Our 30 Best Tips for Loading (and Using) the Dishwasher the Correct Way

updated Sep 4, 2019
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(Image credit: Diana Paulson)

No other household appliance is as controversial as the humble dishwasher. How many fights have you gotten into over the best way to load the dishwasher? Or whose turn it is to empty it? Or who put the dirty fork in with all the clean ones?

To help save families and roommate relationships everywhere, we’ve rounded up this mega list. It’s got our very best tips, tricks, and pieces of advice when it comes to dishwashers.

1. Use less dishwasher detergent. No, even less than that.

Most of us use too much dishwasher detergent. Way too much. And not only does it cost us money, but too much detergent can also scratch our dishes or make glasses come out cloudy. Whether you’re using liquid, powder, or even pods, you need way less than the package recommends.

Those plates are facing the wrong way! (Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

2. Load plates so that they face the center.

The sprayer arm works from the middle out, so you want to load plates — and cutting boards, sheet pans, etc! — facing the middle of the dishwasher. This way, they’re sure to get the proper spray treatment they need.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

3. Add a bowl full of vinegar every once in a while.

If you have hard water in your area, you may notice spots on dishes or that your glasses are getting cloudy. The most simple solution? Put a bowl full of vinegar on the top rack before you run a cycle. It’ll act as a rinse aid and combat that hard water staining.

4. Or consider an actual rinse aid.

In addition to those hard water spots, rinse aid can help your dishes dry better, which is helpful if you’re skipping the heat cycle to save energy, or if you notice that your dishes are still wet when your heat cycle finishes.


5. Try the detergent our Editor-in-Chief swears by.

Our Editor-in-Chief, Faith Durand, has some strong opinions on dishwashers and detergent. She uses Grab Green Natural Automatic Dishwashing Detergent Powder and is slowly getting the rest of the Kitchn staff to make the switch.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

6. Use a mesh laundry bag.

Technically designed to protect delicate unmentionables in the washing machine, mesh laundry bags can also be put to good use in the kitchen. Load one up with small items and place it on the top rack, and it’ll keep said pieces from getting lost in the fray.

7. And a wire dish rack.

For items that are too big for a mesh laundry bag but not big enough that they won’t flip around during a cycle (looking at you, Glad containers!), consider a wire dish rack. Turn it upside down and use it to anchor items down.

(Image credit: Christine Han)

8. Clean it.

You’d think dishwashers would be inherently clean, but over time they can collect food debris, soap residue, and gunk that needs to be wiped away. It’s not all that complicated — it just needs to be done.

Get the steps: How to Clean a Dishwasher

(Image credit: Kitchn Video)

9. Put it to use cleaning some surprising things.

Your dishwasher can, uh, wash more than just your dishes. You can also put it to work cleaning your cabinet hardware, faux succulents, light switch covers, and more.

10. Unload the bottom first.

When it’s time to put the all-clean dishes away, start with the bottom rack. This way, if anything on the top rack has pooled water, you won’t spill it all over the dry dishes below. This is key, remember, because it’s bad to put still-wet dishes in your cabinets.

11. Mix up your silverware basket.

While a lot of lists like this will tell you to sort your silverware as you put it in the dishwasher so that it’s easier to unload once it’s clean, we say don’t do that. If you sort your spoons all together, it’s likely that they’ll nest into each other and won’t get clean. Instead, mix them up by kind and place some up and some down.

(Image credit: Christine Han)

12. Run your sink’s faucet for a bit before you start the dishwasher.

Before starting the dishwasher, turn on your sink’s faucet and run the water until it’s hot to the touch. This way, your first dishwasher fill cycle will be hot, instead of cold. This is an especially important tip during the winter.

13. Stop rinsing your dishes.

Although you certainly do need to scrape your plates of any bits of food, you do not need to rinse your dishes before you put them in the dishwasher. In fact, doing so could make the soap less effective.

(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

14. Keep expensive knives outta there.

There are all sorts of things you shouldn’t put in the dishwasher, and your expensive knives top the list.

15. Beware of the sprayer arm.

As mentioned before, your dishwasher most likely has a sprayer arm or ring at the bottom of the dishwasher. Take a minute to locate it. See it? Now, make sure to never block it. If you put a big, say, mixing bowl over it, you’ll have the world’s cleanest mixing bowl but the rest of the dishes in the load will still be dirty at the end of the cycle.

