How to Load A Dishwasher (And Have the Dishes Actually Get Clean)

Loading a dishwasher is harder than it looks at first blush. Plates that don’t get clean, glasses with spots all over them, melted plastic takeaway containers — all these things and more can happen to your dishes. The good news is that there are some tricks and tips that will help you get the most out of your dishwasher – without a lot of headache.

Use The Right Product

There are three cleaning products that you need to know about in order to keep your dishes sparkling fresh.

  • Dishwasher detergent: This is not the same as dish soap. Unless your idea of a good time is cleaning a mountain of wet suds off of your kitchen floor, do not attempt to use Dawn or similar in your dishwasher. Doing so could also damage your dishwasher, so please just don’t. My personal preference in dishwasher detergent is liquid Cascade Complete, but I know people who swear by the dishwasher pods, and that’s okay too. I find that liquid dissolves better than powder form, so I recommend the liquid. It’s less likely to leave unwanted leftovers.
  • Spot rinse: This stuff is a blue liquid you find in a squirt bottle or a pod that clips to the upper rack of your dishwasher under the names Jet Dry, Finish, or similar. It keeps water spots from forming on your glassware. Useful but not overwhelmingly essential unless you’re cleaning for company.
  • Tang: A quick and cheap way to clean your dishwasher, which you’ll want to do from time to time. Fill the soap holes with powdered Tang and run a full cycle with no dishes in it. It’s surprisingly effective.

💡 “But I drink Tang! Can it seriously be used as a cleaning agent, and if so, why am I drinking it?” Keep in mind that many foods have cleansing properties. Diet Coke can take corrosion off a car battery terminal, vinegar will remove urine from fabric, and lemon and baking soda will eliminate that nasty smell in your garbage disposal. Don’t let this fact turn you off of Tang, if you like drinking it.

Don’t Overdo It

Are you tempted to rearrange and cram that one last item in there, so that you don’t have to wash it by hand? Not so fast, tiger. One of the main reasons dishes don’t get clean is that the dishwasher is so full that the spray can’t reach every item in it enough to be effective. While running your dishwasher half-full is wasteful of both soap and water, running it excessively full may mean having to wash everything again, which is just as wasteful if not more so. You’ll spend less time and energy total if you wash that one last thing by hand and don’t have to redo the whole load because you overfilled the dishwasher.

My photo hosting is being a pain at the moment, but tomorrow I’ll try to post pictures of what a good dishwasher load looks like and what an overload looks like.

Turn It Towards The Water

Take note of where the sprayers are in your dishwasher. Most dishasher have a rotating one between the racks. When you load the dishwasher, turn it so the dirty side faces the sprayer.

On the topic of that rotating sprayer, don’t block it, or your dishes won’t get clean.



Rinse Your Dishes First

Get the worst of the food and crusties off the dishes by rinsing in the sink before you put them in the dishwasher. They don’t have to be perfect before you put them in there, but they shouldn’t be crusted over, either.

Everything Doesn’t Go

Some things shouldn’t go in the dishwasher at all.

  • Plastic types 1 (PET), 3 (PVC), and 7 (other): PET is meant for disposable plastic items and will warp or melt in the dishwasher. PVC is used for plastic pipes and outdoor furniture and is not considered suitable for food storage. Type 7 plastic is a catch-all category that may or may not melt and may or may not be toxic. It’s a crapshoot and the safest move is to simply recycle it.
  • Cast Iron Cookware: This includes any cookware like aluminum that has to be seasoned, but is most especially true of cast iron. Cast iron cookware will rust in the dishwasher, which means you’ll have to scrub the rust off with a Brillo pad and re-season it. This is a pain.
  • Fine china and special finishes: Fine china, handmade pottery, and some baking pans have special finishes that may be damaged or ruined in the dishwasher. In the case of fine china, it may also shatter or break when subjected to forceful sprays of water. Better not to risk it.
  • Wood items: Wooden spoons, picnic items, and bamboo can warp, discolor, go dry, or even burn in the dishwasher. Hard pass.
  • Excessively large items: If it’s big enough that it blocks the free rotation of any sprayer, it’s too big to go in the dishwasher.

Most other things will be okay in the dishwasher, although some things should only go in certain places.

Careful With That

These items should go only in the top rack:

  • Plastics 2, 4, 5, and 6: These are reusable food-grade plastics and can go in the dishwasher, but all plastics should be confined to the top rack.
  • Small items: Most items of this nature are okay in the dishwasher but need to be prevented from flying everywhere. Placing them in the top rack where they won’t be hit quite so hard is the best means of accomplishing this.

A Final Word

Remember that anything that goes into your dishwasher comes out hot. It also consumes a fair amount of water and electricity. A thrifty move that will also keep your from burning your fingers is to plan to run the dishwasher while you’re asleep. Electricity is cheaper in the wee hours of the morning in many places, and you’ll wake up to clean dishes. Many dishwashers now have delay timers for exactly this purpose.

Good luck! I’ll post pictures tomorrow of how I do it to aid in explaining how it works, when I can bend Flickr to my will.