How to Properly Load a Dishwasher
Unless you’re one of those individuals who clean your dishes thoroughly prior to stacking them into the dishwasher, then accomplishing spotless dishes seems to many of us a recipe for failure. But the double-washing method is not only impractical for busy, multi-tasking lives, it’s also a great way to waste both soap (money) and water (precious resource). So how can we bridge this cleaning gap?
Turns out, loading a dishwasher properly isn’t simply an art, it’s a science. Engineers at the University of Birmingham in the UK tracked water movement inside empty and fully loaded household dishwashers and came up with some pretty interesting findings, and adhering to their latest recommendations will save you time, detergent and water.
Loading by Food Composition
Load Dishes in a Circular Pattern
Load your dishes in a circular pattern with the dirty-side facing center—protein stained dishes on the outside with carbohydrate stained dishes on the inside. Circular packing is based on the distribution of water during the cleaning cycle; protein stained dishes require more detergent soaking while carbohydrate stained dishes require high water exposure.
Proteins on the Outside
Dishes soiled with protein (like egg yolk) should be packed closer to the edges at lower heights where the water tends to travel slower. This is the area where dishes are soaked the longest in chemical detergent, making it the ideal spot to rinse through rough-and-tough proteins.
Carbohydrates on the Inside
Carb stains should be packed in the center trays of the dishwasher and on the top shelf or closest to the jets. This center area is where the velocity of the water jetting out of the arm is the greatest, which is required to dislodge foods like potatoes and tomatoes.
The Birmingham team are now working with manufacturers to develop more effective and more efficient dishwashers. But until that time, we’ll do our best with what we know!
Loading Do’s & Dont’s
In congruence with loading your dishwasher by food type, there are several other practical dos and don’ts for getting the most out of a cycle.
Rule #1—Don’t over-crowd! The more dishes that are crammed into the dishwasher, the less water will reach all areas where it’s needed.
Rule #2—Be mindful of space! A haphazard loading style typically results in not-so-clean dishes and since less dishes will fit per load when strewn in, you’ll ultimately spend more money on detergent and sadly waste water.
Rule #3—Ensure dishes don’t block water flow. Stacking dishes on top of each other is a major no-no. No water flow=dirty dishes. Now if you’re one of many who’s dishwasher is sadly out of date, most likely the only rotating, water-shooting arm in the machine is located underneath the bottom shelf. If this describes your washer, you will get the most out of a cycle by not stacking water-blocking objects on the bottom rack, such as cups, vases and down-turned bowls. Such items should be placed on the top rack, but if they won’t fit (such as a vase) just wash it old-school—by hand!
Although we call it “silver ware” most likely your eating utensils are made out of some other material, such as stainless steel. Butter knives are safest blade-side down and to keep your spoons and forks from nesting, vary their orientation—some placed handles up, others handles down.
Long-handled utensils that are too tall for the silverware basket, such as spatulas, can lay horizontally across the top rack. Be sure to place serving spoons face-down so they don’t collect water.
Place glasses and mugs between the tines — never over—as the tip of the prong can leave a water spot (I had no idea!). Angle cups as much as much as possible to keep water and detergent from pooling on the base of the upside-down cups. Since no method is perfect, try unloading the bottom rack first to avoid a water fall from top shelf to bottom.
If you choose to wash wine glasses in the dishwasher, be sure they’re arranged in such a way that they don’t bump against one another or against the top of the washer.
Bowls go on the top rack. Those in the rear should face forward; those in front should face the back.
Baking & Serving
Casserole dishes, serving bowls, and large pots (if dishwasher-friendly) should be placed on the bottom rack at a slight angle, rather than upside down, again so they don’t block the flow of water.
What and When To Hand-wash
There are two primary reasons for utilizing a dishwasher.
#1—Convenience. Washing and drying by hand, especially a large number of dishes (think dinner party), takes a great deal of time.
#2—Sanitation. The high-temperature environment of the dishwasher is a perfect disinfectant and will help squelch the spread of germs. If you’re looking for yet another way to minimize your ecological footprint, instead of choosing a cold-water cycle, opt instead for a short cycle!
Our rule of thumb is… if it touches your mouth, it goes in the dishwasher. If it doesn’t, wash it by hand! Although there are certain exceptions (such as precious metals) we’ve compiled a fairly thorough list of items that, whether for health and safety concerns or in order to preserve the item in question, are best washed by hand!
Polytetrafluoroethylene, which is the chemical name for Teflon, is carcinogenic, particularly when it begins to break down. The extreme environment of the dishwasher—high temperature, abrasive alkaline detergents, etc.—is the perfect environment for that very process to occur and can even leave those harmful chemicals behind on other dishes.
Side Note—If you find your non-stick pans becoming difficult to wash clean—most likely the coating has already begun to break down and it should be tossed… immediately.
There are plastic items, such as certain grade leftover containers and sippy cups that are safe for the dishwasher (these belong on the top rack). However, plastics marked “7” or “PC” like many flimsy takeout containers, should not be used for food after going through a dishwasher. They contain the chemical BPA, which may leach out when heated.
A cast iron pan can last a lifetime if you properly care for it. And proper care does NOT include a dishwasher (in fact it doesn’t actually require water and soap for proper sanitation). Not only will dishwasher cleaning cause cast iron skillets to rust, it will also wash away that indulgent seasoning one intentionally desires to build up.
Heat causes wood to warp, so avoid putting your wooden objects in your dishwasher. This includes cutting boards and (don’t hate me) wooden spoons. The dry cycle may also cause the wood to crack, opening up a breeding ground for bacteria—ick!
China and Delicate Glassware
These items are, well, delicate. The chemicals in dishwasher detergents can be particularly abrasive, and will wear away the delicate materials—hand applied paint, gold leaf, etc. The intense heat of a dishwasher can also cause glasses and china to shatter and removing shards of dishes from a dishwasher is a nightmare!
Gold, copper and silver have no place in a dishwasher! But what if you brought out your fine silver ware for an occasion? How can we ensure these items, which touched mouths, gets properly sanitized? Simple. Soak any such items in soapy boiling-hot water. Just be sure you allow the water to cool to a safe temperature prior to putting your hands in to wash.
Insulated Travel Mugs
Don’t defeat the purpose of that travel mug! Travel mugs have a vacuum seal between the inner and outer shell, which can be breached when it’s put through the intensity of a dishwasher, leaving it unable to retain heat.
This one can go either way. Stainless steel utensils? Definitely items for the dishwasher. However, stainless steel cookware is another line of products that can last a lifetime, so chances are you spent enough money on them and you’d prefer to maintain their integrity. Detergent and excessive humidity will eventually corrode the metal, but not for some time.
Check your labels! Some aluminum products are specifically designated as “dishwasher-safe.” These materials are probably fine, but because aluminum is a soft metal, others can be vulnerable to nicks and scratches and they’ll likely develop a dull finish fairly quickly. When in doubt, wash by hand.
Knives are meant to be sharp and will dull under the intense conditions of a dishwasher. Unless you’ve mastered the art of knife sharpening, wash those blades by hand… carefully.
So what do we recommend for the dishwasher? Grab Green’s healthier, eco-friendly, and effective Auto-Dish Detergent Pods, of course!