How to Load Your Dishwasher For Cleaner Dishes

You can count on The Maids to keep your home clean week after week, but you have to count on your dishwasher every day. Your dishwasher saves you time and gets your dishes sparkling clean—if you maintain it, use the right cleaning products and load your dishwasher the right way. 

It’s best to check the dishwasher manual for any special loading instructions and an understanding of your dishwasher’s settings, but there are some universal hints and tricks you should know. Follow these field-tested tips to load your dishwasher for optimal performance and keep it churning out sparkling clean dishes day after day. 

Before we go over the best loading techniques, let’s make sure your dishwasher is set up to get the job done right. 

How to Optimize Your Dishwasher’s Performance

From taking advantage of energy saver modes to using the right dishwasher detergent, there are plenty of ways to save money and time and still have squeaky clean dishes. Most dishwasher controls are self explanatory, but if you need help from the manual and you don’t have one, chances are you can find it online

First, let’s solve an old dishwasher “best practices” debate for good. You do not have to rinse dishes before you put them in the dishwasher to get them clean! According to Consumer Reports, pre-rinsing isn’t necessary with modern dishwashers because they automatically adjust the wash cycle based on how dirty the dishes are. 

Turn Up the Heat

To help your dishwasher clean efficiently, you have to make sure the MINIMUM water temperature from your water heater is at 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This minimum temperature ensures your dishwasher will clean well across a range of settings. You can easily check your home’s water temperature with a glass of hot water and a meat thermometer.

If your test falls short, adjust your water heater to the correct temperature. CAUTION: Hotter may seem better, but don’t raise the temperature on your water heater above 120 degrees to avoid the risk of burns when showering or bathing.  

Choose the Right Dishwashing Detergent

Now that you have the temperature right and you know to skip the pre-rinse in your sink, which dishwasher detergent should you use? The results are in and it might be time to make the switch from powder to pods. Traditional liquid and powder detergent get the job done, but pods and gel packs can perform better. According to GE’s dish expert, Mike Nerdig, pods are the clear winner.  “I see pods as the best way to go. Name-brand detergent companies have invested heavily in their performance.” 

Consumer Reports also endorses tabs or pods as the most effective dishwasher detergents. Testing results found that tabs and pods cleaned dishes best and left fewer water spots, film, or discoloration than traditional dishwashing liquids and powders. Make sure you store dishwashing pods away from young children. The small size and bright colors are hard to resist for little ones.

While we’re at it, let’s put another dishwasher debate topic to rest. Yes, dishwashing liquid is great for hand washing dishes in the sink and it makes sense that “dishwashing liquid” should work in our dishwasher just fine, right? Wrong. Your dishwasher requires specific formulations identified as “dishwasher detergents.” If you’ve ever tested this out for yourself and ended up with a kitchen that looks like a bubble bath, then you know. If you haven’t, just take our word for it!

Use This Dishwasher Loading Strategy for Super Clean Dishes

Let’s start with some dishwasher 101. The top rack is for concave items such as bowls, mugs, glasses, large silverware and serving utensils. You don’t want large utensils falling through the bottom rack and jamming up the dishwasher spray arms. The top rack is also where you should load dishwasher-safe plastics, to prevent them from warping or melting because of the heating element. The bottom rack is for plates, cutting boards, pots, platters and eating utensils.

The direction your dishes face makes a difference in how clean they get. For bowls on the top rack, the ones in the front should face the rear and the ones in the rear should face forward. This alignment makes the most of your dishwasher’s design by allowing the maximum amount of water to reach dirty dishes. Similarly, plates on the bottom rack will get their cleanest if they are all facing toward the center of the rack. Staggering large and small dishes will also help the water spray and detergent reach all the dirt and grease

Dishwasher-safe cutting boards, platters and other large pieces are loaded vertically along the sides or back of the lower rack to avoid blocking water spray. An exception would be for casserole dishes and other bakeware with baked-on messes. These should be placed face down on the bottom rack for optimal cleaning. You’ll lose a bit of space and block some spray, but your dirtiest baking dishes will come out shiny and clean.

Typically, your utensil holder will be on the bottom rack of your dishwasher. If it’s not, consider moving it there for cleaner eating utensils. It might seem logical to load forks, spoons, and knives in separate compartments, but mixing them together will produce cleaner utensils. Spoons especially tend to “nest” together, making it harder for water jets and dishwashing detergent to reach the whole surface of the utensil. For safety’s sake, most major dishwasher manufacturers agree that loading knives with the blades down is the best practice. 

Which brings us to a third dishwasher debate: Should you load utensils, other than knives, handles down or handles up? This debate doesn’t have a clear winner because both sides make valid points. The “handles down” crowd, including Kenmore, say it’s best to load forks and spoons with their handles down for superior cleaning. BUT. LG, Bosch and others from the “handles up” camp recommend loading forks with the handles up for the same safety reasons as knives. 

A common consensus is that forks and spoons come out cleaner if they are loaded handles down. A third, less-noted option is to mix things up and load some forks and spoons with the handles down and some with the handles up. Regardless of how you load your utensils, if you follow the other tips and tricks here, those forks and spoons should come out clean just fine. 

Things You Should NEVER Put in Your Dishwasher

(And Some Unlikely Things You Should!)

Some things you should never put in your dishwasher are crystal, gold-trimmed china, vases, brass, copper and other valuable and/or delicate items. The inside of a dishwasher is not a calm or safe environment for anything fragile or prone to oxidation. Avoid washing any wooden utensils, cutting boards or cheese boards in your dishwasher too, because the hot water will degrade the wood. 

If you want to keep your culinary skills sharp, never put chef-quality knives in the dishwasher. While you rightfully want to avoid getting nicked by a sharp blade while you’re washing it by hand, your dishwasher can dull even the finest blades. The best way to care for fine cutlery is to hand wash knives and dry them with a towel carefully. Avoid air drying cutlery because it will dull faster and rust more easily. 

While there are many things you shouldn’t wash in a dishwasher, there are quite a few items your dishwasher can handle that aren’t dishes. Because most dishwashers run cycles with temperatures between 130 and 170 degrees Fahrenheit, your dishwasher is a sanitizing wonder. Be sure to turn off “heat dry” for special dishwasher chores like these. 

Kids mean germs, so why not just throw those pacifiers, teethers and even small toys into the dishwasher for a quick, sanitizing cleanup? You can also sanitize and clean toothbrushes and toothbrush holders to get rid of germs and bacteria—especially handy during flu season. Your favorite scrub pads and kitchen sponges can last longer and be ready for action more often when you wash them on the top rack of your dishwasher. Wash the ones lying around the sink with every load of dishes and you’ll always have fresh, germ-free cleaning sponges at the ready.  

Turn your dishwasher into a multi-tasking appliance that works as hard and effectively as it should when you follow these tips and tricks. Your dishes will be fresh and clean load after load and your dishwasher will run at peak performance. Check out our blog for more helpful hints for the kitchen and see how The Maids can help you keep your whole house clean week after week.   


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