How to Load a Dishwasher: A Definitive Guide

Why yes, there is a right way to do it, and we've got it covered.

March  2, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten

Yes, there is a proper way to load the dishwasher, and anyone who says otherwise might just want to watch the world burn. We take cleaning our dishes seriously, both personally and in the Food52 team kitchen—Amanda has a  dishwashing manifesto, and we even made a video about our go-to ways to load a dishwasher (see below).

First things first, though, here's what should never go in the dishwasher

• Wooden utensils and cutting boards. They will—I repeat, will—warp! Or even worse, they'll crack into pieces. 

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• Cast iron, but you already knew that. Coarse salt, always. 

• Insluated travel mugs, as most have a special vacuum seal between the inner and outer shells, and the seal can be ruined if you put the cup in the dishwasher.

• Other metals whose finish can be messed up, like copper. 

• Fancy knives that could warp—it's pretty much a safe bet to always hand wash your best knives. Carbon steel will rust, and any knife will dull from the harsh conditions of a dishwasher. 

This may seem like obvious information, but better safe than sorry—we've seen (and heard about) all of these rules being broken at some point. 

There are also varying opinions about the pre-rinse. Amanda says, "Don't be a lazy bones—rinse everything first before loading!" and Merrill asks, "What's the point of having a dishwasher if you have to wash your dishes first?" There is also the factor of your particular dishwasher—newer models recommend not pre-rinsing so that the dishwasher can properly sense how much grime needs to be removed, while older models might need the additional help of a pre-rinse. I personally always pre-rinse, because I've never had a dishwasher capable of handling the almond butter-plastered spoons in my household. Plus, something has always felt wrong about not at least attempting to scrape some goop off first. 


Regardless of your personal dishwashing convictions, here are our top five tips for a most effective cleaning: 

1. Load back to front: this will ensure less breakage of delicate glasses and bowls, since there's less chance for things to get jammed up against each other while loading more in. 

2. Load facing down: I cannot stress the importance of this enough—your dishes will never get clean if the crustiest part of them is facing up. Water in most dishwashers comes from the bottom and sprays up, so if you take anything away from this, let it be this one rule. 

3. Place silverware together, face up: the same goes for your silverware as it does your dishes—the most caked-on parts of them will not get clean if there's no room for the water to swish around them. Putting them face up in the basket will ensure optimal soaking time for the leftover alfredo sauce on your forks. Keeping them together in groups also just makes it easier to unload them once they're sparkling clean. 

4. Plastic always goes on the top rack: as you may know from a melted-in-the-microwave incident, the thin plastic of to-go containers is very sensitive to heat. Err on the side of caution when it comes to the dishwasher, and always keep plastic on the top rack to avoid a meltdown. 

5. Unload bottom first: this will prevent any stagnant water from the top (hello, undersides of mugs) from dripping onto the bottom dishes as you put them away. 

This article originally appeared in July of 2012. We're rerunning it because dishwasher loading is ever the hot topic. 

What are your dishwasher rules? Share 'em in the comments! 

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When I'm not writing & editing for Home52, I'm likely to be found DIY-ing a new piece of furniture (or restoring an old one), hanging things on the wall in my apartment, or watching hours of vintage RHONY.


Sharon T. February 20, 2021
I got a wonderful new dishwasher for close to half price at a 4th of July sale and it senses the stuff on the dishes so i spend a lot of time trying to convince household members NOT to rinse the dishes, (it clogs up our sink drain and means I spend hours cleaning the sink!) and reloading what they virtually "throw" into the dishwasher in jumble, taking out my good knives and everything wood and wasting electricity by using heated dry instead of just opening the door at the end so the steam clears and instantly dries the dishes. The steam function is the greatest innovation in dishwashing. I use Powerizer and my dishes sparkle.
Mar August 21, 2020
I agree with mike and Valerie too.
In terms of like with like, when my twins were born and I suddenly was very busy, I put away my regular dishes and got thin melamine ones. Always grouped like with like and, when emptying, I could spread my fingers and grab five plates at a time. Extremely quick and easy!!
Mar August 21, 2020
Another metal that shouldn’t go in the dishwasher- zinc.
SCOTT August 21, 2020
You got the silverware basket wrong. Way wrong. By your own admission, the hottest, strongest was water comes from the bottom and goes up. The dirtiest part of the utensil therefore, should be closest to the bottom....not to mention you don't have to grip the uky part of the just used utensil. 30 years ago I sold dishwashers and I remember this from the manufacturer's training classes (GE). I also agree with Valerie ad Mike below.
Mar August 21, 2020
Oops - autocorrect! That’s “dull” the blade and “keep” the edges from hitting other items, thereby dulling the blades. I quick wipe with the sponge the wipe dry with a dishcloth to keep good knives in good shape.
Mar August 21, 2020
Oops - autocorrect! That’s “wipe” the blade
Mar August 21, 2020
I keep my coffee cup in the sink with some soapy water to collect messy utensils through the day. Then a quick rinse before loading and running he dishwasher. I’m also a big fan of separating into groups, but always up/down/up/down. If they soaked beforehand, always clean!

The reason not to soak good knives or put them in the dishwasher is that the HANDLES swell and then loosen. Also will dip the edges from hitting other blades. That’s why they are also kept in a knife rack too!

