Handy Tips to Make Dishwasher Duty a Breeze

No more scrubbing!

August 14, 2018

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Of all the things I knew I'd be giving up when I moved from California to New York—perfect weather, my trusty Volkswagen, and ample square footage—it was my dishwasher that was most painful to part with. An apartment with this treasured kitchen appliance is, to put it frankly, out of my budget right now—at least on the bustling isle of Manhattan.

And while I've gotten used to hand washing dishes (out of necessity, not choice) for what seems like hours on end, oh how I long for the days of loading stacks of dirty plates, cookware, and glassware (whether it be after a dinner party, or a particularly complex recipe) into the dishwasher in 10 minutes flat. It's undoubtedly the quickest and easiest way to make greasy, grimy dishes look brand spankin' new without wasting gallons of water in the process. Bonus: It becomes even quicker and easier if you follow these simple tips and tricks the next time you load it up. They may seem straightforward, but trust me—the little details make all the difference.

Your dishwasher isn't just for dishes! Aside from your standard cookware and serveware, you can (and should!) clean certain household items that are particularly susceptible to germs in your dishwasher: plastic kids toys and baseball caps can go in the top rack; and metal cabinet handles and plastic combs can go in the silverware caddy, according to Real Simple. Just make sure to run a separate, gentle load for these items—you don't want them mixing with your dirty dishes—and for something like kids toys, check the label to ensure they’re dishwasher safe.

Load (almost) everything upside down, especially glassware and knives. This might seem obvious, but it's worth mentioning since I've seen friends toss cups and bowls right-side up on more than one occasion. You should always load everything upside down, says our co-founder Merrill Stubbs. This ensures the inside of those glasses and bowls get sparkling clean, without any pieces of gunk sticking around. As for the knives, well, that goes without saying. There is one exception to this general rule of thumb, however: certain pieces of silverware, like forks and spoons, should always be loaded right side up.

When loading, start from back to front. Properly loading—and eventually unloading—a dishwasher is all about strategy, and Merrill's tip to always load items from back to front works every time. Not only does it maximize the space in your dishwasher (so you're not stuck with a few extra plates that don't fit), it actually the reduces the risk of breaking something and makes unloading a total breeze. And if you're cleaning something like your grandmother's passed-down crystal glasses, you should probably stick to very carefully hand washing them. As for the unloading bit? To avoid any water from dripping onto your sparkling clean (and dry!) dishes, start at the bottom rack and work your way up to the top.

Put bowls on the bottom rack, facing center. When loading the dishwasher, you might think you can put bowls wherever you can find an empty spot—and you can, but that doesn't mean you should. Food52-er ktr picked up a lot of tips from the installer when she replaced her dishwasher, and shared her newfound knowledge in How to Put an End to Foggy Glassware & 10 Other Dishwasher Tips. One of her top tips: "Bowls should be placed in the bottom rack and should face the center." You also want to make sure there's as little overlap between bowls (and plates and cookware) as possible. This ensures they receive the full force of the water stream and get sparkling clean—without any smudgy spots.

No need to pre-rinse, just scrape off any leftover food. I was always taught that you should rinse your dishes (to the point where they are practically clean) before loading them in the dishwasher. But ktr makes an excellent counter-argument in this Hotline thread: "Scrape food off before you put them in the dishwasher, but do not rinse them until they look clean prior to loading," she writes. "The soap needs something to cling to in order to work best."

Keep like silverware together. Ok, ok, I know there are two camps when it comes to how you should load up silverware in the dishwasher. Merrill's in the camp of keeping like silverware (plus any awkwardly shaped items, like a whisk or spatula) together in the third upper rack because it frees up extra space down under and makes unloading and putting them away super easy. Not every dishwasher out there has a third rack, so if you've got one, you might as well make the most it. Dishwashing aficionado ktr, on the other hand, suggests keeping silverware mixed up in the caddy in that same Hotline thread. This prevents spoons from resting together and not getting fully cleaned.

I'm with Merrill—except I keep like silverware together in the caddy and take a little extra care to make sure spoons aren't nested together. That way when the load is done, I simply have to pick up each bunch of silverware and toss it in the drawer. But at the end of the day, you should always do what works best for you.

Bonus tip: You have to clean your dishwasher, too! This should come as no surprise, but your dishwasher needs a good cleaning every now and then. To cut through any soap buildup, which can leave a white powder on dishes, Food52-er Sam1148 recommends running an empty dishwasher with a few cups of white vinegar in this Hotline thread. A tablespoon of citric acid, he adds, will also do the trick.

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Erin Alexander

Written by: Erin Alexander

Erin Alexander is the Managing Editor of Brand Partnerships at Food52, covering pop culture, travel, foods of the internet, and all things #sponsored. Formerly at Men’s Journal, Men’s Fitness, Us Weekly, and Hearst, she currently lives in New York City.