Loading a dishwasher is like playing Tetris—you have to twist and wiggle each plate and bowl until you get the fit just right. Nail the arrangement and you’ll prevent lurking bacteria from growing on your dishes and utensils. Do it wrong and you end up hand-washing half the stuff anyway. We got the full scoop on how to load a dishwasher from Ashley Murphy, an organizing expert and cofounder of NEAT Method.

Remember, No Two Dishwashers Are Alike

Before slotting in a single fork, Murphy urges you to check the manufacturer’s manual or YouTube videos—whatever helps you familiarize yourself with your specific appliance’s features. “Many have adjustable racks that move up and down to allow for custom configurations with each wash,” she points out, and you might have a third rack for serving spoons and tongs tucked into the top.

Things That Can Go in a Dishwasher (That You Didn’t Think Could)

Send This to Your Significant Other: How to Load a Dishwasher

Kitchen workhorses such as refrigerator and freezer shelves and microwave trays can indeed be cleaned in the dishwasher as long as they fit. The same goes for silicone cooking tools like measuring cups and reusable straws. But the biggest surprise? You can disinfect golf balls, keys, and toys, says Murphy: “Just place them on the top rack or in a mesh bag, so they don’t fall to the bottom.”


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Things That Should Never Go in a Dishwasher

Hand-wash your knives (they’ll dull more quickly in a dishwasher), plastic containers that can’t withstand high heat (you don’t want them to melt!), and precious-metal pieces (they’ll tarnish over time). Keep cast-iron skillets far away, too—dish-washing detergents will strip away their built-up nonstick surface, leaving the pans vulnerable to rust. “Nonstick pots and pans can also lose their coating from being run through the dishwasher,” explains Murphy. And at all costs, avoid anything wood that could crack (yes, that includes your Instagram-worthy charcuterie boards).

Common Dishwasher-Loading Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them) 

Random Placement

Don’t just put things in willy-nilly. Regardless of the layout of your dishwasher, Murphy’s overall philosophy remains the same: “Group similar items together,” from large plates to spoons. This technique allows you to fit more—and makes for a more efficient process.

Cramming in Every Last Utensil

We know hand-washing brings on feelings of impending doom, but go easy on your appliance. Before you squeeze another bowl into that corner, think twice. Is it worth it? Or will you end up having to rewash items? “Which will just result in wasting time, water, and detergent,” adds Murphy.

How to Load a Dishwasher

The Supplies

  • All those dirty dishes
  • Dish detergent 
  • Rinse aid (or white vinegar)

Step 1: Prep Your Dishwasher

Check and clean out the dishwasher’s filter, located at the bottom of the appliance, if needed. This will prevent it from clogging (so your dishes don’t bathe in their own grime). Next, add your detergent of choice and rinse aid, a nice-to-have for nixing any water spots.


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Step 2: Reconfigure the Shelves

Did you know you can adjust your upper rack’s height to match the items you’re washing? Many models have levers on the sides that make this possible. “Lowering the top rack works great for wineglasses and raising it can be helpful to fit taller items like platters and pitchers on the bottom,” says Murphy.

Step 3: Load the Upper Rack

Send This to Your Significant Other: How to Load a Dishwasher

Give your smaller, lighter dishes (think: drinking glasses, bowls, and small plates) a quick rinse in hot water to remove excess food. Then slot them in by type. “Utensils that don’t fit on the bottom rack should also go there,” Murphy adds (or on the skinny third rack, if you have one).

Step 4: Organize the Lower Rack

dishes, utensils, and dinosaur toys in dishwasher

Murphy recommends lining the outer edges of the rack with longer platters and cutting boards, then filling in the middle with your larger and heavier plates and bowls, again organizing them by category. If you’re using a utensil basket, split up the sections for forks, spoons, and knives. “Be sure to give some space between each, so they aren’t on top of each other,” she notes. Remember those reusable straws we mentioned earlier? Stick them on any empty tines. We knew scrolling TikTok (where that hack has 71,000 likes and counting) was good for something.