How To Load And Run A Dishwasher For Efficiency And Ultimate Cleanliness

How To Load And Run A Dishwasher For Efficiency And Ultimate Cleanliness

Loading a dishwasher is easy, right? Just toss the dishes in, add your choice of cleaning product, and you’re done. If that’s the case, why do we all too often wind up re-washing dishes as soon as they come out, or finding dishes at the end of the cycle that weren’t completely cleaned? Here’s how to load your dishwasher for maximum efficiency and maximum cleaning power.

Photo by Andy Melton.

To Pre-Wash or Not To Pre-Wash


Whether or not you should pre-wash or pre-rinse your dishes is a matter of hot debate, but it shouldn’t be. If you have a lot of loose food on your dishes, you should at least scrape or rinse it off. If you have stuck or burnt on food, you should probably pre-wash. If you have an older dishwasher, you should probably at least rinse. Photo by Aaron Harmon.

If you have a modern dishwasher that was manufactured within the last 5-7 years, it’s probably powerful enough to handle loose food particles and clean even stuck-on food from your dishes, so pre-washing is useless. You don’t want to leave a mound of leftovers on your plate, so scraping it off or pre-rinsing will help ensure completely clean dishes, but it’s likely not necessary unless your dishwasher has a history of leaving food behind when the cycle is finished.

Pre-washing and pre-rinsing uses a lot of water to do something your dishwasher may do anyway, so only do it if you anticipate the dishwasher can’t get everything off or if your dishwasher is old.

Load it Up


Run only when full. First of all, your dishwasher, like many appliances in your home, is most efficient when it’s full. Make sure to only run the dishwasher when you have enough dishes inside to make it worth the energy and the water that it’ll use to clean them. Plus, you’re not going to get your dishes cleaner by running the dishwasher empty, so don’t bother. Photo by Bart Everson.

Start on the bottom. Load up the bottom rack, making sure to keep taller items closer to the sides and back of the dishwasher so items like baking trays and large dinner plates don’t block the flow of hot water to other items in the dishwasher, like the small saucers or bowls you may have closer to the centre.

Move to the top rack. Plus, make sure you actually put mugs and glasses in the top, not the bottom. The racks on the top are made to fit glassware for a reason; just don’t shove everything in so close that they’re in direct contact with each other. At best, water won’t get between them, and at worst they may rattle and break. Plastic food storage containers should stay away from the heating element in your dishwasher, so put them on the upper rack if possible, or away from the centre if they’re on the bottom.

Inspect the layout. Ideally, your bottom rack will have pots or pans (that are diswasher-safe) and tall baking sheets and pans around the outside, dinner plates after that headed towards the centre, and small saucers and bowls in the middle. Keep your dirtiest dishes towards the centre. Not only does this make sure everything gets clean, it’s also how most racks in modern dishwashers are laid out, so you minimise the risk of breaking something. Don’t underfill, but don’t overfill either — you need the water to be able to get around.

While you’re at it, make sure your cutlery is in with the handles down (be careful of knives, of course — but don’t put your good knives in the dishwasher anyway!) and nothing’s so tall that it blocks the spray arm or won’t let you close the bottom rack. If it is, move it to the top and lay it down.

Use The Right Detergent


Sometimes the right dishwashing detergent is just as important as getting the right layout to make sure everything comes out perfectly clean. It’s difficult to make a specific suggestion because there are so many different types on the market, but try different ones and see which work best with your dishwasher. Just make sure you actually follow the instructions on whatever you use: many people add entirely too much, which results in smearing on the walls of the dishwasher, residue on the dishes, and the infamous, always hated spots on your glasses. Photo by Stephanie Dillingham.

Speaking of spots on your glasses, if your glassware seems to come out of the dishwasher spotted every time you clean them, or your beer glasses wind up with spots all down one side, fill your rinse agent reservoir with plain white vinegar instead of a commercial product. Commercial rinse agents work too, but you probably have some vinegar around the house already, and it’s an old trick that works like a charm, even in modern dishwashers. No need to do this with every wash — just when you’re doing a particularly heavy load of glassware or the rinse agent reservoir is empty.

Making sure you use the right detergent, following the instructions, and going the extra mile to get rid of water spots will cut down on the number of times you have to re-wash something because it didn’t come out clean. (Admit it, you’ve done it before.) You’ll save water, energy, and money.

