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Woman loading dishes into dishwasher.

How to Load a Dishwasher to Get Cleaner Dishes

Washing dishes is one of the simpler household chores, especially if you’re lucky enough to have an automatic dishwasher. But almost everyone who uses a dishwasher has wondered, at least once, “Are my dishes getting as clean as they could be?” Whether you have an older machine or a brand new one, your dishwasher is engineered to be used in a specific way. Learning the correct way to load your dishwasher will help ensure your dishes are always sparkling clean without the need for washing by hand or running an extra washing cycle.  

Before you begin, review your dishwasher’s manual to make sure you understand all the settings and check for any special loading instructions. Once you understand the features of your machine, you can use a few simple tricks to produce clean dishes every time. 

Do I Need to Rinse?  

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to fully rinse dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. In a recent Consumer Reports test, dishwashers from all the major brands did an “excellent” or “very good” job at getting dishes spotless—even when they were placed into the machine dirty. Save yourself time (and water) by scraping large food particles off the plates instead of pre-rinsing before loading. However, if you use just a few dishes and it might be days before your dishwasher is full enough to run, lightly rinse your plates before loading to prevent your dishwasher from becoming smelly. 

Related Topic: Dishwasher Not Cleaning Dishes? Here’s What to Do. 

Place Items in Strategic Places 

Before putting anything in your dishwasher, make sure it’s dishwasher safe. Anything valuable or delicate like crystal, vintage glassware, or gold-trimmed china should almost always be hand washed to avoid damage. Even plastic or wooden utensils and some non-stick cookware can be damaged if they’re not labeled as dishwasher safe. Most brands of cutlery can be machine washed but, to be safe, make sure you load knives with their handles up to avoid injury when you’re unloading your dishes.  

Start putting dishes in the dishwasher by placing them on the correct rack and in the correct positions. The top rack of the dishwasher is designed to hold concave items like glasses, cups, and bowls. Make sure all the items in the top rack are facing down toward the bottom of the dishwasher to maximum cleaning and to avoid the accumulation of dirty water. Also, to get good water spray coverage inside your bowls, make sure the ones in the back face forward and the ones in the front face toward the back. 

Large serving utensils that won’t fit in the bottom utensil tray can also be placed on the top rack. Use the bottom rack for larger pots, bakeware, and flat items like plates, platters, and cutting boards. Make sure large, flat pieces stand up vertically on the sides and in the back of the bottom rack to prevent them from blocking the water spray. 

Use the Right Settings 

Almost all dishwashers manufactured in the last 30 years have different settings for different uses. For lightly soiled dishes, the Quick Clean setting can save you time as well as water and energy. Baby bottles or other dishes that need to be extra clean will benefit from the Sanitize setting. If you have pots with greasy or caked-on food residue, look for a Pot Scrubber or Heavy Load setting. When choosing a wash cycle, be sure you’re selecting the correct cycle for the cleaning you need. Even items labeled as dishwasher safe, like glassware or other delicate dishes, can be damaged if you run them through a wash cycle intended for heavily soiled pots. 

Ensure Hot Water 

One of the most important factors that affect whether your dishwasher produces clean dishes is the temperature of the water. Dishwashers work most effectively when the temperature of the water is 120 degrees Fahrenheit because food stains dissolve best at this temperature. It’s easy to check the temperature of your hot water—all you need is a cup and a meat thermometer. Run hot water out of the kitchen tap for a few minutes, fill a small cup, then place the meat thermometer in the water. If the water’s at the correct temperature, but your dishes aren’t getting clean, it may be time to call a professional to repair your dishwasher.  

Use Pods 

Even if you’ve been satisfied with using liquid or powdered soap in your dishwasher, detergent pods can greatly improve the cleaning power of your dishwasher. These little pre-measured gel packs and tablets are now the industry standard and, as a result, detergent companies have invested heavily in their performance. Tests conducted by everyone from appliance manufacturers to cleaning experts to industry magazines show that detergent pods clean the best, without leaving behind a soapy film or water spots. 

Improving Efficiency 

Improving the way you load your dishwasher won’t just result in cleaner dishes—it can also help the machine’s overall efficiency. Although it can be tempting to fill every nook and cranny of your washer, your dishes will get a lot cleaner if you don’t overfill it. By running a full load, but not overfilling, you can still get sparkling dishes and cut the number of times you run your dishwasher by 50 percent or more each week. Since many detergent pods have a rinsing agent, you can air-dry your dishes and save energy without worrying about spots on your glassware. To find out more about improving the efficiency of your dishwasher, check out the tips recommended by Mr. Appliance. A dishwasher working at peak performance not only keeps your dishes clean but saves water and energy too.