How to Load a Dishwasher

Doing it right helps your dishes come out squeaky-clean every time

detail of person loading dishwasher, putting mug in top drawer Photo: iStock

Dishwashers are one of the most hardworking home appliances. On a daily basis, they do the heavy lifting in our kitchen and work overtime at the holidays and gatherings. So here at Consumer Reports, we really put them through the wringer in our tests. We load each dishwasher with 10 place settings of white ceramic dishes with baked-on food, then run it on the normal cycle (or its equivalent). When the cycle is complete, we use a photo-imaging machine to determine precisely how clean each dish is.

Dishwashers that make our list of top picks deliver sparkling results every time. But even the best of the bunch won’t get the job done if they’re loaded improperly. Overfilling the machine and placing platters and cutlery in the wrong spots are common mistakes that can leave grime on your place settings at the end of a wash.

More on Dishwashers

It’s a good idea to check the owner’s manual for any special loading instructions, but the following tips should help most dishwashers deliver optimum results.

Top Rack
Cups, glasses, and small bowls should be placed in the top rack. Avoid overcrowding, which increases the risk of breakage and obstructs the flow of water and detergent. Dishwasher-safe plastics also belong on the top rack, away from any heating element, which can cause warping.

Bottom Rack
Plates, serving bowls, and other large items belong on the bottom rack. Scrape big chunks of leftover food into the trash, but pre-rinsing isn’t necessary with modern dishwashers because they have sensors that adjust the wash cycle based on how dirty the dishes are. Platters, dishwasher-safe cutting boards, and other oversized pieces should be placed toward the sides and back so that the spray arm has flexibility to move around freely. Place items with baked-on food facedown and toward the lower spray arm. Aluminum and stainless steel can usually go in the dishwasher, but brass, bronze, wood, and china with gold leaf should all be hand-washed to avoid discoloration or damage. Also keep in mind that dishwasher-safe pots and pans can go on the bottom rack, but don’t run these in the same load with fragile china.

Silverware
Forks and spoons should be placed in the basket with handles facing down. Knife handles go up so that you don’t need to grab a sharp blade to remove them. Mix spoons, forks, and knives to keep them from nesting.

Unloading
Empty the bottom rack first. Otherwise, water that collects on the concave surfaces of mugs and glasses in the top rack will spill onto the plates, pots, and dishes below.

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Illustration: Chris Philpot

Headshot of Perry Santanachote, editor with the Home editorial team at Consumer Reports

Perry Santanachote

I cover the intersection of people, products, and sustainability, and try to provide humorous but useful advice for everyday living. I love to dive deep into how things work, and debunking myths might be my favorite pastime. But what I aim to be above all else is a guiding voice while you're shopping, telling you what's a value, what's a ripoff, and what's just right for you and your family.