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How to Load a Dishwasher: Step by Step with Pictures

Dishes always dirty? Maybe you’re loading it wrong. 

To prevent arguments about how to load a dishwasher properly, here’s the best and most effective way to do it. Doing it this way will ensure clean dishes every time you run your dishwasher.

We’ll give you instructions for all kinds of dishes, including plates, bowls, mugs and cutlery. So you’ll never have to wonder again, “Where on earth does this go?”

Key Takeaways

Top rack: glasses, mugs, cups, stemware, plastic items, small bowls and plates, and utensils. Place the items in between the tines.
Bottom rack: larger items such as chopping boards at the edges; bowls and plates between the tines facing the center; finally, dishwasher-safe pots and pans. Alternate between forks and spoons in the cutlery caddy. Always point knives face down.

Is It Cheaper to Run the Dishwasher or Wash by Hand?

Good news! Running the dishwasher is cheaper and more energy-efficient than hand washing dishes (1).

Dishwashers also get an energy rating from A+++ to D, or they get an Energy Star certificate. So if yours has an Energy Star sticker or an A-grade rating, then it’s even better!

This is music to our ears as the dishwasher is much easier to use. Although there is the upfront cost of the dishwasher itself, over time, you’ll save money on energy and water bills.

Does It Matter How You Load a Dishwasher?

Yes — it matters. However, there are a few different ways to load a dishwasher correctly. So even though you may not be doing it our way, you could still be doing it “right.”

That said, there are definitely wrong ways to load a dishwasher. Doing it wrong can lead to broken dishes, overheated dishes, and unclean dishes.

How to Load a Dishwasher

If your dishes are coming out dirty, it’s probably because you’re not loading it correctly. These guidelines will help you to load your dishwasher properly so that your dishes get clean efficiently and effectively.

Top RackHow to Load the Top Rack of Dishwasher

The top rack is ideal for glasses, mugs, cups, stemware, plastic items, small bowls and plates, and utensils.

  1. Place stemware in the safety rack. If yours doesn’t have one, hand wash these items or they may break.
  2. Place mugs and glasses face down between the tines along the sides of the top rack.
  3. Place small bowls and small plates between the tines in the center of the top rack. They should be angled slightly forward and down towards the center of the dishwasher. That means the back ones should face you, and the front ones should face away from you. This ensures a perfect clean.
  4. Plastic containers, such as Tupperware, can be placed like the bowls and plates, face down and in the middle.
  5. Long utensils should be placed face down and horizontally on the upper rack, between the tines.

Make sure that the items on the top rack aren’t too small that they’ll fall through the gaps.

Bottom RackHow to Load the Lower Rack of Dishwasher

The bottom rack is intended for larger bowls, dinner plates, serving platters, and silverware. Baking sheets, pots, pans, and chopping boards also go here.

Top Tip

Always check if your items are dishwasher safe, particularly with pots and pans, as many aren’t.
  1. Line larger and taller items such as serving platters and chopping boards at the edges of the bottom rack. This ensures it won’t prevent the spinning arm from rotating.
  2. Stack plates between the tines and angle the dirty sides towards the center. Switch between large and small plates to ensure better water flow.
  3. Place large bowls between the tines or along the sides of the bottom rack. Make sure that the inside of each bowl is facing the center of the dishwasher. Angle them slightly downwards.
  4. Line larger items such as pots, pans and baking sheets, along the sides or back of the rack, angling them slightly downwards for good draining.
  5. Flat items like pans and platters should go at the side or back. Keep them away from the dishwasher door and out of the way of the spinning arm. If you put them too close to the door, they can block the detergent from flowing freely.

Cutlery TrayHow to Load the Cutlery Tray of a Dishwasher

It’s the controversial question — how do you load a cutlery tray? While there’s no agreed-upon way, we can share our favorite method.

  • Knives should always be facing down. This allows for a good clean, but most of all, it ensures safety.
  • Alternate between forks and spoons, or alternate stacking them face up or face down.
  • Slot teaspoons in where you can, face-up, to ensure good water flow.

If all your forks and spoons are face-up, this can lead to nesting, where the items rest together and can’t get good water flow. That’s why we recommend staggering or alternating this arrangement.


What about detergent? Your manufacturer will recommend a dishwasher detergent, but there are lots on the market to choose from. We recommend shopping around for one that works for you and your dishwasher.

Your machine likely has a detergent tray. You can use a tablet or powder, insert it into the tray, close the lid and the machine will release it during the cycle.


When it comes to operating the machine, your dishwasher probably has a few wash cycles. Check your manufacturer’s instructions to see the difference between each cycle.

In general, there will be daily washes, eco washes and more intensive cycles. The daily or eco wash is usually good enough from day to day. However, if you have dirtier dishes, or they’ve been sitting in the machine for a while, we recommend using a more intensive cycle.


Once you’ve bickered about who’s unloading the dishwasher, this part is easy. The best way to unload the dishwasher is in reverse of how you loaded it. This ensures you’re not forcing anything out and risking breakage.