Finally, if you don’t want to dirty your utensils by touching anything but handles, why not wash you hands first?
Patinthekitchen August 21, 2020
those silver knives with the steel blades should not go in the dishwasher, just as they should not sit around soaking until time to wash them. something about the join between the two metals is the problem, as I was raised to think.
Mike M. August 21, 2020
I believe it’s also beneficial to have plates and small bowl s facing the axis’es of the dishwasher, both on bottom and top shelves. On bottom shelf plates/bowls loaded on left should face right and plates/bowls on right should face left. On top shelf those items loaded in back should face forward and those loaded in front should face back. This ensures the used (soiled) portion of the items are exposed to the force of the cleaning stream.
Jackie D. March 5, 2020
Just married. No dishwasher for seven years. Present day. Family of four , a lot of cooking, dishwasher going twice a day. All your above tips...nothing new to me. You live, you learn.
Misfitwife March 5, 2020
Ha! Same here - married, bought house with old kitchen and no dishwasher, and hand washed for seven years. My neighbor just remodeled her kitchen and said, "I didn't want to lose cabinet space so I decided not to get a dishwasher." Me? I would never be without one again! lol
lisa K. March 4, 2020
was this article proof read for typos?
Valerie March 4, 2020
Disagree on one point - I always put handles 'up' in the silverware rack - that way when you load the rack you're not touching the tines, bowls, etc. that have been in someone's mouth; likewise, when unloading, you remove using the handles - again - not touching the part that goes into someone's mouth. Seems to me less germs are spread this way. Also, less nesting of tines and bowls.
Putting like types of dishes, glassware, etc. allows you to put more into the dishwasher more quickly, and makes unloading faster and more efficient.
Misfitwife March 4, 2020
However, my husband refers to the dishwasher as the Kitchen determines if an item is allowed to live in the kitchen. If it's dishwasher safe, it's good! lol He knows better than to put certain specialty pieces like my knives, salad spinner and mandolin in there! Loading, though is a whole other issue...if he loads, he'll close it right up and turn it on so I don't "fix" it. I can fit three times the amount in there!
Misfitwife March 4, 2020
I have found way too often that like silverware nests and then parts don't get clean. I would rather take a few seconds extra to sort while putting it away.
Barbara C. March 4, 2020
Your dishwasher is not a garbage disposal!
Dr.Insomnia March 4, 2020
Absolutely correct. All of the food that doesn't "dissolve" gets trapped in the screen and causes clogs. In particular, never, ever put jars with labels in the dishwasher, as those little label bits that wash off accumulate fast and will block the screen. Eventually, enough blockage will cause lots of water to become trapped in the dishwasher. Eventually all of those screens need to be cleaned, but you just exacerbate the problem by putting extra gunk in there. And it's a very disgusting job when you get around to cleaning it.
Hillfbau March 3, 2020
Loading silverware in that direction is a food safety violation in most cities and states. You are touching a food contact surface when you unload.
j E. March 3, 2020
I pour my silverware out on a clean towel. I can then put them away without touching anything but the handles.
Stephen R. September 13, 2015
Just found this vid - I have to say that I do it all as Merrill out lines - Breaking knives, forks, tea spoons and other spoons into their own section (I have the same styled dishwasher with a cutlery draw) make for such a easy unload. Also it's no harder in loading the cutlery into section once you have your brain trained.

I also unload from the bottom up for exactly same reasoning - to stop water washing down onto dried, streak-free items.

I send a cleaner through my machine once a month (or so) which add to the dryness and finish.

Just sent this vid to my dad to prove that I am not alone.
myke September 11, 2015
So rerunning an article from 3 years ago? Things really change and for the better esp where appliances are concerned. When in doubt look in your manual. My new dishwasher says to not pre rinse or at least leave a few crumbs on the dishes for more efficient cleaning.
QueenSashy September 11, 2012
I have to make sure my husband reads this.
Moore A. August 21, 2012
HOT SECRET! Having worked for the French silversmith Christofle, I am INTIMATELY familiar with the "why does my silver-plate come out of the dishwasher looking yellow?"

YES, silver-plate (and sterling, for that matter) are dishwasher safe. But, when you include stainless in the same load, a chemical reaction occurs and the silver tarnishes. (Pots and pans, separate load.) Ok, fine so far. But, here's the rub...

Most of the high-end dishwashers (Miele, are you listening?) are LINED IN STAINLESS. I have a Fisher Paykel dish drawer (lined in acrylic) and my silver-plate and sterling always come out sparkling.

Second, as has already been said - always load knives down. The safety reasons are obvious, but this positioning also allows the water to dry away from the connection between the blade and the handle thus reducing potential for rusting and eventual weakening of the connection between the two.
mrslarkin August 21, 2012
that is awesome information! Thank you for sharing, MAE. Although I really like the patina of tarnished things, got any tips on getting silverware sparkly again?
Moore A. September 11, 2012
Sure... a little silver polish and a lot of elbow grease ;)
[email protected] January 8, 2013
Run a few inches of water in your sink and dissolve a couple tablespoons of salt in it. Loosely crumple a 12" x 12" piece of aluminum foil into a "log" and lay it in the water. Set your silver so one end rests on the foil and ensure that it's completely submerged. Leave it for a few hours. The aluminum will absorb the oxygen, and the tarnish (silver oxide) will turn back into silver.