Did you know that when you wash your dishes by hand you can use up to 27 gallons of water but an ENERGY STAR-rated dishwasher will only use about 3 gallons?1

But not only will you save close to 5000 gallons of water per year, you can also save 230 hours of your time by using the dishwasher effectively.2

To rinse or not to rinse

If you are loading your dishwasher the way you did as a child, you are likely doing it wrong. In the past we gave our dishes a full rinse before putting them in the dishwasher. With the technology in newer dishwashers, we simply need to scrape food waste into the compost bin/trash/garbage disposal. The built-in sensors in the dishwasher will determine the length and temperature of the cleaning cycle depending on the amount food particles it detects in the pre-wash cycle. In fact, if the sensors do not detect any food particles, it will run a short cycle and possibly leave some of your dishes dirty!3

Additionally, modern dishwasher detergents contain enzymatic cleaning agents that “digest” food particles. Without particles to attach to, the detergents do not clean as effectively.4 If you have ever wondered how dishwasher detergents do their job, check out this article on CNET.5

If you are not going to run the dishwasher within 24 hours, and the food residue might be more difficult to clean the longer it stays on the dishes you may wish to pre-rinse the dishes.6

Photo Credit: Ikea

How to load a dishwasher

Each make and model of dishwasher has a slightly different interior configuration. Some have two racks, some have three. Cutlery baskets could be on the side or center of the bottom rack whereas, some models have them on the door. There are models with optional folding tines and additional stemware holders.

The best place to find guidance on the best way to load your dishwasher is in the owner’s manual. Manufacturers provide diagrams on how dishes of all sorts can be loaded for the most efficient use of space and effective cleaning. If you no longer have your owner’s manual, check online or contact the manufacturer directly. Make a copy of the diagrams and attach them to the front of your dishwasher so that anyone loading your dishwasher will be able to see how best to do the job.

Here are some general dishwasher loading guidelines:7

  • Place small, light-weight plastics on the top shelf away from the heating element and secure them so they do not fly around inside the dishwasher.
  • Allow space between items so that water flows freely and can effectively clean them. Cramming dishes together can also lead to breakage — especially when the dishes get hot.
  • On the top rack place cups, glasses, small bowls, dishwasher-safe plastics, and long handled items.
  • On the bottom rack place plates and larger items. Oversized dishes such as cutting boards and casseroles should be put at the sides and back to allow water to move freely throughout dishwasher. The food covered side should face the center of the dishwasher sloping down towards spray arms so get full exposure to the water.
  • Most manufacturers suggest that forks and spoons should be placed in the cutlery basket with the handles pointing down so the top part can be easily cleaned while knives should be placed with the handles up so you don’t cut yourself. However, some people prefer that all cutlery should be place handles up so that when you are unloading the dishwasher, you do not touch the part of the fork/spoon/knife that people put in their mouths. The important thing is that the cutlery be placed so that the items do not stick together and that there is ample room for water to clean around each piece.

What NOT to put in the dishwasher

It is important to ensure that all your items are dishwasher-safe. Some plastic containers and non-stick pots & pans may indicate that they are dishwasher-safe but they will last longer if they are washed by hand. Chef knives should also be washed by hand as the hot water and harsh detergent can quickly dull the blade.

Items never to put in dishwasher include: brass, bronze, items with gold leaf, silver or silver plate cutlery, crystal, pewter, cast iron pans, and wood or items with wooden handles. Err on the side of caution with older dishware and heirloom items and wash those by hand.8

More dishwasher tips

Using a rinse agent helps your dishes dry faster and without water spots. (It really should be called a drying agent). It is especially helpful if you have water high in mineral content or use the “eco” cycle on your dishwasher which shortens drying time.9

Clean your dishwasher filters and traps regularly. If you are using your dishwasher daily (some big families use it more than once per day) then clean the filters and traps weekly. Check the manufacturer’s directions on how to do it.

Clean the inside of your dishwasher. Remove the debris around the door and the seals with a cloth or soft brush and some soapy water, rinsing well. Also, clean between the between door and bottom of the dishwasher where grunge can often collect. Once clean, pour one cup (8oz) of white vinegar in the bottom and run the empty dishwasher on the hottest cycle.10



  1. Postman, Andrew. “9 Tricks That Save Tons of Water.” NRDC, National Resources Defense Council, 5 Jan. 2016, www.nrdc.org/stories/9-tricks-save-tons-water.
  2. “Dishwasher vs. Hand Washing Dishes.” Products | ENERGY STAR, Energy Star, 26 Nov. 2018, www.energystar.gov/products/appliances/dishwashers/dishwasher_hand_washing.
  3. Locker, Melissa. “WATCH: Here’s Why You Can Stop Rinsing Your Dishes Before Loading the Dishwasher.” Southern Living, Meredith Home Group, 26 Nov. 2018, www.southernliving.com/kitchen-assistant/dont-rinse-dishes-before-putting-in-dishwasher.
  4. Byron, Ellen. “You’re Loading the Dishwasher Wrong: A Chore and a Power Struggle.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 30 June 2015, www.wsj.com/articles/youre-loading-the-dishwasher-wrong-a-chore-and-a-power-struggle-1435682078.
  5. Baguley, Richard. “Appliance Science: How Dishwasher Detergents Digest Food Stains.” CNET, CNET, 16 Mar. 2016, www.cnet.com/news/appliance-science-how-dishwasher-detergents-digest-food-stains/.
  6. Piro, Lauren. “Every Reason You Should Stop Pre-Rinsing Dishes.” Good Housekeeping, Good Housekeeping, 21 Mar. 2018, www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/cleaning/a33322/stop-prerinsing-dishes/.
  7. “How to Load a Dishwasher.” Product Reviews and Ratings, Consumer Reports, 5 June 2017, www.consumerreports.org/dishwashers/how-to-load-a-dishwasher/.
  8. Thomson, Julie R. “11 Things You Should Never Put In The Dishwasher.” HuffPost Canada, HuffPost Canada, 3 Aug. 2015, www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/dishwasher-tips_us_1581654.
  9. Perratore, Ed. “If You Want Drier Dishes, Use Dishwasher Rinse Aid.” Product Reviews and Ratings, Consumer Reports, 20 Jan. 2016, www.consumerreports.org/dishwashers/if-you-want-drier-dishes-use-dishwasher-rinse-aid/.
  10. “How to Clean a Dishwasher | Dishwasher Cleaning Tips.” The Home Depot, The Home Depot, 6 Jan. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfGE1k7bqTQ.