If divorce papers had boxes you could check to declare the reason you want to end your union, I suspect the box for “Loaded dishwasher incorrectly” would get a lot of use. Personally, I would have liked to use that reason to separate myself from some friends and family members over the years.

The dishwasher racks, like an underwear drawer or a toolbox, only work if you fill them properly, and not everyone can. Dishwasher manufacturers spend countless hours designing machines to wash every inch of plates, pans, cups, and utensils until they are pristine and spotless. They’ve even given you helpful indicators, like tines, to subtly instruct you in the ways of proper dishwasher loading.

Cooking dinner shouldn't be complicated

Watch: Is the Hot Water in My Dishwasher Really Hot Enough to Kill Bacteria?


Yet, many of you (OK, us) still don’t get it.

Improper dishwasher loading can cost energy, money, and time. If you fail to load a dishwasher correctly, you may end up with some dishes that are still dirty, and you’ll have to run another load just to get the food off those.

If you still have your owner’s manual, congratulations! Go open it, and review the advice from the manufacturer on how they suggest loading the machine for the best results.

And for those of you who long ago lost the manual amid a stack of other manuals and papers you probably should have kept but definitely threw out in a cleaning fury, these tips can help you load a dishwasher properly.

Top rack

The top rack of a dishwasher is designed to hold:

  • cups
  • glasses
  • small bowls
  • dishwasher-safe plastics
  • long utensils that don’t fit in the silverware basket
  • fragile items like wine glasses

Set glasses and cups between the tines, not over them. This keeps them from moving during the wash. Avoid letting glasses touch so you can prevent mid-wash breaks and cracks.

Place bowls facing the center of the dishwasher so the spinning arms clean the insides of the bowls, not the outside only.

If you don’t have a special section for fragile items like wine glasses, you can purchase silicone braces that will hold them in place. When in doubt (or caught without those braces), hand wash these fragile items to avoid them breaking in the wash. No one wants to clean glass from a dishwasher trap.

Silverware basket

Knife handles should face up (blades down); spoon and fork handles should face down. This allows the silverware better exposure to the water and detergent. It also protects you from sharp blades when unloading the basket.

If you are washing a lot of the same utensil, mix up the silverware so you don’t get any “nesting,” or back-to-back resting that prevents all sides of the utensils from getting clean.

Bottom rack

On the dishwasher’s bottom rack, you should place:

  • plates
  • serving bowls
  • platters
  • cutting boards
  • dishwasher-safe pots and pans

Use the tines to support plates, and turn the plates toward the center of the dishwasher so the spinning arm can clean the front of the plate, not the back. If you have small plates to wash with larger ones, stagger the different sizes so the large plates have greater exposed surface area.

Larger pieces, like platters and casserole dishes, can fit in the sides and back of the washing machine. Be sure not to put anything tall at the front of the rack. You might prevent the detergent from leaving the compartment.

Other helpful tips

Above all else, do not overcrowd your dishwasher. Everything needs space around it so water and detergent can move  easily. Overcrowded dishwashers trap food. Don’t stack dishes, and avoid placing anything at a weird angle. If you suspect the washing machine arms can’t get to the dish, you’re probably right.

You do not have to pre-rinse. Dishwashers today are built for dirty dishes. In fact, they work best if the dishes are dirty. Scrape off any large bits of food, and skip the rinse before putting dishes in the dishwasher.

The only time you should perhaps give them a quick spray of water? If the dishes will sit for a few days before the big wash. In that time, food can dry and become increasingly difficult to remove, even for the best dishwashers. 

Hand wash large kitchen knives. The heat and chemicals of a dishwasher can destroy the blade. Don’t put delicate materials like iron, pewter, and bronze in the dishwasher. The wash may tarnish the finish. The heat and water of the washing machine may crack wooden items, which creates nooks and crannies for germs. The high-power wash is too much for delicate china and gold leaf, too.

Run hot water at your kitchen sink before you start the dishwasher. Hot water does a better job of immediately loosening up food and grime. While many detergents are optimized to work with cold water, hot water is better overall.

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