How to Load a Dishwasher the Right Way

Loading Dishwasher

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One of the most frequent disagreements between housemates is how the dishwasher should be loaded. Everyone thinks that their way is the best way, or that it doesn't make any difference how you do it. Little do they realize, there is a clear-cut way to load any dishwasher to make sure all the plates, utensils, glasses, and everything in between come out sparklingly clean.

Thankfully, there is an expert to help you: your dishwasher use and care guide, or "the manual." If you can't put your hands on it, you can usually find one online. But no matter the manufacturer of your dishwasher, here are some basic guidelines that apply to every machine.


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Fun Facts

Contrary to popular belief, the dishwasher is much more effective at saving water, money and energy than handwashing dishes: 

  • According to Energy Star, certified dishwashers use less than 4 gallons per cycle. The sink uses 4 gallons in just 2 minutes!
  • In a study, Cascade found that the average person spends 15 seconds handwashing a dish. In that time, the sink uses half a gallon of water. That’s why running your dishwasher with as few as eight dishes is all it takes to save water.
  • You can save up to 100 gallons of water a week if you run your dishwasher every night instead of washing dishes by hand.
  • Cascade, a P&G brand, has helped restore more than 338 million gallons of freshwater to rivers and wetlands across the United States through a partnership with Bonneville Environmental Foundation’s ‘Change the Course’ program including the Sacramento River Basin, one of California’s most important water sources suffering from drought.​

6 Rules for Loading Every Dishwasher

  1. Scrape off large pieces of food, but don't pre-rinse the dishes. They will come out cleaner if there is a bit of soil for the detergent to cling to and lift away.
  2. Place and angle any curved dishes like bowls with the dirtiest surface downward. This applies to both the top and lower racks. Allow space for the water to flow up and around each surface. No nesting!
  3. Angle cups and glasses with concave bottoms so that the water will drain off the surface. 
  4. Place forks and spoons in the basket with handles facing down. Knife handles should go up so that you don’t need to grab a sharp blade to remove them. Make sure to mix the silverware in the holder to prevent nesting against one another.
  5. Before you close the door, check that all spray arms will spin freely without hitting any surface.
  6. NEVER block the detergent dispenser with a large item. If the dispenser doesn't open fully, the dishes won't get clean. To check for errors, look for residue left in the dispenser or the bottom of the washer when the cycle is complete. If there is anything left, you may have a problem to fix.

How to Load the Top Rack 

The top rack of the dishwasher is designed for cups, saucers, glasses, and smaller items. Place items at an angle with the dirtiest surface facing downward. To prevent chipping and damage, be sure that similar items do not touch.

All lightweight and dishwasher-safe plastic items, like storage containers, should only be placed on the top rack. If you are including any of the household items you can clean in a dishwasher, keep them on the top rack, away from the very high temperatures of the drying element in the bottom of the washer.

Take a look at the top rack of your dishwasher. You may find that the tines are adjustable to make room for a variety of dishes. You may also find that the entire rack can be adjusted up and down. All of those glasses that you have been hand-washing because they were too tall for the machine can now go right on the top rack.

Here's one more thing to check. Most top racks can be removed completely to allow you to wash large stock pots, cookie sheets, and even a turkey roaster loaded into the bottom rack!

How to Load the Bottom Rack

Here's the spot for plates, pans, instant pot inner pots, bakeware, and casserole dishes. Use the tines to keep items separated and upright and face soiled surfaces towards the spray arms, not the sides of the dishwasher. Place bowls so they are upside down with the dirtiest surfaces facing the bottom spray arm and be sure that they are not nested. If the water can't reach all the surfaces, that surface won't be clean.

Place tall items on the side so they do not block the detergent dispenser door. If they won't fit, adjust the top rack. Check the tines on the bottom rack, some may be able to be adjusted to accommodate larger dishes. 

The Right Way to Load Silverware

Want clean silverware? Every dishwasher model offers a different design and placement of the silverware basket. But three tips apply to every model.

  1. The key to clean silverware is making sure the water reaches all the surface area. Never place all the forks or spoons in one section unless you alternate the direction or they will nest and not get clean.
  2. Knives should be loaded with the blade down to prevent mishaps. Forks and spoons should be loaded with the eating end up for the most exposure to spraying water.
  3. Large utensils like spatulas and cooking ladles should be placed flat on the top rack.

Tips for Getting the Best Results From a Dishwasher

  • For the cleanest dishes, clean your dishwasher regularly.
  • Check your water heater to make sure that you are using water at the right temperature, at least 120 degrees F. To boost the cleaning, turn on the hot water tap at the kitchen sink and let the water get hot. This will ensure that the dishwasher cycle starts with hot water, not cold.
  • Use the correct amount of dishwasher detergent and choose a detergent like Cascade Platinum + Oxi that provides the necessary ingredients for a deep clean. If your water contains lots of minerals (hard water), you should use more detergent for every load or use a booster like Lemi Shine no matter how soiled the dishes.
  • Be sure that your detergent is fresh and not clumping. Give liquids a good shake before using and break up any lumps in powdered formulas.
  • Some items should never be placed in the dishwasher like cast iron and ceramic-coated cookware that is glazed or hand-painted. They will be damaged and many cannot be restored.
Article Sources
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  1. Most Efficient 2022 Dishwasher Final Criteria Memo. Energy Star, United States Environmental Protection Agency.