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The Right and Wrong Ways to Load a Dishwasher

by Bill Welles

You may not realize it, but there is a proper way to load the dishwasher and there is an improper way to load the dishwasher. If you are not arranging your dishes correctly, it can result in broken, corroded, and continuously dirty plates and cookware.  

The best way to load the dishwasher may be a polarizing conversation among roommates and clean freaks, but it isn’t something people regularly think about. We all try to rush through the dishes as fast as possible, and while everyone has their own system for loading the dishwasher, it’s most likely not entirely correct.  

If you relate to haphazardly loading the dishwasher more so than someone who excels at loading the dishwasher, then this one’s for you. Spencer’s dishwasher experts have rounded up the right and wrong ways to load your dishwasher. Grab your detergent and follow along with us—you might just learn a thing or two.

Top Rack

Start by loading the top rack of your dishwasher. This is where you should place all glasses, mugs, and small bowls. Place these items upside down or prop them up at an angle to prevent your dishes from collecting a buildup of dirty water. It's easy to overcrowd the top rack with these smaller items, but try to avoid cramming all your cups and bowls into a single load to reduce the risk of breakage and prevent anything from obstructing the flow of water and detergent.  

Plastic items with a dishwasher-safe label should also be placed on the top rack and away from the heating element because the high temperatures can warp plastic materials. Be sure that handheld pieces like spatulas and ladles are secured and lying flat on the top rack with your mugs and other items. You don’t want them to fall through the rack and land on the bottom level because they will block the spray arm and prevent other dishes from being properly cleaned.  

Bottom Rack 

That brings us to the bottom rack of your dishwasher. Before you do anything, scrape the chunks of stuck-on food off your plates and into the trash before you begin loading the appliance. You don’t need to pre-rinse your dishes, but you do want to remove any leftover remnants of your meal.  

The bottom rack is where all large plates, bowls, pots, and pans should be placed. Set the biggest items, such as serving platters, dishwasher-safe cutting boards, and other oversized pieces, along the side of the rack so they don’t cut off the wash arms. Any items with tough burnt-on stains or greasy messes should be placed facedown toward the spray arm so they can receive a highly concentrated and more powerful blast of water. And if you’re hosting a dinner party and decide to bust out the fancy dishware, be sure to hand wash those items made of brass, bronze, wood, and china to avoid discoloration or damage. 

When it’s time to unload the dishwasher, be sure to empty the contents on the bottom rack first; otherwise, the water that collects on the concave surfaces of your cups and glasses in the top rack will spill onto all the plates and cookware below.  

Utensil Holder 

If you’ve ever truly wondered how to load the dishwasher, the utensil basket might be where that question was directed. Properly loading silverware does not come without debate. This is where you’re likely to see the most unique variations and the most incorrect techniques. Are utensils placed into the dishwasher facing up or down? For spoons and forks, load them into the appliance handle-first so that the prongs of the fork and the spoons are facing up. This is so the water and detergent can fully cover and properly clean the part of the utensil that has the most bacteria from our food and our mouths.  

However, knives are the one exception of this rule. Knives should be placed point-down so that you don’t accidentally touch the sharp blades and cut yourself when you unload them. And you don’t need to load each utensil separately, it’s perfectly fine to mix and match spoons, forks, and knives together in a single wash cycle. 

Be Aware of Common Mistakes 

Figuring out the correct location to place your dishes is a relatively intuitive process, but there are some key nuances to properly loading a dishwasher to ensure everything comes out perfectly clean. These are some of the wrong ways to load the dishwasher and common mistakes to avoid: 

Overloading 

Overloading your dishwashing appliance is one of the more common mistakes that people make, and it can be a costly one. We get it, you're trying to save water, but your dishwasher cannot perform as well if it is packed too tightly. You'll end up having to rewash items and waste even more time and water than before. Overcrowding and stacking dishes on top of one another is called “nesting” and prevents a thorough and complete clean.  

Blocking the Spray Arm 

Bulky cookware should be placed into the dishwasher on their sides and not facedown because those larger items can block the bottom spray arm and act as a shield, preventing water from reaching other items in the wash bin. The same goes for placing these items near the door. Pans and other flatware should be placed in the racks away from the door so detergent isn't blocked from reaching other dishes.   

Even if everything seems to fit, give the wash arm a quick test to see if it spins without any obstruction. If it’s caught on a plate or utensil, rearrange the contents of the dishwasher before you start the cycle or else the appliance won’t properly clean. If you want all your dishware to receive equal access to the water, try facing them toward the middle of your appliance near the spray so everything can have full access to the water.   

Pre-Rinsing Dishes  

You should certainly scrape off any leftover hunks of food before loading because an excess of food remnants can lead to mold and other buildup inside your appliance, but newer dishwasher models come with a pre-rinse setting that loosens tough soils before any cycle—virtually eliminating the need for soaking or pre-rinsing dishes. 

You don’t want to go too far when scraping your plates—dishwashing detergent actually needs something to lock onto so that it can properly scrub away any grime and clean your dishes. If your dishes are already spotless before starting the cycle, your dishwasher will fill up with an excess of soap, but it won’t have anything to cling onto in order to sanitize your dishes. This can be a serious waste of time, water, and money. 

Don’t Load These Items 

It can be tempting to save time and throw the stacks of dirty dishes from the sink into the dishwasher and call it a day, but there are some items you should avoid placing into the dishwasher as the concentration of hot water and soap can cause damage.  

  • Cast iron  
  • Non-stick pans  
  • Delicate crystal or china  
  • Fine metals and finishes  
  • Wood utensils and cutting boards  
  • Sharp knives  
  • Anything that isn’t “dishwasher-safe”  

Now that you have the proper technique, there’s no more wondering how to load a dishwasher. Take your newfound knowledge and give it a try. But if you have questions or you’re looking to upgrade your dishwashing appliance, give us a call or stop by Spencer’s to shop our entire catalog of dishwashers and dishwasher accessories.