The best thing to do when the dishwasher has finished running is to take out all the clean dishes and put them away. The worst thing to do is to take out just a few clean dishes, and then have someone else come along, get confused, and start mixing dirty dishes in with the clean ones. Then the dishes need to be re-washed and everyone will blame everyone else for it.
Image by Jim Cooke, photo by Shutterstock
In between the best case and the worst case, where most of us end up trying to live our lives, the thing to do is this: As soon as you open the dishwasher, hang a clean dish towel from the top rack and leave it there.
The dish towel signals to anyone who opens the dishwasher that the dishes are still clean. It is like the mythic scrunchie or necktie hung from the doorknob of a college dorm room, warning a roommate that sex is happening there — only more frequently necessary, and also more straightforward, because it doesn’t even require advance explanation. People will instinctively avoid putting dirty dishes where they see a clean dish towel hanging. Disaster will be averted.
There are companies that make “CLEAN/DIRTY” signs to post on the outside of the dishwasher. Not only do these require spending money, they require you to remember to turn the sign around. The dish towel method requires only that you reach for a dish towel when you see a batch of freshly washed and rinsed dishes.
In addition, the dish towel suggests that, rather than simply leaving the work of emptying the dishwasher for someone else, you were in the middle of doing it when something else came up. It leaves open the possibility that you might be coming back to do it, just as soon as you’re free.
Mostly, though, it just eliminates uncertainty. If there’s a towel, the dishes are clean.