How To Load a Dishwasher | Seventh Generation
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How To Load a Dishwasher

Author: sueh

I know from years of experience at friends' dinner parties that loading a dishwasher can be a very personal thing. My friend Sandy turns her dishes so they face one way. When she's not looking, her husband rearranges them so they face the other. Gwen won't wash anything glass on the bottom rack, while Lisa mixes plates and glasses on both levels. Lisa's grandmother, however, has figured out the best way to use a dishwasher: Claim you don't understand how to load it so you never get stuck with the chore. While there's no one way to load a dishwasher, there are a few rules of thumb that will make sure you get a great, even clean:

  1. Place your dishes according to height, with larger dishes on the outside.
  2. In most machines, turn plates and bowls to face the middle of the machine.
  3. Don't block the primary water source on the inside of the machine.
  4. Only use automatic dish detergent, not dish liquid, and use as little as you need to get your dishes clean
  5. Don't prewash dishes! The enzymes in dish detergent need a place to work, and food particles provide the work site.
  6. If your dishes will sit a while before you run the machine, lightly rinse milk residue or other food remains
  7. For cleaner flatware, spread your pieces out in the basket, with fork tines and knife blades pointing up (be careful unloading!)
  8. The primary work in the dishwasher is done by heat and agitation, so I follow my own Gram's advice and wash china, collectibles and crystal by hand.

To save money and energy, open the dishwasher door at the end of the drying cycle and let the process finish with an air dry. When you're ready to empty the dishwasher, start with the bottom rack so that any residual water on the top shelf doesn't wet the dishes on the bottom. I personally empty the silverware container first, so I don't scratch myself reaching for the plates. What dishwasher loading tips do you have? photo: jenny downing


