Surprising Mistakes You’re Making Every Time You Load the Dishwasher

Of all the tasks you learn to handle as an adult, properly loading a dishwasher seems like one of the easiest to master. All you have to do is collect your dirty dishes (and other items), arrange them in some semblance of order, add your detergent, and hit “Start.” Well, we hate to break it to you, but you’re probably loading the dishwasher wrong. Fortunately, however, you aren’t alone.

Read on to check out some of the most common — and unexpected — mistakes you’re making every single time you load your dishwasher.

1. You’re putting things on the wrong rack

female hands loading dishes to the dishwasher
You have to put each item on the correct rack. |

Some items are safe to wash only in the top rack of the dishwasher. Others actually need the more robust cleaning afforded by a spot on the bottom rack. As Apartment Therapy explains, it matters a lot more than you think it does. (If you’ve ever melted something plastic on the bottom rack of the dishwasher, you probably understand.) Need some quick guidelines? Glasses, bowls, and large utensils should usually go on the top rack. Meanwhile, plates, pots, and pans should go on the bottom rack. 

2. You’re washing items that aren’t dishwasher-safe

Woman Loading Dishwashwasher
Don’t forget to check whether everything you want to wash is dishwasher-safe. |

The No. 1 rule of loading a dishwasher? Don’t use it to wash items that aren’t dishwasher-safe. While most of the things you have in your kitchen can go in the dishwasher, there are many notable exceptions. For instance, you shouldn’t put your cast iron skillet in the dishwasher. And think twice before loading it up with your vintage china or you copper cookware and drinkware. Don’t use it to wash your wooden utensils or wooden cutting boards. And refrain from washing your good knives in the dishwasher, too. 

3. You’re packing in too many dishes

Woman Bending Down Loading Plates
Don’t overfill the dishwasher. |

Feel proud every time you can cram a dinner party’s worth of dishes into a single load? We get it. But we have to tell you that isn’t the way to get the best results out of your dishwasher. Even the best dishwasher will struggle to thoroughly clean plates that are too close together. And Apartment Therapy notes if you have fragile glassware, you should always leave plenty of space between those pieces to prevent any breakage. 

4. You’re using too much detergent

African Woman Removing Plate
Refrain from using too much detergent. |

When you have a load of extra-dirty dishes, it might sound logical to add some extra detergent to make sure that things get clean. But you definitely don’t want to do that if you want shiny, clean dishes when you open the dishwasher again. Apartment Therapy reports using too much detergent can leave a visible film over your dishes. The solution? Just read the box or carton and use the amount the manufacturer recommends. 

5. You’re using cheap detergent

Man Arranging Dishes In Dishwasher
Don’t use cheap detergent either. |

It’s hard to imagine the kind of detergent you use will really make a difference. But Consumer Reports assures readers it does. The publication recommends you always choose a top-rated dishwasher detergent, which will clean your dishes well without discoloring aluminum cookware or leaving a film on your glassware. The best detergents, usually in tab or pod form, will also perform better at removing food residue than cheaper detergents. 

6. You aren’t closing the detergent compartment

Father and son placing glass in dishwasher
Always remember to close the detergent compartment. |

CNET reports one of the biggest dishwasher mistakes it neglecting to close the detergent compartment when you start the cycle. If you leave the compartment open, the detergent washes down to the bottom of the dishwasher. There, it exits the drain without cleaning your dishes. If the door won’t close, ensure that you aren’t using too much detergent — or figure out how to fix the mechanism. 

7. You’re running the dishwasher when it’s only half full

young woman in kitchen doing housework
Don’t run the dishwasher when it’s only half full. |

Conversely, Apartment Therapy reports it doesn’t work well to run a dishwasher that doesn’t have enough in it either. When you run it only partially filled, you waste water. You also risk breakage as dishes bump around. According to Apartment Therapy, people who find themselves constantly running half-full loads likely either need to hand-wash their dishes more or need to buy more plates. 

