Let's settle the debate.

By Stacey Ballis
July 21, 2020
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One of the things that happens when you start to produce three meals and countless snacks for your household every day is that the volume of dishwashing can double or even quadruple. And those of us blessed with dishwashers seem to be in a constant never-ending cycle of loading, running, reloading. Lather, rinse, repeat. All day, every day.

All of this dishwashing has also become a matter of contentiousness within households. I've spoken with three people who have told me that they don't worry the virus is going to kill their spouse; they worry that they are going to kill their spouse if they load the dishwasher wrong one more time.

All light-hearted spouse-ribbing aside, there is definitely a right way and a wrong way to load your dishwasher. You'll save time, water, and money if you do it properly, so we asked the experts to tell us how it's done.

How to Load a Dishwasher

"A properly loaded dishwasher ensures better cleaning so you can optimize your cycle," say the folks at Whirlpool, one of the leading manufacturers of dishwashers. And they are not wrong. Many of the biggest issues with dishwashers not functioning the way you want them to come down to user error. So, in hopes of saving your dishes and your marriage, we thought we should take you through the most important tips and tricks for loading your dishes properly.

1. Remove leftover food.

To start, be sure that all food is scraped off of your items. You don't need to "pre-wash" dishes, but larger food particles should be removed before loading. Anything super sticky or baked on might benefit from a pre-washing soak to loosen it a bit. Otherwise, you risk baking it on even more during the heated dry cycle.

2. Hand wash the delicates.

The team at Bosch says, "Before loading your dishes, always check that they are dishwasher-safe. Otherwise they may crack, warp, or discolor. In general, materials like aluminum, cast iron, pewter, brass, tin, and bronze are not suitable for washing in dishwashers as they are sensitive to high heat." Those items are best left for hand-washing.

3. Put your dishes in the right place.

First and foremost, load items dirty side face down and at an angle towards the center of the dishwasher. This is very important. It ensures that the spray arms can properly reach the dirty surfaces, and that water can drain off properly, too. Never face the dirty sides of dishes toward the exterior walls of your dishwasher.

Dishes do have suggested spaces inside the machine, too, and your cycle will work best if you follow those suggested zones as laid out by your dishwasher's manufacturer. "The best place for your heaviest dirtiest cookware is the bottom of the dishwasher," Miele's product consultant, Fiona Breitkreuz, says. The bottom rack of your dishwasher will do the most intense cleaning, so be sure that pots and pans, and items that need more serious cleaning, are organized on that bottom rack.

Plastics should always be on the top rack, since the heating element on the bottom of the unit can warp, melt, or damage plastics. Also, plastics are difficult to dry because they have a porous surface and tend to collect droplets, so be prepared that they may still be a bit wet when the cycle is over; that is not a flaw in your unit.

The upper rack is also good for smaller items, like bowls and cups. 

Plates should always be stacked on their sides in the proper plate slots for effective washing. Those slots are designed to keep them properly distanced so that the spray can reach them.

Utensils should be placed either in the top utensil rack or the basket below. If your model has a basket, be sure that there is room between utensils and that dirty spoons are not, well, spooning in the basket.

Housewife in kitchen
Credit: Group4 Studio/Getty Images

4. Make sure every part moves freely.

Always be sure that your spray arms can move freely once you have fully loaded your dishwasher. Give them a little push with the drawers in place. If they hit something, rearrange your dishes.

"These spray arms rotate to disperse streams of water throughout a wash to clean your dishes effectively. Thus, keeping their path clear of any obstruction will ensure that the arms can rotate properly for a thorough wash. Tall items such as trays or jugs, as well as items that stick below the basket (ladles and pot handles), should be loaded carefully," warns the Bosch team.

KitchenAid adds, "Loading a dishwasher is the first step to using the appliance properly. It will not turn on if there are problems with correctly shutting the dishwasher door. You may need to reorganize your dishes or load fewer dishes."

5. Take things out if it feels crowded.

Generally speaking, never overload your dishwasher. The more you cram in the more likely something is going to get missed, and the only thing more annoying than loading and reloading your dishwasher is pulling items out of a clean load to find that they have not actually been cleaned.

6. Accept the differences.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, decide on your personal dishwasher approach. If you are someone who is going to be sent into a tizzy when someone you live with loads the washer "wrong," perhaps make a pact that you always load and they always empty and put away to divide the tasks evenly.

If you really want everyone in your home to know how to do it properly, then set aside a time after a meal to demonstrate and give everyone of dishwasher-loading age a copy of this article with your bulleted notes. Explain gently and lovingly that this particular chore is important to get right for the health and safety of the machine, and remind them that if the dishwasher breaks, that it will be three meals a day of hand-washing and drying for the team.

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