5 Surprising Ways to Maximize the Space in Your Dishwasher

updated Sep 11, 2021
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
A person loading dishes into a dishwasher
Credit: Joe Lingeman

When I was growing up, the dishwasher was a source of contention for my parents: My mom, so intentional in most things she did, would just sort of throw things into the dishwasher helter-skelter. My dad, grumbling to himself, would unload and reload the dishes in a more orderly fashion. Inevitably, he was able to fit more dishes and his method also made unloading that much easier, because glasses were with glasses, plates with plates, and so on and so forth. These days, it’s just a given that my dad does the dishes — and everyone is happy.

I’ve learned a few dishwasher tricks from my dad over the years — and also had my fair share of spats with significant others over the right way to load the dishwasher. In case you were wondering, my way is the right way!

Here are five ways to make the most of your dishwasher space, without overcrowding. (Because, for energy reasons, you always want to run a full load. But you don’t want it to be too full that things come out still dirty.) 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

1. Take out the silverware caddy.

Fact: Silverware is pretty easy to clean. All you need is a sink full of soapy water. Soak, rinse, and you’re done. Bulky items like mixing bowls, Instant Pot liners, and salad spinners? Not so easy. If you find yourself staring down a pile of starchy pasta pots, cheesy casserole dishes, and gritty colanders, do yourself a favor and take the silverware caddy out. You’ll be surprised how much that bottom rack can hold when it’s not storing your forks and knives!

2. Put sheet pans around the perimeter. 

Maybe you’re staring at what seems to be a full dishwasher and thinking I can’t possibly fit anything else in there. I’d argue you can: The perimeter of the dishwasher is my favorite spot for squeezing in flat items like sheet pans, plastic cutting boards, and cooling racks. Putting them here leaves valuable space for bulkier items and it ensures they get hit by the spray arm.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

3. Use a mesh bag to hold small pieces.

If, on the other hand, you find yourself with loads of lids, water bottle tops, and other small stuff that doesn’t really seem to have a home in the dishwasher, here’s what you do: Throw them in a mesh laundry bag. Yes, the kind you use for your unmentionables when you do laundry. This will keep items them from falling through the cracks … literally. Just lay the bag on top of the stuff on your top rack (creating space out of thin air!) and let your dishwasher do its thing.

4. Load your glasses between the tines.

Maybe this is old news, but for some reason this continues to rock my world whenever I think about it: Glasses should always go between the tines, not on top of them. You’ll get cleaner glasses (with no water spot where the tine is), and you’ll avoid breakage. And you’ll find that you’ll be able to fit more glasses in your dishwasher this way. 

5. Fill in bottom-rack spaces with certain top-rack items.

Some things simply can’t go on the bottom rack (plastics can melt!), but if you find yourself with a little gap here and a little gap there between all the big stuff on the bottom, fill in the spaces with ice cream bowls, mugs, and the like. These sorts of things typically live on the top but can help maximize space when you’ve got a very full load. Just be sure to give the racks the shake test before you run the cycle.

Do you have any smart tips to make more space in the dishwasher? Share them in the comments below!