishwasher safe symbol actually denotes that the item should only be placed in the top rack (especially if it’s soft plastic), but more on that later.
What does dishwasher safe even mean?
Dishwasher safe items have typically been treated or processed at some point during their production to enable them to withstand higher temperatures and detergents specifically used in dishwashers.
Dishwasher safe glass
When glass is made, it goes through a basic process called annealing, meaning it was slowly cooled in order to reduce stresses within its structure, eliminating weak points. Additionally, glass dishware is often tempered, which is when it’s been chemically processed to make it even stronger. Most of your dishwasher safe glass has been tempered, or “heat strengthened,” which makes it four to five times more sturdy than annealed glass. Tempered glass can withstand both dishwashers and microwaves.
Dishwasher safe ceramics
Ceramics are also slowly cooled in order to minimize imperfections, then they’re glazed to protect the surface. Depending on the type of glaze, ceramics can vary in strength. Not all ceramics are dishwasher safe, so best to check if they contain a dishwasher safe symbol before assuming they’re good to go. If they don’t have one, maybe check online with the manufacturer just to be sure. (Or you can always hand wash them!)
Dishwasher safe plastics
There’s not one way to treat plastic to make it dishwasher safe, but the type of plastic an object is made from does contribute to whether it’s dishwasher friendly. Different types of plastics have different melting points. Most plastics should be placed on the top rack of the dishwasher, where the temperature is a bit more forgiving than the bottom rack. Plastics with a low melting point can become warped and degrade in the high temperatures of the dishwasher.
What do the dishwasher safe symbols look like?
As we mentioned earlier, there is no official dishwasher safe symbol that you’ll see on every item. Instead, there’s a fun variety of abstract circles and lines that ought to be interpreted as dishes in the dishwasher to give you the unofficial permission slip to go ahead and load ’em up. See below for an assortment of popular dishwasher safe symbols that you’ll usually see on items, plus a few lesser known symbols and what they mean.
Dishwasher safe symbols
Other common symbols
Food Safe (but not necessarily dishwasher safe!)
This chalice and fork combo means that the item is good to go for both serving and consuming food. Not every piece of flatware or dish will have this symbol on it, and we like to assume that if they’re dishes, they’re implied to be food safe, but hey. If you see this symbol, you can confidently eat off of said item (which you were probably going to do, regardless.) This symbol is easily mistaken for the dishwasher safe symbol, but it’s not.
Best not to assume an item is microwave safe without checking, especially if it’s plastic. But any of these versions of squiggly radiation lines inside of a square or box will tell you if your dish or container is microwave safe.
Maximum & Minimum Temperature (that the dish should be stored at)
We don’t often consider exactly how hot and/or cold our dishes can and should be stored without damaging or degrading their material. Most plastic containers aren’t meant to be stored in the freezer long-term, and they can crack and become brittle. (Hello, future unwanted leaks.)
Safe To Store In Freezer
Oh, hey, here ya go. If you see this symbol, you’re good to store the dish or container in the freezer. No ambiguity about it.
Remember, we mentioned this one earlier? It’s got nothing to do with dishwashers, but it does tell you that the item is recyclable. The 01 marks an item made of PET or PETE, which stands for polyethylene terephthalate, the most common plastic for single-use bottled beverages. It's cheap to produce, and also lightweight and easy to recycle. The numbers on these recycling symbols range from 01 to 07 and denote the various types of plastic that the item is made of, including polystyrene, polypropylene and polyvinyl chloride.
How can you tell if an item is dishwasher safe?
Obviously, if you see one of the versions of a dishwasher safe symbol on your dish or container, it should be good to toss into the dishwasher. If the water droplet symbols or diagonal lines are pictured throughout the entire symbol, both above and below the dish, the item can be loaded onto either the top or bottom rack.
But if the dishwasher safe symbol shows the water droplets or diagonal lines representing water hitting just the top portion of the cartoon dishes, that means it should only be loaded into the top rack of the dishwasher.
The deal with the top rack thing is that the heating elements in dishwashers are typically in the bottom, so the top rack is relatively cooler than the bottom. (You’ll learn that lesson quickly when you toss a plastic item in the bottom rack and pull it out to find it damaged, discolored or melted entirely.) Sometimes the dishwasher safe symbol may even specify a maximum temperature that the item can withstand.
What not to put in the dishwasher
- Sharp knives or mandolines
- Anything wooden, including cutting boards, spoons and utensils
- Cast iron
- Nonstick pots and pans
- Aluminum cookware
- Copper cookware
- Fine china, crystal and hand-painted plates
- Electric kettles
- Travel mugs
- Pressure cooker or air fryer parts and components
- Any parts of kitchen appliances that have electric hookups or connections
- Dishwashers tend to dull sharp knife blades.
- Wood is porous and absorbs water like a sponge. Soaking and steam causes it to warp.
- Dish soap and detergent damages nonstick properties in Teflon or cast iron pots and pans, corrodes aluminum and discolors copper.
- Fragile or hand-painted items are more likely to break or chip in the dishwasher.
We’re glad we could be your Rosetta Stone for decoding dishwasher safe symbols, among others. When it comes to dishwashers, we’re pretty much a bottomless encyclopedia of information, including how to clean your dishwasher’s filter, which cycles to use and when, how to load them and how to make them less smelly—with a monthly dose of Cascade Dishwasher Cleaner, which helps eliminate limescale, grease and odors that develop in your dishwasher after regular use. A cleaner dishwasher produces cleaner dishes, after all.