8. You’re leaving too much food on the plate

Man Loading Dishwasher
Always scrape food off of your plates. |

There’s a reason your mother always told you to rinse your plates and bowls before putting them in the dishwasher. Even the most expensive dishwasher can use a little help. If there’s still a lot of food on the plate, dump the food and scrape the plate before you put it in the dishwasher. But don’t feel the need to rinse. Consumer Reports determined that pre-rinsing just isn’t necessary.

9. You’re using water that isn’t hot enough

Run the dishwashing machine
Make sure your water is hot enough. |

How often do you think about the temperature of the water that your dishwasher uses? Probably not often. But Reader’s Digest reports many people use water that isn’t hot enough. The average dishwasher performs best when it has water that reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit. You can check the temperature of the hot water in your home with a meat thermometer. If it’s not hot enough, think about adjusting the temperature of your water heater. 

10. You’re letting your utensils nest together

Catering cutlery service with tableware
Don’t let your utensils nest together. |

Do you always end up with dirty forks and crusted-over spoons, even when everything else emerges from the dishwasher pristine? Then, you’re probably allowing those utensils to nest together, which blocks them from getting thoroughly cleaned. Apartment Therapy’s easy solution? Just alternate placing them in the utensil holder handle-first or head-first. Or mix forks, knives, and spoons together so that they don’t nest together. 

11. You’re facing your dishes the wrong way

A female hand is shown loading dishes
Make sure your dishes aren’t facing the wrong way. |

Similarly, Reader’s Digest reports there’s a right way and a wrong way to orient the dishes if you want everything to get clean. We’ve already established that bowls go on the top rack. But the publication advises that the ones in the back of the dishwasher should face forward. The ones in the front should face backward. That way, the water can reach them. Plates, meanwhile, should all face the center of the bottom rack. 

12. You’re placing knives handle-down

open dishwashing machine
Never put knives in the utensil holder handle-down. |

This might not seem like an issue if this is the way you’ve always loaded the dishwasher or if you’ll be the one to unload it. But common sense indicates you should always place knives handles up. That way, you’ll minimize your chances of cutting yourself when you reach for the utensil holder. Even if you’ve found your knives get cleanest this way, it’s best to minimize your chances of cutting yourself. 

13. You’re covering the sprayer

Woman loading dishwasher
Don’t block the sprayer. |

The sprayer is the part of the dishwasher that distributes the water and ensures that everything gets clean. So you don’t want to block it or impede its motion by placing something large in its way. Take a quick look at where the sprayer goes and how it moves to make sure you aren’t blocking it the next time you load the dishwasher. Consumer Reports recommends placing oversize items, such as platters and dishwasher-safe cutting boards, toward the sides and back of the bottom rack, where they’re least likely to block the flow of water and detergent. 

14. You’re unloading the dishwasher in the wrong order

Smiling caucasian girl helping in kitchen
Don’t unload the dishwasher in the wrong order. |

You aren’t out of the woods once you’ve finished loading the dishwasher and it runs its cycle. The Spruce reports it’s also possible to unload the dishwasher the incorrect way. In fact, you should always unload the bottom rack of the dishwasher first. That’s because the bottoms of cups and bowls, which face upward when you run the dishwasher, can sometimes collect pools of water. If you remove them first, you’ll just splash water all over the clean dishes below. 

15. You’re ignoring spots

young woman putting dishes into dishwasher
Never ignore the spots on your glassware. |

CNET reports another big mistake is ignoring the annoying the spots that show up on your glassware. If you see those spots, that means you have hard water. Fortunately, you can add a boosting agent or a hard water spot remover to each load. These products can easily take care of the problem — and you won’t have to spend extra time wiping down your glasses each time you take them out of the dishwasher.

And don’t forget to take care of your dishwasher, too. Two teaspoons of Borax or baking soda added to your regular detergent once a month will take care of buildup in the dishwasher’s mechanisms.

Read More: 16 Hassle-Free Kitchen Cleaning Secrets You Need to Know