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tbognanno picture
Simply put, I switched to powdered Seventh Generation dishwasher detergent. I have not changed the way I load my dishwasher and my dishes come out sparkling clean with no residue at all. I especially am pleased with the way my glassware now looks. I have not tried Seventh Generation liquid because my daughter recommended the powder. Try it, I know you'll be glad you did.
gwizm picture
I too have an awful problem with residue left on the dishes. My dishwasher is well over 7 years old or older but still woking well. The problem arises in that the companies DID take the phosphates out , which basically ruined the cleaning soaps. I am currently searching for a product that DOES still have the phosphates in it. There HAS to be at least one, even if I have to order it offline or from overseas.
AuroraBorealis picture
I live in an apartment, so I do not have the luxury of choosing what dishwasher I use, but I have discovered, like most everyone else here has, some possible reasons for why my dishes were always coming out unclean as well as several solutions (considering that they all potentially had a hand in fixing the issue). Ever since I have lived in my apartment, I have had the worst time trying to get my dishes clean. I swear that it got to the point where I would open the dishwasher, second guess myself on thinking I had turned the machine on the night before, BECAUSE THEY STILL LOOKED THAT DIRTY, fill up the machine with detergent, and run the dishwasher again. YES. I would run the dishwasher twice on the same load of dishes. But I don't have to do this anymore of course, so I don't feel guilty anymore. When I really started to take notice of my unclean dishes, I thought that it was my dishwasher alone, so I checked the bottom back portion where the screen is, and -- Lo! -- there was leftover labels in a mashed, slimy clump covering the screen, so I cleared up the screen. I thought this would completely fix the issue, but it did not. I had the maintenance man come over next, so that he could figure out what else may have been causing the problem, and all that he did (that I couldn't have duplicated on my own -- Trust me. I tried!) was remove the top part of the sprayer so that he could clean out any debris that had collected inside, and there was debris inside in enough of an amount that it appeared that its removal would deem significant, so I was pleased. But that didn't fix my issue. At this point, I was running out of options, because I was already using an organic dishwashing detergent, but it was in liquid form. The reason I mention what form it was in is because someone told me that I should seriously consider using powder, because the liquid detergents have a strange way of leaving residue on dishes more than powders do. Although I swore that it wouldn't work, because I had used it before with no improvement, I was desperate enough to switch back, so I did. This didn't fix the issue either. I asked the maintenance man if there was anything I could do that I hadn't already done, and he reminded me of how he had told me before that I should run the garbage disposal and the faucet water at the hottest temperature for only a moment together immediately before running the dishwasher. He said this should do the trick, because the dishwasher runs on the same system as the sink (or something to that affect) and that there wouldn't be debris on the dishes and that they would be clean, because I run the disposal and the water to its hottest temperature. I tried this, AND IT WORKED! I was so happy! I seriously thought that I was going to have to hand wash my dishes eventually, because I thought that this would eventually save more water in the long run than running the dishwasher twice on the same load of unclean dishes. The only stinker in this entire situation is that I do have to rinse my dishes a second time by hand after they have already dried, because the powder detergent I use leaves a slight residue. . . Perhaps it's because the brand I use is BioKleen. . . Hmm. . . If anyone can't figure out why they can't seem to get their dishes clean, try the steps I tried. I think they all had a hand in my dishes getting cleaner.
tcrlady picture
I have a new but crummy dishwasher. I found a recipe online (even though Seventh Generation products are great!) that is cheap and incredibly effective. It includes kosher salt (scrubbing), super-baking soda, borax, and citric acid. I purchased the citric acid at a co-op in the bulk section. ( The smell of dishes coming out of the dishwasher with the cloud of chemicals makes me cringe and gives me a headache. If it makes my head spin, what is it doing to the groundwater?? For the Florida writer, most companies removed PHOSPHATES from their detergents, leaving the residue behind. Your dishwasher is probably hot enough to sanitize your dishes with that little bit of residue left behind. The animals and plants that live in water thank you for abandoning the poisonous phosphates.
Comarish59 picture
I always load flatware handles down. When we lived in apts my hubby would stick things in handle up and they wouldn't get clean. That's how I broke him of it. When I set the table for supper, I would make sure he got the flatware that had come out the cruddiest. I love my current dishwasher. The flatware is divided in two baskets that attach to the door. It has the two levels of spray and gets everything clean without having to use the longer heavy-duty cycle.
michellewoolston picture
I prefer to put like utensils in the same bin. That way when it comes to emptying I can just grab all the forks, spoons or knives at the same time and put them away. I put all of my flatware handle up, no problems usually. I like the idea of vinegar for the rinse aid!
amysinis picture
So glad this article was posted, as I am often badgering my husband about his illogical and inconsistent methods of loading--and yes, as mentioned in the article, he has used my criticism at times to throw up his hands and say, "well, I'm just no good at this, so I won't do it anymore!". I would only add that plastics (tupperware, lids, cups, etc.) should always go on the top rack. The bottom rack gets way too hot and the chemicals in the plastics can break down--they also do on the top rack, so best to totally avoid plastics if possible, but still I have heard it's safer to put them on the top rack.
