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The Best Way to Load Your Dishwasher

It’s going to clean better if you follow these tips

Published Nov. 22, 2022.

If you’re like someone I know (OK, me!), you are forever moving dirty dishes around in the dishwasher after other household members put them on the racks.

We all have opinions about the best way to load a dishwasher, but what do the pros say? I’ve loaded my fair share of dishwashers (and even tested countertop models) and have also pulled together the best tips from major appliance manufacturers including Whirlpool and Bosch.

Here’s how to optimize your dishwasher to do its job. 

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1. Don’t Bother to Prerinse

You’ll definitely want to scrape off huge chunks of meatloaf, spaghetti, or whatever you had for dinner before you load, but it isn’t necessary to completely rinse the dish until it looks clean. Dishwasher detergents actually need some food traces to cling to, while enzymes gobble up starches and proteins and fats. 

2. Put Delicate Items on the Top Shelf

Delicate items such as plastic storage containers and breakable glassware should go on the top shelf—it usually gets less heat, so you won’t melt or damage anything inadvertently. Sturdier items that can withstand higher heat and a bit of jostling (such as plates or bowls) can go on the bottom shelf.

3. Load Bowl-Shaped Items Upside Down

Cup-shaped items like bowls, glasses, mugs, and colanders should be loaded upside down so that they’ll be cleaned and drained more thoroughly. According to Whirlpool, “The appliance washer jets, located on the rotating spray arm in your appliance, spray upward to wash and rinse dishes.”

Also, if the cupped side is pointed down, you won’t find them full of dirty dishwater at the end of the cycle; instead, water runs off so they’ll drip dry.

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4. Don’t Overcrowd

Leave a little space around items, so food can’t get stuck at pinch points. If items are packed too closely, water and soap can’t circulate, and food scraps, which are meant to be washed away, get trapped on your dishes, where you’ll find them at the end of the cycle. While it’s tempting to shove in just one more item, resist — or rearrange what’s there to leave a bit of space.

5. Organize Flatware Efficently

For the most efficient cleansing, here's how to organize flatware: Butter knives (NEVER put chef’s knives in the dishwasher) should be placed in the baskets with their handles up and forks and spoons handles down.

These positions help soap and water reach the business ends of the flatware more thoroughly, knives won’t point upward to poke you, and sorting clean flatware back into the silverware drawer will go faster too. Separate similar items: When spoons “spoon,” they trap food. 

6. Make Sure the Spray Arms Can Move Freely

Big flat items such as baking sheets and cutting boards should stand along the outer edge of the bottom rack so that they aren’t getting in the way of the spray arms. Before you start the cycle, give the spray arm (usually beneath the top rack) a spin.

If it's getting stuck on anything, you’ll have to do some reconfiguring. Slide the bottom rack back and forth and peek to be sure no flatware or other utensils are dangling beneath the bottom rack or lying on the bottom of the dishwasher, obstructing the lower spray arm. 

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7. Use Rinse Aid 

In our recent testing of countertop dishwashers, we found rinse aid dramatically improved overall dryness of the dishes and left flatware and glassware shinier. Be sure to check your dishwasher’s manual to make sure it’s compatible with your model, and use the amount recommended. 

8. Clean Your Dishwasher Regularly

If your dishwasher is starting to smell a little funky, the filter trap at the bottom of the dishwasher is most likely the culprit. It should be cleaned on a regular basis (at least once a month, depending on how often you use it). Getting food residue out of the trap will leave dishes cleaner and help the dishwater drain.

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