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How to Load a Dishwasher

posted in Around the Kitchen by Kathy Maister

The first three apartments I lived in had no dishwasher — except for me, that is. For that matter, none of my early apartments had kitchen windows either.

I really felt like I had arrived by the time I owned my first dishwasher. Of course, saving quarters for the communal laundry machine in my apartment building went on for many more years to come!

If you have a dishwasher, I don’t need to tell you how wonderful they are!

However, it surprises some people to discover that there is a right and a wrong way to load a dishwasher. Do it wrong and you’ll end up with dishes not getting washed properly and possibly even breaking a few in the process.

Loading a dishwasher is easy as long as you follow a few simple rules:

First, quickly rinse dishes before putting them in the dishwasher in order to remove big chunks of food. Dishwashers can choke up unless you pay attention to this, and paying for a plumbers’ visit to unclog them can be expensive.

No need to fuss too much with this step (let the dishwasher do the washing!) but don’t leave it out.

Next, be sure to put glassware, coffee cups and plastic containers on the top rack, which was designed to hold them. If you have a lot of glasses that need washing, you may be tempted to put them on the bottom rack, but there is a higher probability that they will break there.


Since it’s generally hotter on the bottom than it is on the top, even dishwasher-safe plastic containers may melt on the bottom rack. Proceed with caution.

Plates, bowls, and anything that needs a stronger wash put on the bottom rack. Did you know that the top and bottom racks often have a different amount of water pressure? Who knew? You obviously need to exert less energy washing a water glass than a plate with dried-up tomato sauce on it!


Naturally, silverware and utensils go in the special holder. Some people clump spoons together, forks together, and knives together. Others say, no, “nesting” the utensils means they don’t get cleaned properly — mix them up. Be warned: how one does or does not put silverware in the dishwasher can break up a beautiful friendship or marriage!


It’s important, in my view, to put sharp, pointed things (like knives and forks) pointing downward. (There is nothing worse than being impaled by utensils while loading – or unloading – the dishwasher!)

You should never put your good knives in the dishwasher. Something that big and that sharp just should not go in there — and it’s easy to wash good knives by hand. Small, inexpensive paring knives are often dishwasher-safe.

Always empty the bottom rack first. The glasses and cups on the top rack will often drip as you are unloading them (so many seem to have those little crevices on the bottom that accumulate water.) You won’t get the plates on the bottom all wet if you have already unloaded them first.

Never turn the dishwasher on and then go to bed. You never know when there could be a leak or a problem with your dishwasher! Turn it on after dinner so that it has finished running before you go to bed. (That’s actually a tip from most fire safety experts.)

Many people don’t turn it on until every square inch of space is filled, but I turn the dishwasher on every evening. It’s just too icky (technical term!) to think of dirty dishes hanging out in a sealed box overnight. If it’s not full, I just use the light setting.


Many dishwashers have several settings. The settings on mine include: ‘pots & pans’, normal, light/china, quick/glass, ‘rinse & hold’, sani-rinse, and an ‘energy saver dry’.

The pots and pans cycle is the longest running cycle for really tough jobs.

The sani-rinse is a very hot rinse useful for really killing germs. I use it if someone in the house has a cold or the flu.

‘Energy-saver’ means the heating element to dry the dishes is not activated, and the dishes will take longer to dry on their own.


Inevitably, once you start the dishwasher you always find another glass or plate or spoon that needs to be washed. Generally speaking, in the beginning, while the water is heating, you can open the dishwasher and add that dirty dish. Then re-push the start button. Many dishwashers will have an indicator of some kind to tell you what part of the cycle it’s in. Some even have a pause button. If it’s already in the wash cycle then it’s too late to open the door, and you may flood the kitchen if you do. Alas, you may have to wash that last item by hand!

On a final note, here’s some personal advice if someone you really care about loads the dishwasher for you, but does it incorrectly. The first time, say nothing, thank them and turn out the lights. You want to encourage them to pitch in and help right?

By the third time they do it “not quite the way you think it should be done”, gently offer suggestions — with reasons. No-one likes being criticized, but if you use it as a form of education “By the way, did you know WHY they say you should…….?” You may get away with both your goals: getting it done right and keeping your relationship strong!

Does anyone else have any advice (or questions) about using dishwashers?

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Shaula Evans said:

Free relationship advice at no extra cost…this blog just gets better and better.

Seriously—I knew you were supposed to put plastic lids on the top, but I never knew why. I had no idea the temperature and water pressure could be different. (Of course, now that you say it, it makes perfect sense.)

As for not running appliances while you sleep…I’ve been a victim of two floods. The first time, I took a nap while doing laundry…and flooded the downstairs apartment. The second time (different building! actually even a different country), my upstairs neighbour’s laundry machine flooded in the night, and found out when my downstairs neighbour banged on the door around 1 am, because water was pouring through my ceiling then through my floor, to come out through the downstairs ceiling. (It was a BIG mess, but insurance covered it, and the workmen who came in to repair my ceiling and walls did an incredibly beautiful job.)