Use the Right Cycle


If you’re doing a particularly light load of dishes, or your dishes are fairly clean going in, there’s no reason to let your dishwasher stay on “Heavy Wash” just because that’s the setting it was on when it was installed. Familiarise yourself with the available settings, and pick the right one for the job. Use the pots and pans setting if you actually have pots and pans in the dishwasher, and if at all possible, let your dishes dry using the air dry setting, especially if you’re letting running the dishwasher at night or overnight. You’ll be sleeping and in no hurry to get your glasses out, and it’ll save a lot of energy. Photo by Tara Hunt.

Using the right setting for the dishes you have in the dishwasher can mean the difference between having to hand-wash something again after the dishwasher has finished its cycle (especially pots and pans) which wastes water, soap and time, or using way too much water and energy blasting clean a plate that you ate a sandwich off of.

Bonus Tip: Keep Your Dishwasher Clean for Added Efficiency

You might not know it, but even though all of that soap and hot water swirls around inside your dishwasher every night doesn’t mean the dishwasher itself is inherently clean. Over time, you’ll likely get detergent buildup around the sides and on the door, and possibly on the door seal.

Dishwashers use a lot of water, so we only suggest you do this when you start to see signs of buildup, but running the dishwasher empty can breathe some new life into it. You don’t want to use detergent for the empty run though: you want something mildly abrasive that’ll pull down any buildup but also get into all of the corners and wash them clean. Consider sprinkling some bicarb soda around the bottom of the dishwasher and running it with both hot wash and dry settings. This is a good time to top off the rinse agent dispenser with vinegar and let that work its magic as well.

Do you have any expert tips to share when it comes to loading and running a dishwasher, or making sure yours runs at optimal efficiency? Share your tips in the comments below.


  • Every time I go to my sister’s I check the dishwasher filter – it’s always full of food particles. If you pre-rinse/wash then cleaning it once a month is probably ok. For the lazier people, like my sister, once a week is a better option.

  • Was never able to understand dishwashing machines.

    1. Pre-wash dishes
    2. Load dishwasher (what a hassle! Hate, hate, hate!!!)
    3. Wait for ages while dishwasher is working it cycle.
    4. Unload dishwasher and put dishes in cupboard (another BIG hassle, hate!)

    And if you do not have dishwasher:
    1. Wash a plate
    2. Put it in cupboard

    So much faster and easier!

    I do have dishwasher at home (it was installed by previous house owner), but never use it (family – 2 adults, two kids).

    • That’s just bizarre. You don’t dry your dishes. Putting them away is OK if they haven’t been through the dishwasher. Your dishwasher doesn’t work unless it’s watched. “Pre-washing”?

      You need both a decent dishwasher, and a desire to make truthful comparisons, rather than ones that make you look like you have the cognative skills of an Apple fanboy.

    • Firstly, how is putting a dish in the dishwasher any harder than putting a dish into the sink to wash it?

      Secondly, how is unloading a dish from the dishwasher and putting it in the cupboard any harder than taking a dish from the sink and putting it in the cupboard?

    • Try using it for the next 6 months, the money you save from your next water bill you might gets your kids a descent present( hoping you have recent model washers). Also your kids will be happier you had free time to spend with them.

    • The average dishwasher these days uses 12 to 14 litres of water. You would use at least 3 times the amount of water to wash an equivalent load by hand. To use a dishwasher with a full load is always more economical (and hygienic) then washing by hand.

  • I was told by a miele rep to use vinegar as rinse aid. Works a treat. I also use finish liquid, not tabs, and never have residue, always washed well.
    I do not wait until the dishwasher is absolutely full as it can be days and the gunk dries on. How does it save water to wash dishes twice?

  • tip #1 bowls, saucepans etc are washed from underneath and they all need to drain so make sure they are all upside down.

    I know it’s basic but I unload the dishwasher all the time with bowls full of water and food.

  • The thing about finishing liquid is you wouldn’t know if this sort of stuff could lead to cancer in the long term. Your glass may look clean, but there is a chemical residue on it.

  • OK, 3 observations:

    1. It is bad to run a dishwasher empty. Why? Dishwasher detergent is caustic, and reacts to the largely acidic food scraps, grease etc, thus neutralising its pH. If you run it with detergent when its empty, the causticity – now unchecked – can actually damage the dishwasher. This is from an experienced dishwasher repairer.

    2. No mention of dishwasher cleaner. Worth doing regularly – a proper clean.

    3. No mention of dishwasher conditioner. Again, worth doing regularly. It will condition the seals and innards – things made of rubber, plastic etc.

  • Actually use a dishwasher. Every person I’ve known who’s moved into a place where the dishwasher hasn’t been used in over 6 months has had nothing but trouble (up to and including flooding the kitchen with scalding hot water). I’m not sure why but I presume they’re like cars; if left unused, bad things happen.

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