General Tips for Using a Dishwasher

A dishwasher can massively improve your cleaning routine, making more time for other things. We love our dishwasher, but it’s important to know how to clean it, load, and use it properly. Here are some more tips before you go:

  • Never stack items: Each item needs room around it to let water and detergent clean it.
  • Don’t bulk buy detergent: Although this might save you money, it may get ruined before you can use it. We recommend only buying a couple of months of detergent in advance. Keep it in a cool dry spot. Otherwise, the powder or tablets could clump up or go off, making it ineffective.
  • Wait until the dishwasher is full: Don’t run a half-empty dishwasher when you can avoid it. Wait until the next day to run it, saving you money and energy.
  • Go green: If possible, choose dishwashing detergent that’s natural, biodegradable and free of nasties like petroleum and phosphates. We made the switch a while ago and have never looked back!
  • Organize your appliances: Don’t put your dishwasher, which gets hot, next to a fridge or freezer, which needs to stay cool. Your fridge will need to use more energy to stay cool, wasting energy and costing you more money.
  • Clean: Clean your dishwasher once a month.
  • Small items: For small items like lids or tiny Tupperware, put them in a mesh bag and then into the dishwasher. This prevents them from getting lost or broken.
  • Unload the right way: Unload the bottom rack first. If there is any water pooled inside the dishes in the top rack, unloading them last prevents water from spilling onto the clean dishes in the bottom.
  • Don’t overload it: We know it’s tempting to pack it full so you don’t have to wash anything by hand. Unfortunately, if it’s too full, your dishes might not get clean.
  • Read the manual: Finally, read the instruction manual. We know it’s boring, but there will be some useful information in there that’s specific to your make and model.

Dishwasher FAQs

What Should You Not Put in the Dishwasher?

Unfortunately, not everything should go in the dishwasher.

You should never put wooden items, insulated mugs, non-stick items, cast iron, or aluminum in the dishwasher.

Sharp knives, china with metallic decoration, handmade or antique items, crystal, or pressure cooker lids are also a no-no. Also, watch out for brass, bronze, and acrylic items.

Overall, check if the item says “dishwasher safe” or not. If it doesn’t, hand wash it only.

Should You Rinse Your Dishes Before Putting Them in the Dishwasher?

It’s not necessary. If you’re going to use the dishwasher that day, the dirt doesn’t have time to cling onto the dishes. The dishwasher can do a good job at scrubbing plates clean.

However, if you only turn on your dishwasher a few times a week, definitely rinse the dishes beforehand. Otherwise, the food will cake onto the dishes and they may not come out clean. Plus, it leads to bad smells.

Why Are My Dishes Still Dirty After Using the Dishwasher?

This could come down to a few factors:

  • The spray arm is clogged.
  • Your dishwasher is dirty.
  • Your drain tap is clogged.
  • The water isn’t hot enough.
  • You aren’t using the right detergent.
  • The inlet valve is broken.
  • You left the dishes, unrinsed, for too long before turning on the dishwasher.
  • You need to use a rinse aid.
  • You need a water softener.
  • You haven’t loaded it properly.

Once you’ve figured out the cause of your dirty dishes, all of these have a relatively simple fix.

How Long Can Clean Dishes Sit in the Dishwasher?

Once your dishwasher has cleaned the dishes, is it necessary to remove them immediately? No. We recommend running your dishwasher before bed which means that your dishes will happily sit there until you are up the next morning.

However, the maximum time we recommend leaving clean dishes in the dishwasher is around one day.

If you leave them longer than that, they may not fully dry and this can create mold, but more likely, bad smells. Sometimes, we run our dishwasher before leaving town for the weekend, come back and need to run it again because the dishes smell a little funky.

If you do need to run out before you’ve had time to unload the dishwasher, crack it open and let the dishes air-dry properly.

Is It Cheaper to Run the Dishwasher at Night?

In some places, yes, since utility companies charge more during peak hours. Check with your utility company to see if your nightly rates are lower.

Should You Leave the Dishwasher Door Open to Dry?

Yes, keeping it shut prevents the dishes from drying quickly and effectively. As we all know, a damp environment is the perfect breeding ground for mold and bacteria (2). So crack the dishwasher door open and let the dishes air dry.

Should You Unload a Dishwasher Straight Away?

Whether you should unload your dishwasher straight away is a matter of choice. It can be uncomfortable to remove hot dishes, so there is an argument that letting them cool is better.

From Dirty to Clean

When you load your dishwasher the right way, you are left with sparkling clean dishes. Although it might take a family meeting to get everyone on board, it’s worth it in the long run.

Overall, make sure you angle dishes slightly downwards and facing the center, so it gets the deepest clean. Test a few detergents until you find your favorite. And lastly, don’t overload it or stack dishes on top of one another or you won’t get clean results.

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About the Author

Beth McCallum

Beth McCallum is a freelance writer & book blogger with a degree in creative writing, journalism, and English literature. Beth firmly believes that a tidy house is a tidy mind. She is always looking for new ways to sustainably clean and tidy her house, that's kind on the environment but effective in the house, too!