I’ve seen relationships founder over toilet seats, dishwashers, and who takes out the garbage. Learning to give advice effectively in order to reduce domestic friction is REALLY great advice, Kathy.

Okay, now I’m off to point all my lovelorn college friends at your dishwasher post… ;)

Jon (Sacker) said:

I don’t think I’ll get into the relationship counselling part of this blog – my father and I (who I currently lodge with) get on fine about that :-).

However, I do want to comment on another part of Kathy’s post.

Here in the UK we are currently suffering from one of the worst droughts on record with severe water shortages. There have been many discussions in the papers as to the best way to save water (as well as using less energy) and there seems to be a growing consensus that using your dishwasher actually is the most environmentally friendly way to clean dishes.

There is, however, a big caveat to this, which is that this is only true if you use the dishwasher when it’s full – unless you have a big family, to turn the machine on every day is highly wasteful.

In my view so long as you give the dishes a quick rinse there is no reason not to wait until it’s full.

Mari Williams said:

I never thought much about loading dishwashers until recently when as part of a small group I heard a discussion about loading silverware. A man in the group said he loads silverware according to its type because it is easier to unload. He actually rearranges the dishwasher after his wife has loaded it to get the silverware the way he thinks it should be. The concensus of the group was that silverware gets cleaner if it is mixed up. I cannot find anything to support that theory. It seems like a pretty unimportant argument, but I sure would like to help the poor guy out.

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Mari! At our last big family gathering I asked everyone if there was a “right” and a “wrong” way to load a dishwasher. WoW! I just about started a family war! No one agreed on how to do it. Everyone thought their way was, of course, the best way. And yes, one un-named relative is also a “rearranger”! The right way is what works for you!

Bobi said:

You guys make me laugh (-: . I have the same “discussions” with my husband. After twenty-five years…he finally agrees that I load the dishwasher best. Basically just the way it is mentioned here! Wonderful website! I’m sending this article to my daughter who just married. This will make her smile too!

Kathy Maister said:

Thanks Bobbi! (Do I dare mention the cap on the tube of toothpaste?!)

Lynn said:

I’ve had my first dishwasher for less than a year and don’t know why I waited so long to get one. It’s a second-hand portable unit, but it does the job, and I’ve been educating myself on how to get the most out of it.

A great tip I read recently is SCRAPING rather than rinsing dirty dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. This saves water and leaves less wet stuff to fester between loads. I wouldn’t fill the sink to wash a single spoon, so I don’t run the dishwasher until it’s full. Non-kitchen objects can help fill the racks as long as they won’t be damaged by heat, water or the cleaner in use.

When the wash cycle is over, I roll up a hand towel and close the door on it so air can circulate inside. I never use the drying feature because it seems like a waste of energy.

Instead of expensive rinse agents, I pour plain white vinegar into the receptical. I’ve been using the cheapest powdered detergent, but there’s sometimes a powdery film on the dishes, so maybe I should switch to gel.

KGWagner said:

Good topic. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned that’s worth knowing is how the sprayer works.

Dishwashers generally do their work by spraying hot water under pressure at the items to be cleaned. It’s that simple. How that’s done usually falls into one of two ways – through a rotating water tower that rises up when the door is closed and the pressure is on, or with rotating blades under the racks.

Either way, it’s important to not obstruct the water flow. Don’t put large dishes in front of small ones, or dishes in front of bowls unless the bowls are facing down. Otherwise, they don’t get sprayed, so they don’t get cleaned. And when the dryer cycle runs, you’ll actually cook any residue onto the very stuff you’re trying to clean.

Kathy Maister said:

Thanks for the fabulous additions to this post! (Speaking of food getting baked on…egg yolks are the worst. In fact be sure to rinse the dishes with egg yolks off with cold water not hot water.)

KGWagner said:

re: Egg yolk

Yes, egg yolk acts like the original super glue if it gets cooked on in the dishwasher

Your suggestion for cold rinsing is good, too. I got bit by that once not too long ago in the sink drain. Garbage disposal manufacturers actually recommend that you run some egg shells through them every once in a while to sort of clean them up. But, if you throw much egg in with them and run hot water while running the disposal, you’ll actually simultaneously whip and cook the egg and plug the drain. It’s a real pain in the shorts to clean up. Cold water is the way to go with that exercise.

Lilly said:

This article is awesome. I just used by dishwasher for the first time and my dishes I’m surprised to say are sparkling clean!

Hooray for the first time going so well. :)

Kathy Maister said:

KGW, your comment made me laugh…what a mess that must have been to clean up!