(Image credit: Kitchn Video)

16. Use it as a drying rack.

Washing a lot of dishes by hand? Or just a few large, cumbersome ones that won’t fit in your countertop drying rack? Open the door to the dishwasher, pull out the empty racks, and there you go! Instant drying racks.

(Image credit: Christine Gallary)

17. Open it up to contain cooking spray.

Spraying muffin tins, cake pans, or casserole dishes with cooking spray can be messy. If you’re not careful, your entire countertop ends up with a film on it. To corral the stream, try spraying into an either dirty or empty dishwasher.

(Image credit: Kitchn Video)

18. Turn it into a plate warmer.

The same warm air that’s used to dry your dishes can be used as a cycle on its own. If you’re serving up a fancy meal or your kitchen is a little colder than you’d like, look for the plate warmer setting on your dishwasher.

19. Save your old dishwasher baskets.

A reader actually gave us this tip and it might come in handy if you’re lucky enough to get a new dishwasher: “Save the baskets and racks from your old dishwasher. The old baskets will often fit inside your new dishwasher or you can use the old baskets underneath your sink or to store odds and ends in the pantry. You can use the racks in your garage or under a bed for storage.”

20. Give the manual a read.

We know where most appliance manuals end up — in a pile with other appliance manuals. But it’s worth taking the time to dig yours up or looking for it online. Why? Because most manufacturers give you a diagram for the best way to load the appliance. At the very least, you can use it as proof to your spouse that you’re doing it right.

21. Don’t run it when it’s half full.

It may be tempting to run a load just so you can get a few dirty pieces back in the rotation, but that’s one of the worst things you can do — environmentally speaking.

22. But don’t overload it.

At the same time, a dishwasher can be TOO full. If you put too many dishes in there, some items may block water from flowing to others nearby. Load up the racks so that everything has a space and that nothing clangs together when you give the racks a little shake test.

(Image credit: Diana Liang)

23. Load from back to front.

Don’t just open the dishwasher a crack and throw something in there. It’s better, in the long run, to pull the drawer all the way out and load from the back to the front. This won’t affect how your dishwasher cleans — it’ll just make it easier for you to load the dishwasher.

24. Put delicates on the top.

Anything that’s fragile (glasses, plastic, etc.) belongs on the top rack. Higher up, the water pressure’s just a little lower, and the water isn’t as hot, so you’re less likely to have those things move around or melt.

25. Clean the dishwasher seals.

When you clean your dishwasher (see number eight on this list!) you’re going to clean the seals, but this is a nice little thing you can do between cleans. Use a damp towel to clean the gunk out from around the rubber gasket in the door and around the soap door.

(Image credit: Mugsby)

26. Get one of those magnets that tells people whether the dishwasher’s contents are clean or dirty.

Because it really is important for people to know whether or not they can put their dirty coffee cup into the dishwasher. We’re partial to this cute wood one from Etsy.

Buy: Clean Dirty Dishwasher Magnet, $10 at Etsy

27. Wash dirty stuff with equally dirty stuff.

Just like with laundry, you’ll want to keep your soil levels together when washing to end up with the best performance. So if you have some slightly dirty plates and some extra-dirty bowls, it might be best to use a lower wash setting and to tackle the bowls by hand in the sink.

28. Pick up some tine caps.

Did you know that you can buy plastic caps to cover up your rusted or poking-out tines? You can! Get a pack on Amazon a, pop them on, and your super-old dishwasher racks will look as good as new. And you won’t have to worry about them scratching up your dishes.

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

29. Clean it with Kool-Aid.

This isn’t something we suggest over a regular ol’ cleaning, but in a pinch you can use Lemonade Kool-Aid. True fact.

30. Don’t panic and think that dirty dishes are a sign you need a new dishwasher.

Seeing a few dirty dishes after a rinse cycle isn’t necessarily a sign that your dishwasher needs to be replaced. You could be using the wrong kind of soap, you might be loading the dishwasher wrong, you might be rinsing too well in advance, etc. Our point? Don’t be too fast to jump to any drastic conclusions.

Do you have any other tips to add? Leave them in the comments below!