A properly loaded dishwasher ensures better cleaning so you can optimize your cycle. Learn more about the best way to load a dishwasher, and get tips on how to properly load a dishwasher for clean dishware and cookware every time.

How to load a dishwasher step-by-step

Dishwasher racks are configured differently depending on which model you have. The picture below offers two different examples of dishwasher loading techniques. Refer to these examples as guidelines for proper positioning and placement as you follow the instructions below.

How to load a dishwasher 10-piece load.
How to load a dishwasher 12-piece load.

4 guidelines for properly loading a dishwasher

These guidelines are key for a properly loaded dishwasher and sparkling clean dishes.

  1. Place dishes with their dirty sides facing the center of the dishwasher and angled down toward the washer jets. The washer jets, located on rotating spray arms under the top and bottom racks, spray upward to wash and rinse dishes. Placing items at an angle not only helps with effective cleaning, but also assists with proper drying and draining.

  2. Ensure separation between items and avoid overcrowding the dishwasher. Stacking or nesting items makes it difficult for the water jets to spray inside them. Nesting involves placing items with concave or curved shapes like bowls and spoons together, similar to how you might store them in drawers or cabinets.

  3. Secure items between the tines on the racks so that they don’t knock against one another or topple over during washing.

  4. Make sure that the items you’re loading in the dishwasher are dishwasher safe. Hand washing is typically recommended for nonstick cookware, kitchen knives, fine china, crystal and anything wooden, cast iron, aluminum, gold, copper, silver and bronze. Washing these items in the dishwasher may ruin the finish or cause damage.  

Now that you have the basics down, let’s get into the details with our step-by-step guide for loading a dishwasher.

Diagram of how to properly load the upper rack of a dishwasher.

Load the upper rack of your dishwasher

Items suitable for the upper rack include: cups, mugs, drinking glasses, stemware, plastic items and containers, small bowls, small plates and large utensils.

  1. Place mugs, cups, wine glasses and water bottles upside down along the sides of the upper rack from front to back. 

    • If you have a fold-down shelf with stemware holders, secure the stems of wine glasses and champagne flutes in the stemware holders for extra protection during washing.

    • Some dishwasher models have flexible spray nozzles on the upper rack that can be placed inside tall glasses or water bottles for a more thorough cleaning. 

  2. Position small bowls and plates between tines. Angle them so they’re facing down and toward the center of the dishwasher. 

  3. Plastic containers and lids can be washed in the top rack, provided that they are dishwasher safe. Similar to small bowls, place plastic containers facing downward.

    • Plastic items should always be placed in the top rack to keep them away from the heating element on the bottom of the dishwasher. Plastic can become warped if it gets too hot.

    • Ensure plastic items fit securely in your top dishwasher rack and are not small enough to fit through gaps. Plastic items that fall through can block one of the washer arms or land on your dishwasher’s heating element.

  4. Long utensils like spatulas or ladles should be laid flat on the upper dishwasher rack. 

    • Make sure these utensils cannot slip through the rack or otherwise block the spray arms.

Diagram of how to properly load the lower rack of a dishwasher.

Load the lower rack of your dishwasher

Items suitable for the lower rack include: Large bowls, dinner and lunch plates, serving platters, silverware, dishwasher-safe baking dishes and stainless steel pots and pans.

  1. Place dinner and lunch plates between the tines on the bottom rack and angle the dirty sides toward the washer jets.

    • Don’t stack dishes on top of each other. This causes nesting and prevents dishes from being cleaned evenly. Alternating larger and smaller plates can help prevent nesting.

  2. Position large bowls between tines or along the side, back or front of the bottom rack. Face the inside of each bowl toward the center of the dishwasher and angle them downward.

  3. Larger cookware items like pots, pans and baking dishes can be placed along the sides or back of the lower rack. These items should be angled down to ensure better cleaning and drainage.

  4. Flat pans or platters should be placed on the side or back of the lower rack away from the dishwasher door – placing them in front of the door can block detergent from reaching other dishes.

  5. Load silverware into the silverware basket. Take care to avoid nesting when loading as this can cause some utensils to clean inefficiently.

    • Place knives with the handles up to protect your fingers and hands when unloading.

    • Spoons and forks should be placed with the handles down to ensure proper cleaning.

    • Some silverware baskets have lids that can be flipped up or removed if your silverware handles do not fit into the slots in the lids.

Once everything is loaded and secure, remember to fill your detergent dispenser to the necessary level based on your water hardness. If you aren’t sure what your hardness is, you can fill your detergent dispenser about half way. Then, select your wash and dry settings. While proper loading is key to helping your dishwasher clean effectively, Whirlpool® Dishwashers also have special features such as sensor cycles and third-level racks to help you get even more out of your dishwasher.

Looking for a dishwasher that’ll work in almost any kitchen layout? Check out our collection of portable dishwashers today!

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