Congratulations Lilly! Sparlking clean dishes and a real time saver to boot!

growler said:

Silverware tip, learned during my stint as a busboy: Always load silverware with the business end facing up. (I always do this, but make an exception for pointy steak knives). It just comes out cleaner

Barbara said:

Hi Kathy — wow — I feel like I should forward a link to this post to every one of my children :0

Seriously though, I was so glad to know about the different water pressures between top and bottom. And hadn’t given a thought to not running the dishwater and then heading to bed. I’ve never had the misfortune (knock on wood) but why start now?

Also — thank you for addressing the silverware issue. After piercing my hand more times than I’d like to remember I think I’ve finally got my family trained to put tines and blades DOWN! Amen to that.

Great post. I love your site. I’m a new reader and have had lots of fun looking around!

Barbara said:

Hi Again! It just dawned on me that I meant to mention that by putting the silverware in with the tines, scoop, or blade down you’ll automatically be grabbing the handle portion of the utensil when unloading — much more sanitary that way! I just cringe when I see servers in restaurants touching the ends of the utensils with their hands! Yuck!

Whirlpool parts said:

I admit that this is the first time I hear about this, I actually had few incidents with my dishes and I getting worried about the dishwasher too. I appreciate all the tips, I will definitelly try them.

Shaula Evans said:

Kathy, I just read some good news (news to me, anyways) about the water efficiency of dishwashers so I wanted to share with you:

A study conducted by the University of Bonn in Germany concluded that dishwashers use half the energy, one sixth the water, and less soap than hand washing.

Via Homegrown Evolution

I had no idea that dishwashers saved so much water.

Kathy Maister said:

Thanks Shaula! These are great links!

Kathy Maister said:

My Mom’s best friend never uses her dishwasher. I take that back, she uses it to store all her paper products! :-)

My plumber told me that a dish washer that is only used on occassion will not last as long as one that is used regularly. Evidently the rubber seals tend to dry out faster on a dishwasher that does not get used much.

Dishwasher Review said:

Kathy, Excellent article. Today there are various brands in the market and people always complain about the various ways of doing this stuff. your pictorial is really helpul.I am going to include some for my reference.

Kathy Maister said:

Thanks! Family wars are started over How to Load a Dishwasher! Lately my thinking is that as long as someone else cleans the kitchen, I really am not that fussy about how they load the dishwasher! :)

Bonnie Stubbs said:

Also remember to put the dirty side toward the spray. My husband puts cutting boards with the dirty side facing the wall. He thinks the water circulates enough to get them clean. eeewww!

best dishwashers said:

great tip – not only do you not want to break dishes but if you load the dishwasher the right way you can end up saving a load of water – save on the water bill and environment :)

Steve Altig said:

re: Utensil loading-
After many years as a kitchen appliance repairman and trainer, servicing all major brands, I have to add my two cents…

HANDLE DOWN, unless you’re not running a full load. The basket and nesting “business ends” will prevent them from being adequately cleaned (unless you are washing them before putting them in the dishwasher), thus not needing the dishwasher.

If your hands are not clean before unloading- WASH THEM! In any case you are handling a part of your dishes, glasses, and utensils and any germs touching any part of them will be transferred to the rest AND all other similar items that they in turn are touching!!

The simple reason for putting HANDLES DOWN is so that the spray can reach the “business ends” in order to clean food residues.

The water temp and detergents will NOT SANITIZE them (germ-free), in any case (we’re talking about home appliances).

A side note: DO NOT poach fish or clean hats in a home dishwasher (Both of these practices caused many “NOT under warranty” $ervice call$ in their time.

Further: as to the practice of cleaning purifier and furnace filters in your dishwasher, I again ask the question: “would you rather breath it or eat it?” If the answer is neither- clean the filters in dishwashing detergent and warm water- SOAKING THEM in a container, then rinsing thoroughly. You and yours will be healthier!
Now off my “soap box” lol _sa

startcooking said:

Steve you are the BEST! Your tips are fantastic!

(I always found it odd that people would even consider poaching fish or cleaning baseball caps in a dishwasher!!!!)

Thank you for sharing!


Anonymous said:

ashley said:

Wow- thank you for that! I LOVE your personality!

It was nice info and fun to read at that!

FYI- I found this blog because my hubby and I ONLY fight about how to insert silverware in the dishwasher he has actually snuck in and changed the silverware without me looking. So you can imagine my laughter when you said

“Be warned: how one does or does not put silverware in the dishwasher can break up a beautiful friendship!”

He says have them face up and I say that I don’t like touching the dirty silver ware so I slide them in facing down so I don’t have to risk having the icky side touch me. LOL

Nice to know I might not be the only one HA HA thanks again! Awesome post!

startcooking said:

Thanks Ashley – and welcome to!