angibarnett picture
My very long utensils like serving spoons, ladles, tongs, and most of my knives will block the top rack water sprayer if I place them in the silverware bin. I lay these down on the rack beside the silverware bin. I also second the notion above about placing knives sharp end down with kids in the house.
angibarnett picture
Cider vinegar works well as a rinse aid & is super cheap. Lemon Shine and other dishwasher cleaner products are usually citric acid based. Vinegar & lemon juice are cheap alternatives. With my dishwasher, I disassemble the screen & components in the bottom & thoroughly clean by hand about once a month. This helps tremendously. After reassembly, I'll splash vinegar (maybe 1/2 cup) in the bottom & let it sit for a couple hours before running the dishwasher empty (or nearly empty). The owner's manual should have suggestions on loading your particular model for best efficiency. It should also have directions on how to disassemble and clean parts that tend to get scum & sludge build-up. If you can't find it in "that drawer" in your kitchen, you can probably find a .pdf version online.
carolgib picture
My dishwasher is now over 5 years old- and as most of my other DW's after it is about 3 yrs old the silverware doesn't come looking clean unless I brush it first under water. Here in Florida there has been a recent uproar about residue being left on the dishes. They found it was because a recent law coming into effect- they have to leave out an ingredient that helped clean without leaving this residue. I had this problem for over a year, and finally tried adding Lemon Shine with the detergent. Worked like a charm. Then I had the problem of the detergent cover not being able to open completely, so I had detergent left on the dishes as well. It is a fault of the DW- I found where the top rack is located that there is no way it can. I then tried the type of detergent that comes in little squares- more expensive, but beats doing everything over by hand. At least it works. Next DW- I too, shall make sure the detergent cup is in a lot better place.
If food is going to sit for awhile sprinkle baking soda on the dishes when you are ready the food will come right off. Also keeps the dish washer smelling fresh. Put vinager in your "jet dry" spot. It will keep spots off your dishes and is much cheaper.
cbrocious picture
I am very picky about how the dishwasher is loaded because if you do it the "right" way or the way i have found to do it you can fit alot more in it and with 4 ppl in a house its needed unless you want to be rnning your sdishweasher 2-3 times a day which is not very ecofriendly i would think. Cups, mugs glasses and plastics on top plates bowls pans on bottom and they have to be neatly arranged like plates biggest to smallest or in my case biggest on the ends and smallest in the middle in the backend of the rack The front part by the door is where i arrange my bowls and where the silverware basket is.. With the silverware it gets put in facing up but i will not put sharp knives facing up expspecially with kids in the house it is not safe I usually just wash them by hand anyways.
floster picture
I run my dishwasher every other day so I rinse my dishes of food particles, especially on flatware. My dishwasher is really good where 1/3 of the bottom rack is just for plates (facing sideways) and the rest for bowls and/or smaller plates. it's amazing how much I can fit in it. It has 2 water sources-one under each rack. Because of this, I put my flatware face down. Also the basket for the flatware runs along the side of the bottom rack. I feel they get pretty clean this way. I have little ones running around too so having them face up is not a good idea.
Sampatron picture
All great tips, Sue, but there's one other thing to consider: how the soap dispenser opens. In my dishwasher, if I put large dinner plates to the outside of the line of plates, they're tall enough to prevent the door on the dispenser from flipping open at the proper time or even at all. The next time I get a dishwasher I'll make sure the dispenser opens by sliding up and down, not by flipping open a little door. Thanks for some great tips, fershure. Sam
cmgell picture
This is great - thanks! However, my 16 month old daughter likes to grab things out of the utensils holder and so no way am I loading knives with the blade facing up. We had 7 kids in my family and my parents were pretty adament about that, and it rolled over to my pickiness with the dishwasher, too.
Harlene picture
I appreciate the tips you have given. My dishwasher doesn't seem to get the dishes very clean, but I'm going to try your suggestions and see what happens. It really makes sense to load the silverware with the handles down, and I always thought you were silly for rinsing the dishes before washing them, and I guess I was right!
Capebirder picture
I am the only person I know that loads the flatware into the basket with the handles down, except for an occasional sharp knife! It seems to me that it is the only way to insure that there are no trapped food particles on the utensils. I have been repeatedly criticized for doing it this way, being told that it is unsanitary for me to unload the utensils otherwise. I maintain that since I only unload the washer with clean hands there is no problem.
jennyl0ve picture
My dishwasher is horrible, it always leaves residue, and the rinse aid is just too expensive. I added some baking soda and vinegar in the bottom of the machine last time, and my dishes came out crystal clear!!!
SarahJ26 picture
I am so low key about things, but the dishwasher drives me crazy! Our new dishwasher uses the heat of the basin to dry, so no electricity used. But I am still working out how to make everything fit like it did in the old one. My mother is at my house often and tries to be helpful...I have to completely rearrange it when she isn't looking. And they don't seem to be designed to face everything inward.