I was on the phone with one of my besties the other day, and I asked her if she and her husband ever disagree on how to load the dishwasher. “Of course. He’s an engineer. He thinks he knows how to do it better.” Note that her husband usually remains in his chair after dinner, and rarely carries his plate to the sink, much less loads it into the dishwasher. But he still has strong opinions on how she should do it.
To be fair, it’s not just men who rearrange the dishes after they’re loaded. I have a male colleague who says that his wife doesn't think he loads the dishwasher "efficiently".
Neither of these cases is unique. In a study done by Bosch, maker of our current favorite dishwasher, results showed that over 40% of American couples fight about loading the dishwasher. But in their defense, with dishwashers changing, the way our parents taught us to load the dishes may no longer be the most efficient.
Your modern dishwasher may have an adjustable top rack, moveable tines, bottle jets, supports for wine glasses, and a third rack for flatware and utensils. These allow for some variation in the way you load. Even the food you served on the plates affects the best place to put them.
To keep the peace at home, here are a few suggestions on how to load your dishwasher the right way to get the dishes clean.
1. Place heavier stuff on the lower rack.
Put the big plates and bowls on the bottom, and make sure they’re facing the spray. If you’re washing a platter or baking pan, place it on the side, so it’s not blocking the spray arm or detergent dispenser.
2. Load glasses, cups, and small bowls on the top (or middle) rack.
Orient bowls so that they’re facing downward. Do I need to remind you of how gross it is to open a clean dishwasher and find a bowl filled with dishwater?
3. Mix up the silverware in the basket or place it in the third rack.
Okay, I’ll admit I struggled with this concept. I liked the idea of putting all the spoons in one compartment, and all the forks in another, with all handles down—easier to unload. But what happens when you do this is that the silverware tends to stick together, so it doesn’t get clean. Better to put some pieces in the basket handle down and others the opposite way. Knives are an exception. And, if you have a third rack for cutlery, this may be a moot point.
4. Don’t overload.
Overloading makes it hard for the hot water to reach each dish. It may also cause your dishes to break. (Do you hear them rattling against one another when you start the cycle? That could be a clue.) Running a couple of smaller loads will do a better job.
5. Try some other cycles.
If your dishes aren’t getting clean, it might have nothing to do with the way you’re loading. Explore some of the dishwasher’s options beyond Normal and Auto. Pots and pans can get cleaner in their own cycle, which takes off more of the crusty gunk. The Light cycle is the one to use with your fancy china. You might even want to use Rinse to hold down odors and keep food stains from drying out, if you’re not going to run a full cycle anytime soon.
6. Read the user manual.
Okay, I can hear you laughing, but your dishwasher’s owner’s manual is filled with custom tips and diagrams that explain how and where to load the dishes to get the best cleaning. If you’ve never seen it, go online to the manufacturer’s site and take a look. It may change your life.
As far as loading the dishwasher correctly goes, I say let the partner who cares most about it load the dishes, and the other can unload when the cycle's done. I’m no marriage counselor, but if you do that, either you’ll end up with cleaner dishes, or fewer complaints. Sounds like a win-win.