David said:

Way back in the 1960’s my mother had trouble with knife blades coming loose from the hollow handle. It seems that if you place them handle DOWN, the handle can fill with water and then steam during the drying cycle. If they’re handle UP, the water will drain out. Otherwise, I prefer business end up for the rest of the lot, including forks, to avoid nesting. If you get poked by a fork, well you’re just a klutz!
I dump the rack out on a clean counter, pick stuff up by the handle and put it away.
Accumulated water on top rack items? Never happened on my old, old KitchenAid. The top rack provided adequate tilt so water drained off. Thanks to new and improved rack design — probably done by a dumbaxx man — water can now accumulate!!

tudorjason said:

It’s interesting; it looks as if you’ve made a spiral pattern for the bottom rack.

Anyway, we all know that loading a dishwasher isn’t as black and white as you’ve made it look with all those dishes. What about pots, pans, colanders, and large bowls? Placing plates is easy but the rest of the kitchenware is a strategy.

And I have to disagree about the forks being placed up-side-down. Butter knives can be placed right-side-up as well as forks, while steak knives should be placed downward.

But I do agree that the bottom rack should be unloaded first.

startcooking said:

Hi TJ,
You are so right – loading a dishwasher does require a strategy!
Most of my (All-Clad) pots and pans can not go in the dishwasher. Large bowls and colanders I wash by hand as they take up too much space in the dishwasher.

Zee from said:

Probably not many people know that your dishwasher is connected to the water heater, actually it uses hot water produced there.

By turning the dial on your electric or gas unit you will change the temperature of the outlet hot water. The best temperature of the hot water used for cleaning the dishes is around 140 F. But keep in mind that the recommended temperature for shower is 120 F, a safe temperature which is factory set not to produce scalding burns.

If you have installed a tempering valve, which mixes the cold and hot water to decrease the temperature at the faucet, you might not be getting water hot enough for your dishwasher. But it will still do the job.

Just my 3 cents.

ro said:

i heard you have to run the hot water first and then u turn on the diswasher

startcooking said:

I always do! There is a water heater in your dishwasher which is needed to bring the water up to a really HOT temperature before it begins the wash cycle.

I live on the 7th floor of a 100 year old building and sometimes it takes several minutes to get the hot water up to my floor. I generally run the hot water until it feels hot and then turn on the dishwasher. This saves a bit of wear and tear on the water heater (which I did already have to replace on my 19 year old dishwasher.)

Rene Macaroglu said:

Hi Kathy,

I would like to ask you if putting a little quantity of bleach before the wash to sanitize the inside of the machine is recommended.

Also, I brush everything under little running water before putting it in the machine; that way I can live everything overnight without running the dishwasher

startcooking said:

Hi Rene,
Unless for some reason adding bleach is recommended by your dishwasher’s manufacturer, I would not do it.
I too always rinse my dishes before putting them in the dishwasher.

Jim said:

Years ago when I was living with an aunt and uncle, who are very organized people, I found out about an interesting way to remind everyone whether the contents of the dishwasher were clean or dirty.

A small sign for the door was created, that was actually a piece of flat magnetic material. It had the letter “C” on one side (meaning clean), and “D” on the other side (for dirty). When the dishwasher was turned on to wash a load, the sign was immediately turned to the “C” side, and then when it was emptied, the sign was changed to the “D” side.

There were only three of us at the time, so it never became much of an issue. However, thinking back, this could be a useful system for larger families, to help make sure that clean and dirty dishes are not mixed up in the machine by accident.

Have a great day!


Michael said:

I absolutely love the Miele dishwashers with the cutlery tray. Each utensil is held in place away from its neighbour such that it gets washed on both sides. I would suspect it could be a good marriage-saver! My parents have one and my Dad always loads and unloads it anyway so for them it’s not an issue! Anyway, they have been married 51 years!

We are fortunate enough to have two dishwashers at our office, and judging from the haphazard way some people load them up (for example, glasses and cups right side up!!), I really wonder whether they do the same thing at home! They also tend not to understand that a locked dishwasher means cycle finished, and instead of emptying it, actually add more dirty dishes! What is the best way to handle something like that, short of either doing it myself all the time (knowing that it will be “done right”), or shooting out e-mails venting my frustration?

startcooking said:

It does sound like a memo needs to go out in your office on how to load a dishwasher!

They do sell magnets that say “dirty” on one side and “clean” on the other to avoid people adding dirty dishes to ones that are clean. I’m guessing that your co-workers would not bother to read the sign!

Sadly, I do think that it might be easier for you to avoid the office dishwasher completely, and just wash your own coffee cup by hand.

BTW, Having to intentionally place each piece of silverware drives me crazy! :-)


Joe said:

I wish I would have read this post a few weeks ago. I thought I had ruined some knives by setting them in the top rack of my dishwasher. I’ll never do that again.

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