5 Ways You're Loading The Dishwasher Wrong

A loaded dishwasher in a moden white kitchen

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There are some chores that are complicated—like feeding someone’s pedigreed poodle a perfectly- warmed bowl of raw food—and some that are simple, like loading the dishwasher. Or so we thought. As it turns out, most of us are actually loading the dishwasher wrong.

And whether you’re environmentally-conscious and want to conserve as much water as possible, or simply want to get the job done right, here’s what the experts say about how to actually load your dishes, and what we've been doing wrong this whole time.

  • 01 of 05

    You're Neglecting the Basics

    A woman rinsing dishes in the sink

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    When it comes to dishwashing, we all know the basics: do a light rinse first before putting in the washer, don’t overpack, and make sure that your detergent actually goes through. And, of course with anything related to cleaning, you want to adopt the ‘less is more’ philosophy when it comes to soap. However, there are a few basic steps that—it turns out—we’re doing all wrong.  

    Contrary to popular belief, it’s actually better to not face your plates in the same direction. Michelle Keldgord, co-founder of BakingHow, shares that one of the biggest issues with dishwashing is the plate direction. “Ideally, each plate should be facing towards the center of the dishwasher,” she says, “They will get a better clean this way. Also, alternate between plate sizes so they can all be reached (rather than small plates getting blocked).”

    Another basic issue wish dishwashing is the cleanliness of the whole experience—not just the dishes. First and foremost, you can’t clean dishes if your dishwasher is dirty. This may sound like common sense, but when is the last time (if ever) you cleaned the dishwasher itself?

    Dean Davies, cleaning specialist for Fantastic Cleaners, shares his insights: “[You want to] make sure that the appliance is clear of food bits and residue. Locate and clean the filter at the bottom of your dishwasher. Afterwards, wipe down the inside of the machine using a damp rag, including the seal around the door, the sprayer arm and the racks.”  Sometimes the prep is more important than the actual task.

    Davies also recommends not overdoing it with soap or dishes, and paying attention to those hard-to-read labels that say ‘not dishwasher safe.’ You’re better off not taking a chance—for your dishes and the machine itself—and if you’re in doubt, he says, just hand-wash.  

  • 02 of 05

    You're Not Being Smart About Utensils

    A closeup of the bottom rack of a dishwasher

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    Did you know that there's a set of rules that applies to utensils in order for them to get actually clean? You should be alternating your utensils in their containers. For example, rather than putting spoons with spoons—where the tendency would be for them to 'nest' together—mix and match so that the cleaning process is better (and easier).

    You'll also want to keep bigger utensils (think spatulas, serving silverware, etc.) in a different spot. "Large utensils shouldn't be put next to your other silverware as they are taller and might get in the way of the dishwasher's spray arm," says Davies, "Instead, load them flat on the top rack and space them out, so they can get evenly cleaned."

    You'll also want to make sure that the utensils are tops-up, handles-down. Alex Mastin, Founder and CEO of Home Grounds, elaborates: "Despite popular belief, it's always best to mix your cutlery and place them handles down with the exception of knives (for safety purposes)."

    Another important consideration is the mixing of metals and what happens when the dishwasher actually heats up and does its job. Chris Alexakis, Co-Founder of CabinetSelect shares his thoughts: "Mixing different metals can impact the quality of your utensils. For example, silver and stainless steel utensils should be washed separately because they create a chemical reaction that can easily tarnish them," he says, "In fact, you should be extra careful with silver utensils and wash them separately because of how delicate they usually are. If you cannot avoid it, make sure you place them as far away from other metals as you can."

  • 03 of 05

    You're Putting Plastic on the Bottom

    A dishwasher loaded with dishes

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    Did you know that plastic is actually never supposed to be on the bottom rack of the dishwasher? The bottom of the dishwasher is the hottest area. So, putting things like plastic Tupperware on the bottom can actually warp the plastic. Instead, you'll want sturdier materials and items, and especially items that you want deeply cleaned.

    But, you'll want to make sure these items are facing downwards.

    Ludovic Chung-Sao, Mechanical Engineer of consumer electronics and writer for the Zen Soundproof home-improvement blog, notes, "Every dishwasher works with the same principle, meaning water sprays from bottom to top," he says, "The pressure of the water sprays help to clean away particles. So, the inside of bowls and containers must face the bottom."

    He also suggests placing platters and large pans away from the racks right by the door of the dishwasher, as they can block the detergent dispenser. Instead, he suggests putting these items flush with the walls of the dishwasher or in the back.

  • 04 of 05

    You're Adding Wooden Items

    An overhead shot of wooden kitchen utensils

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    Are you tempted to toss anything and everything into the dishwasher? When it’s a big meal or event, many of us are.

    But Goodell David of Woodworking Clarity advises against this. “As an expert in home accessories and woodworks, I would advise you against loading the dishwasher with wooden cutting boards,” he says, “This is because the hot water can easily crack [them], rendering [them] dangerous and sometimes useless. Instead… clean your chopping boards after every use with warm, soapy water and dry them in the sun.”

    So, maybe this creates a bit more work, but if it preserves your wooden items, it may be worth the extra minutes of handwashing.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    You're Using Cheap Detergents

    A woman putting a dishwasher pod into a dishwasher

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    Like anything related to cleaning, there’s never a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. And, of course, there are countless options to choose from when it comes to dishwasher detergents. However, most experts will agree that the best soap is effective, safe, and good for the environment.  

    If you’re using something that, well, isn’t the best, consider swapping for something more natural. For example, True Green Organics has a concentrated, non-toxic, biodegradable, and phosphate-free detergent that only uses a small amount to clean your entire washer. If you’re into conservation and eco-friendliness (or even if you’re not!) an alternative detergent may be worth looking into.

The bottom line is that, while cleaning a dishwasher may seem simple at first, there’s a bit more than meets the eye. In fact, according to experts, there are quite a few ways we’ve been doing this seemingly no-brainer chore all wrong.

From shifting how you place plastic or stagger your silverware, to cleaning the dishwasher itself in order to make for a more effective experience, there are quite a few takeaways here.

Or, you can listen to this simple advice from Robert Barrows, PR and advertising Expert, who may actually have the dishwashing secret figured out.

“There's only one way to load a dishwasher,” he says, “Do it the way your spouse wants it... and you'll live a much happier life.”