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12 Ways You Might Be Loading Your Dishwasher Wrong

Never taken the time to read through your dishwasher's user manual? Avoid these mistakes to ensure your dishes get cleaned properly and you stop wasting precious dishwasher real estate.

Man Clearing Breakfast Table And Loading Dishwasher
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A method to the madness

Everyone has their own method of loading the dishwasher, and everyone thinks theirs is the best way to do it. However, there are some key things that every sparkling clean load has in common. It might be best to read on, just to make sure your way really IS the best. Watch out for these ways you might be shortening the life of your dishwasher.

Cropped shot of senior man doing the dishes
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You fully rinse dishware before loading

You might have heard that it’s a no-no to move dirty plates directly from the table to the washer—that caked-on food won’t completely come off during the cycle, right? When Consumer Reports tested dozens of dishwashers and loaded them up with the dirtiest plates they could muster, they found that the models did an “excellent” or “very good” job at getting them spotless. If you’re running a load right after a messy meal, just “scrape off large food particles and do not pre-rinse. Your dishwasher detergent’s job is to cling to food and help wash it away,” says Finish, maker of dishwashing products. But if it may be days before your dishwasher is full enough to run, lightly rinse the plates first to prevent the dishwasher from getting smelly. If you do end up breaking your dishwasher, know that it’s one of the appliances that are cheaper to replace than fix.

Kitchen faucet with a flowing water

Your water isn’t hot enough

Dishwashers perform their best when the hot water is 120 degrees Fahrenheit, the optimal temperature to dissolve food stains, according to Finish. You can check your home’s water temp by sticking a meat thermometer in a glass of hot water; if it’s less than 120 degrees, consider adjusting the settings on your water heater. (Don’t raise the temperature higher than 120 degrees, however; this can increase your risk—and especially your children’s risk—for burns while bathing or hand washing). There are also some strange health benefits to drinking hot water that you might not know about!

inside of dishwasher, close-up, slightly blue toned
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You load some dishes on the top rack

Dishes should always go on the bottom rack because it’s specifically designed to hold them. “The tines are designed to hold plates in a way that maximizes the number that will fit and to make sure hot water passes through to ensure proper cleaning,” says Mike Nerdig, marketing manager for dishwashers at GE Appliances. Trying to cram plates on the top can interfere with how other items fit and are cleaned. You probably never knew about these surprising things you could clean in the dishwasher.

Laundry detergent powder for washing machine and plastic scoop for dosage.
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You use liquid or powder detergent

It might be time to switch over from powder to pods. Though traditional liquid and powder detergent get the job done, pods (little pre-measured gel packs) and tablets can perform better. “I see pods as the best way to go,” says Nerdig. “Name-brand detergent companies have invested heavily in their performance.” Consumer Reports also suggests tabs or pods. A test of various dishwashing detergents found that tabs and pods cleaned dishes best, without leaving behind water spots, film, or discoloration. Make sure to store them safely out of the reach of young children, who may be intrigued by their tiny size and bright-colored detergent. Do you know the most hygienic way to wash dishes?

Dishwasher after cleaning process

Your dishware pieces all face the same direction

Plate or bowl direction is important to ensure proper cleaning. Bowls go on the top rack. The ones in the rear should face forward, while the ones in front should face toward the back; this allows water to reach them, according to Real Simple. Plates will get cleanest if they all face the center of the bottom rack.

Open dishwasher with clean glass and dishes, selective focus, Clean after washing in the dishwasher. bright colorful dishes.

You load some glasses or mugs on the bottom rack

When you’re getting close to a full load, it’s hard to resist cramming a few stray glasses wherever they can fit, but the upper rack is designed specifically to clean glasses and cups. Place glass and dishwasher-safe plastic cups face down, so water can reach inside. Some models are even built to hold large glasses (like wine or pint glasses) on one side and small or regular-sized on the other side, and have bottle wash jets designed to shower water deep into hard-to-reach areas, says Nerdig. If you’re looking to buy a new dishwasher, here are the best dishwasher brands to check out.

Open dishwasher with clean utensils
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You separate your silverware by type

It might seem logical to place forks, spoons, and knives in their own compartments, but mixing them together will help them get cleaner. Spoons especially can “nest” together, making it harder for water jets to reach their surface; Real Simple suggests alternating between handle up and handle down to prevent this. If your silverware basket has a hole or slot for each individual utensil, feel free to mix away. However, washing stainless steel and silver utensils next to each other could cause a chemical reaction that will dent the silverware, Bob Vila reports. Don’t test your luck; keep these metals on opposite sides of the utensil basket. Oh, and we’ve settled the debate on whether utensils should go up or down in the dishwasher.

Woman's hand putting a white plate into the dishwasher; a household chore

You place pans or bowls randomly

Casserole dishes, mixing bowls, and pans can be awkward to fit. Try slipping large platters, pots, pans, or bowls directly against the perimeter of the bottom rack, where there’s usually more space. “Along the sides and corners are designed to hold larger items and have better clearance than other areas, so they won’t catch on the top rack,” says Nerdig. Smaller saucepans or mixing bowls should be laid face down along the sides of the top rack; this way, water and suds can easily reach their dirtiest surface. Is your dishwasher full of the safest type of cookware?

Dish Drying Rack
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You put large utensils in the wrong spot

You already know to keep wooden spoons and sharp knives out of the dishwasher, but what about serving spoons and spatulas made of plastic or metal? These should be placed flat on the top rack. Some dishwashers even have a separate rack specifically design for utensils. Just keep them out of the utensil basket, since they could block other utensils or dishes from getting properly cleaned. Love wacky kitchen gadgets and utensils? This is the list you’ve been looking for.

Close-Up Of Wooden Spoons In Container On Kitchen
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You load non-dishwasher safe items

It may be easier to just throw all your dirty dishes and cutlery into the dishwasher and forget about them, but you’re not doing yourself (or your fine kitchenware) any favors. The hot water could melt or warp plastic containers, crack wooden spoons, and discolor gold flatware. Plus, putting nonstick cookware through the dishwasher can cause their coating to break down and flake off, and you’ll be left with gross-looking, non-nonstick pans. Here are 8 more things you should never put in the dishwasher.

An open dishwasher
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You load too much

We all love dishwashers because they save us so much time and effort, but trying to cram every dirty dish in there at once may defeat the whole purpose. If dishwashers are overcrowded, the detergent and water can’t circulate to clean your dishes thoroughly—and some may not even get cleaned at all. Either separate large loads or roll up your sleeves and hand wash some of the items.

Clean dishes in dishwasher
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You use the same setting over and over

Dishwashers are more high tech than ever—but most people still only use the “normal” setting for every wash. “With all the changes in water and energy usage that are taking place, consumers need to select different cycles depending on the types of dishes they’re doing and the type of clean they want,” Lucinda Ottusch, a consumer scientist at Whirlpool’s Institute of Home Science, told The Wall Street Journal. That means getting out the old instruction manual and figuring out the perfect setting for every type of wash, whether that’s large platters with caked-on leftovers or fragile wine glasses. Your dishwasher can do a lot more than you might think; check out these things you never knew your dishwasher could do.