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The six mistakes you're making when loading your dishwasher

Expert Carolyn Forte says the battle over loading the dishwasher is 'a little bit of a control issue'

Jura Koncius
Sunday 27 March 2016 10:54 BST
Knives down, forks up
Knives down, forks up (Andrea Castelli/Flickr)

Carolyn Forte, director of home appliances for the Good Housekeeping Institute, is paid to know the best way to get your dishes sparkling clean.

She is still amazed at all the differences of opinion about dishwashers and how to run them for maximum performance. “Loading the dishwasher causes a lot of angst. This is still a battle ground, and people have such strong feelings about things like pre-rinsing,” she says. “It’s a little bit of a control issue.”

Forte and her staff analyze new dishwasher models and how to get the cleanest result. Manufacturers continually update features to balance energy efficiency and performance while reducing water usage, she says.

She’s constantly being asked for advice. One of her favorite tips: before you start your dishwasher, run the hot water in the sink next to it until the water gets hot, usually about 15 seconds. The cold water sitting in your pipes will go down the drain and not into your dishwasher. And of course, don’t forget to read your manual.

We asked her to address six common mistakes consumers make when operating dishwashers.

Pre-rinsing dishes

“Our position is that you don’t need to pre-rinse at all; unless you aren’t running the load right away,” Forte says. You don’t want clumps of food of course, so scrape or wipe that off. But she is confident that your dishwasher can handle a dirty plate. Forte and her husband often run the short-rinse cycle in their machine if the two of them load dishes from one meal and don’t want to run a full cycle. “It only uses about a gallon of water,” she says.

Jamming flatware in without a plan

Unless you have a designated separate flatware tray in your dishwasher, agree on a method for loading forks, knives and spoons into the washing basket. “We recommend you put the knives in with the blades down and the forks go up. Of course, do this carefully. Mix the spoons up and down. Don’t put all the spoons in one basket,” Forte says. And don’t ever load wooden spoons: they may crack.


“Don’t overload and don’t overlap,” says Forte. Some people jam so many items in the appliance that the water can’t reach the inside of the dishware. “Make sure surfaces are exposed enough so water and detergent can get to them. If a bowl is blocking a glass, it won’t get clean,” Forte says.

Incorrectly loading trays and cookie sheets

These large flat items should be put on the side or back of the lower rack of the machine, never in the front, Forte says. If your pan covers the dispenser, it might not be able to properly release the dishwashing detergent.

Tossing dishwashing tabs directly into the dishwasher

Yes, some people cavalierly toss single-dose packets right in, just as they do in their washing machines (where is it the correct method of use). If you’re fond of using tabs, which Forte says are generally just as effective as powder or gel, never fling them inside. These are made to go into a dispenser to be released at the proper time in the cycle. If you pitch them in the machine, the detergent will dissolve in the pre-wash and it will be gone for the main washing cycle.

Use a rinse-aid product

Since today’s machines use less water, a special dishwasher rinse aid is recommended to make the dishes look sparkling clean and improve drying. Forte says the rinse products make water less likely to stick to the dishes or leave spots or film on glassware.

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