How to Load a Dishwasher the Right Way

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Is food sticking to your dishes? Do you feel like you can’t fit much in your machine? 

Understanding how to load a dishwasher correctly could significantly improve your washer’s efficiency.

This appliance works hard for us and can make our lives so much easier. However, when misused, it can be a source of frustration and extra work.

Stay reassured; I explain in detail the proper way to load a dishwasher.

Why Does It Matter?

Correctly filling up your dishwasher can increase your machine’s performance. You’ll save on water, cleaning products, and energy. 

Get it wrong and you may find yourself handwashing dishes out of the dishwasher, or even ruining your favorite pan.

General Rules

Before you get loading, here are some general rules:

  • Checking your owner’s manual
  • Use adequate detergent
  • Scrape food out
  • Not everything goes in the dishwasher – check if it’s dishwasher safe
  • Don’t overload
  • Dishes facing down

Check Your Owner’s Manual

Start by reading the dishwasher’s manual, as instructions can significantly differ from one brand to another.

Your machine may also come with unique features and settings, such as eco-friendly mode or an adjustable top rack.

Use Adequate Detergent

You may become a super-loader, but it’ll be challenging to reach an optimum wash if your detergent is inadequate.

For instance, if your city provides harder water than usual, make sure to purchase salt or anti-lime powder to prevent limescale deposits. 

Scrape Food Out

To avoid clogging the drain and ease your dishwasher’s task, remove food residue. This includes anything from small chicken bones to grains of rice. 

Rinsing isn’t always necessary for plates. However, it can be useful for a meal of shrimp or fish and if you aren’t running the dishwasher right away.

Leaving cookware to soak can be risky – that’s how it can get damaged. Sometimes though a little pre-soak before putting in the dishwasher can help. Just remember if it’s been soaking more than half an hour – it’s now a biology experiment!

What Not to Put in a Dishwasher

A dishwasher can do more damage than good on specific materials and utensils.

It’s best to hand-wash the following kitchenware:

  • Wood items, such as a cutting board
  • Insulated mugs
  • Crystal kitchenware
  • Certain cookware (like cast iron)
  • Hand-painted cups and plates
  • Sharp knives, as they may go dull

As for metals, some stainless steel and aluminum dishes are dishwasher-compatible, but always check the manufacturer’s recommendations. Bronze, cast iron, gold, silver, and brass should be hand-washed to avoid damage. (No I don’t have gold flatware, I’m just covering all bases! There is apparently such a thing…)

When it comes to things like large pasta pots I consider if it’s a good idea. Too large and it takes up half the dishwasher. Even worse, it can block the rotating sprinklers.

Yet these large pots can also be quite quick to hand wash.

Don’t Overload

It can be tempting to force dishes inside the dishwasher. However, keep in mind that overloading the machine will result in a less-efficient cycle. 

You also need to make sure that the spinning arm can move freely. If water can’t reach the cookware, the dishes will remain dirty. 

Tip: When you’ve finished loading the dishwasher give the spinning arm, a, well, a spin. If it rotates freely – great! If not – you need to remove whatever’s blocking it! (The spinning arm is normally in the middle of the dishwasher, just under the top rack.

Dishes Facing Down

Whether you’re loading the top or bottom rack, keep your cups, pots, and dishes facing down. This should prevent dirty and soapy water from accumulating inside. 

Loading Cutlery

Dishwashers generally come with a separate loading compartment for cutlery. You may have a few “open-spaces” and/or tiny openings to place them individually. 

The latter is ideal for maintaining social distances, especially between spoons. They tend to hug each other, preventing water from reaching in between.

Finally, and for safety measures, knives should face down to avoid injuries.

Loading the Top Rack

The following items typically belong in the top rack:

  • Plastic
  • Glasses, bowls, and cups
  • Utensils
  • Anything for young children


Although some types of plastic can withstand heat, it generally has a low resistance to heat. When exposed to high temperatures, this material can also leak harmful chemicals

The bottom rack is usually warmer than the top one. Hence, always organize plastic items—such as Tupperware—over the top rack.

Glasses, Bowls and Cups

Stack the bowls facing down and in an angle to save space.

As for glasses, make sure they don’t touch each other. During the wash, the vibrations could create cracks and damages. 

Some dishwashers also include a unique safety rack for wine glasses. Don’t forget to use it, or they might tip during the cycle.


Long utensils should also lay down on the top rack. For curvy ones—such as a soup spoon—remember to turn them upside down.

Loading the Bottom Rack

Besides the cutlery already mentioned, the following cookware should fit in the bottom rack:

Long and Flat Items

Slide cutting boards and long flat platters on the edges. You won’t be blocking the water spray, and you’ll save the center area for larger items.


Most of the bottom rack serves to position plates. For optimum water flow, try to alternate between large and smaller dessert plates. 

If you have pots, serving bowls or other large items, these also belong to the lower tray.

Final Tips!

Before pressing start, here are a few more tips:

  • Run the dishwasher at night: Electricity is often cheaper at night. This might not be practical for everyone though.
  • Run it when full: If you need to run your dishwasher before it’s full, use the “half-cycle” setting to save on water and energy.
  • Unloading: Empty the lower tray first. If water has accumulated in the top rack, it’ll spill over the dishes placed underneath.
  • Use the right setting: Turbo settings are great if you need your dishes quickly but use more electricity and water. Eco settings take the longest but are the cheapest!

What Next?

While there’s some flexibility on how to load a dishwasher, following simple rules means your dishes actually come out clean.

Remember that not all cookware is dishwasher-safe. Be sure to place any plastic items on the top rack and leave space between cutlery and glasses. 

If you are keen on washing your cookware in the dishwasher, check out my dishwasher-safe cookware guide.

Many of us may not be loading our dishwasher efficiently. However, we can always re-adjust our habits with the above tips.

As a mum of two I know not all these rules are easy to follow. Do what you can. Sometimes doing it right actually saves time in the long run!