The Very Best Tips You’ll Ever Read on Loading Utensils in the Dishwasher

updated May 14, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

When it comes to loading the dishwasher, your utensils are small potatoes. (Not literally, of course; they’re utensils.) Because clearly a fork doesn’t take up as much room as, say, a serving platter. But surely you’re loading up the machine with more than one fork. Lots of forks, more likely. And spoons! And butter knives, and tongs, and spatulas! It all adds up. So I thought it was time to share some tips that are specifically all about loading utensils into the dishwasher.

First, I’ll settle the whole handles-up-versus-down debate!

1. Load utensils so that the heads are up.

Until somewhat recently, I loaded all my utensils down — I thought it made sense to keep the handles up, so that you’re not grabbing at the parts you eat with! Then I learned that, with the exception of sharp knives, it’s best to keep the serving (dirty!) side up. The jets can more easily clean the dirty parts when they’re not low in the holder. That’s why a lot of new washing machines force you to load utensils in by dropping the handles into individual slots.

2. Soak grimy utensils in soapy water first.

You obviously don’t have to thoroughly clean your utensils before putting them in the dishwasher — but giving them a good soak first can loosen up stuck-on grime, making it easier for the appliance to actually clean them. Just don’t get them too clean: Doing so could make the soap less effective.

3. You might be able to relocate your utensil holder.

Need more room to load dirty dishes? Some dishwashers allow you to fit the utensil holder in your door, freeing up space on the bottom rack for plates or whatever needs washing. Check to see if this brilliant TikTok hack applies to your dishwasher!

4. Organize them by category.

Putting utensils away when they’re dry is half the battle! Make that part of the job a whole lot easier by organizing your flatware according to category — keeping spoons with spoons, forks with forks, and knives (face down!) with knives. 

5. But don’t let them nest.

You have to be careful with spoons. If they, um, spoon together, they won’t come out entirely clean. If you can’t space things out, consider breaking the rules a little and turning a spoon or two upside-down or adding a fork to mix things up.  

Credit: Joe Lingeman

6. Use mesh bags.

Have tiny kiddie silverware around? Wrangle the dirty ones in a small, mesh laundry bag, then add them to the top shelf! This trick makes it so much easier to grab these little pieces and put them away when the dishwasher is done.

7. Don’t overload the caddy.

Just as you don’t want to load too many dishes on the racks, be careful not to stuff your utensil too full, either. Too much stuff in the caddy will result in some pieces coming out dirty, as some utensils could block water from flowing to others.

8. Unload the utensils first.

Always unload the bottom rack first when your dishes are clean, starting with your utensils. This way, if the top rack contains bowls or cups with pooled water, you won’t spill all over the dry utensils below and create more work for yourself!

9. Load larger ones on the top rack.

Plastic or metal spatulas or serving spoons are *technically* utensils, but they definitely shouldn’t go in your utensil holder because they’ll block water and soap from reaching the smaller silverware. Always load them flat on the top rack instead.

10. Know which ones should be hand-washed.

Dishwashers are an amazing convenience, but it’s important to know what to wash by hand! When it comes to utensils, pricy knives are a no-no, and so are wood utensils — both of which can get damaged by the heat in your dishwasher.

Read more: 15 Things You Probably Shouldn’t Put in the Dishwasher

Got any more tips to add? Leave them in the comments below.