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How to load a dishwasher (the right way)

by Yaya Maria |

How to load a dishwasher

Loading a dishwasher seems like a no-brainer. You just place the dirty dishes wherever there’s room, and close the door. Right?

If that’s your approach, you might be working against yourself. Many of your dishes will come out dirty, which only creates extra work for you.

Learning how to load a dishwasher properly will save you time when doing the dishes.

Simply follow these steps.

How to load a dishwasher

1. Remove leftover food

First thing’s first.

Big pieces of food don’t belong inside your dishwasher.

They’ll only get stuck in the dishwasher’s filter and start to rot while spreading an unpleasant odor all over your kitchen.

The best way to remove large food scraps is to scrape them off the dishes and into the trash before placing the dishes in the dishwasher.

In case that tip came too late and food has already started clogging up your filter, here’s what to do.

Use a small brush (we recommend something like this) to remove any food gunk stuck in the filter.

Since food residue inside of a dishwasher is a playground for mold and yeast, you’ll also want to get rid of any colonies that may have already started to grow on your filter.

Fill a small container with vinegar and soak the filter in it for 30 minutes. Regular vinegar (like this one) works great for cleaning and has proven antimicrobial properties.

This will help get rid of any bad odor in your dishwasher, and will help prevent bathing your washed dishes in a microbial bath.

Next step:

2. Don’t pre-rinse

If you have a state-of-the-art dishwasher, you probably know that pre-rinsing dishes is unnecessary. But if your dishwasher is a bit older, consider this.

A study revealed that 93% of US dishwasher owners pre-rinse their dishes. This uses up to 25 gallons of water in addition to the water needed to run a cycle.

That’s a lot of water!

Here’s a cost-efficient and environmentally-friendly alternative: If you’ve followed Step #1 and scraped off the leftover food before placing the dishes in the dishwasher, you don’t need to pre-rinse.

The appliance will take care of the rest.

Even slightly older dishwashers are able to do a decent job washing dishes that haven’t been rinsed.

Plus, you’ll save a lot of water. (Want to learn more about saving water when doing the dishes? Check out this post).

3. The top rack

This is where your small dishes go. Cups, glasses, small bowls, and dishwasher-safe storage containers belong in the top rack (find out more about what’s dishwasher safe and what’s not in this post).

Avoid overcrowding to allow the water and detergent to get where it needs to go. Be sure not to block the water sprayer close to the top rack.

Also check the upper water sprayer from time to time to remove debris that gets stuck in the sprayer’s nozzles.

Use a small brush if necessary.

4. Bottom rack

Large plates, bowls, and other items that don’t fit in the top rack belong here. Place large items on the sides in order to prevent them from blocking smaller dishes.

If you’re washing long-handled pans, make sure the handle doesn’t block the rotating spray arm, which would interfere with the dishwasher’s performance.

Also, take care not to block the part of the dishwasher’s door that will release the detergent.

For example, you wouldn’t want to place large cookie sheet facing the door for this reason.

Instead, place items like this on the far left and right sides of the lower rack.

5. Silverware

Forks, spoons, and knives go into the silverware basket. Make sure to mix them to prevent them from nesting.

After all, spoons like to spoon.

We recommend placing silverware with their handles facing upward for two reasons.

First, you don’t have to worry about scratching yourself on a fork tine when unloading.

Second, it’s more sanitary to touch the silverware’s handles when loading and unloading.

Finally, long utensils like spatulas don’t belong in the silverware basket at all. Those should be placed flat on the top rack instead to ensure they won’t block the sprayer.

You’re halfway to becoming a dishwasher pro!

Keep reading for more great tips.

6. Don’t run a half-full load

We know it’s tempting to run a dishwasher even when it’s not entirely full – especially if there’s a dirty dish that you need to use, stat.

But here’s the deal.

Each time you run a half-full cycle you’re doubling your “per-dish” water consumption, energy consumption, and greenhouse emissions.

Fortunately, there’s a more frugal and environmentally-conscious option in such cases.

Keep some dish soap around (the best one is this right here) to hand-wash items you desperately need.

That way, you can still run the dishwasher once it’s full.

And since we’re speaking of environmental friendliness...

7. Don’t use the dry cycle

The best – and easiest – way to dry wet dishes is to simply allow them to air-dry.

Just open the dishwasher door once the cycle is done and wait until they’re dry.

Air drying consumes zero energy. The same cannot be said of your dishwasher’s dry cycle.

A recent study discovered that 11% of the energy used during a dishwashing cycle is spent on drying.

And 54% of dishwasher owners use the dry cycle.

Don’t be part of that group. Allow wet dishes to air dry instead.

If you like saving energy while giving the planet a break, you’re going to love what comes next.

8. Some like it hot

Dishwashers are notorious for operating at high temperatures, and manufacturers claim this helps getting dishes clean.

However, two studies – one conducted at Rutgers University and one carried out at Ohio State University – contradict the conventional wisdom that hotter water = cleaner dishes.

The research teams found out that microbes can be removed just as well with cool water.

The excessively high water temperatures touted by dishwasher manufacturers are simply not necessary.

That’s something to keep in mind when choosing the water temperature of a dishwashing cycle – especially because of the energy usage involved.

According to a study by researchers from the University of Central Florida, 60% of most dishwashers’ total energy consumption comes from heating the water.

Lower temperatures will get your dishes just as clean, while lowering your energy bill and your carbon footprint.

9. Don’t use dishwasher pods

If you have small children living in your home, this one is for you.

Kids love to play with dishwasher pods because of their squishy texture. It feels like a toy.

Unfortunately, as dishwasher pods have become more common, doctors have documented an uptick in children’s injuries as a result.

Often these injuries stem from children squeezing the pods with their fingers or mouth until they burst, often into the child’s eyes, which causes severe injuries.

If the pod bursts after being bitten, the child will accidentally swallow some of the detergent.

A study of such emergency room cases found that this causes internal tissue damage, intense inflammation, and swelling.

If you have kids, then at very least you’ll want to keep those pods out of their reach.

A slightly better option is to switch to powdered detergent.

But since even powdered detergent may be tempting for a little one to sample (some of them do come in appetizing scents), the safest option of all is to shift to hand-washing the dishes with an all-natural dish soap.

10. Items that are not dishwasher safe

Finally, there are some items that won’t last long if washed in a dishwasher.

Among those is anything made from wood, like ladles or cutting boards. They will dry out, crack, and start hosting microbes, making the wood turn black.

Other items that should never be washed inside a dishwasher are knives, cast iron pots, nonstick pans, hand-painted dishes, and lots more. (You can find a full list of items that should be kept out of the dishwasher here).

All of these items should be washed by hand, and for most of them you should use dish soap.

Luckily, we’ve found the most natural dish soap there is. It really works, and as an added bonus, it won’t dry out your hands.

You can check it out here.

And if you don’t want to wash dirty dishes yourself, you can always ask you kids to help out!

Here are some tips on motivating your kids to wash the dishes.

Now you know how to load a dishwasher!

We hope you’ve found one or two tips helpful for improving your dishwashing game.

If you wanna become even more of a kitchen pro, you might want to read our post on how to clean a coffee maker with baking soda, or why you should use natural dish soap instead of conventional detergent (spoiler alert: it prevents toxic residue from coating your dishes).

(When you make a purchase from links in this post we might receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.)


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