Dishwashing Tips for the Domestically Challenged

A dishwasher is only as good as its owner. Is someone in your household hopeless at arranging the dishes inside? Home Depot expert Rheney Williams shares a surefire way to load your machine to get those dishes sparkling.

QDT Editor
3-minute read

Sure, it's pretty on the outside, but does this dishwasher's beauty go beyond its shiny stainless steel exterior? In other words, does it actually wash the dishes inside?

Here's the thing: A dishwasher is only as good as the human loading it. This isn’t to say that extra bonus features and steam cycles don't matter, but all other things being equal, even the most expensive, top-of-the-line dishwasher will have difficulty if the dishes are not loaded correctly.

And despite what my husband believes, there is a right way to arrange the contents inside! At a minimum, there's a better way than many people are accustomed to.

I can't tell you how many times my dear husband has offered to clean after I cook. For about 10 glorious minutes, I get to relax as I hear the delightful sounds of someone else cleaning the kitchen. Imagine my surprise when I walk back in to find a sink full of dishes.

Me: "Sweetie, are you coming back to finish up?"

Him: "What do you mean? I'm done."

Me: "Why didn't you load the dishwasher?"

Him: "I did. It's full."

I open the door to find the casserole dish upside down on the bottom, taking up more than half the rack, with two random bowls filling the remaining pockets of space, all of the silverware in one caddy compartment, and our two coffee mugs plus the Tupperware bin from the salad occupying the entire top rack.


Don't get me wrong. He tried. I heard him shuffling things around. I know it's not for lack of effort. I just don't think anyone ever taught him how to load the thing properly.

And maybe that's the secret: You need to catch them when they're young! So here are some basic guidelines for better dishwasher-loading that are just as appropriate for kids as they are for husbands:

Let's start with a clean slate and take a look at the anatomy of a dishwasher. My particular model has a stainless steel tub (which is more durable than a plastic tub and will look newer longer due to the stain-resistant steel) and extra-large capacity, known as a "tall tub" in dishwasher lingo.

Allow me to direct you to my favorite feature: the staggered top rack. Check out the downward slant on the top left side. This provides extra room below for tall sheet pans, platters and extra-large plates. Since I'm a baker, this provision for washing sheet pans was a must.

But the staggered slope also means that properly placed glasses and bowls on the top rack are less inclined to accumulate that pool of water on top after a cycle. I hate unloading the dishwasher in the morning only to have a cold splash soak my socks before I've even had my coffee. The slant definitely helps with that.

Getting back to the basics of proper loading prep: Always make sure that there's nothing blocking the jets or preventing the arms from spinning. It's also a good idea to pull out the bottom rack to check that the drain is free of food or other debris, because even if your dishwasher has a grinder, things can get stuck.

And once you've explained the how of a dishwasher's function (it's all about keeping the flow of water as free as possible), your domestically challenged dishwashing pupils are more likely to accept your instructions related to the why of arranging items a certain way.

Generally speaking:

  • Use the bottom rack for plates and other flat items.

  • The prongs are there to separate items and allow the water to reach the surface, so make sure you don't pile more than one item per "row."

  • If you wash casserole dishes or heavy items, stand them upright rather than flat across the bottom rack.

  • For silverware, spread out utensils and try to prevent the spoons from "spooning" each other!

  • Use the top rack for bowls, cups, mugs, glasses; anything with a rounded shape (that will block the water below) should go on the top.

  • Keeping like items together allows you to load more dishes in at once, and staggering them provides maximum exposure for the water to wash all of the nooks and crannies.

And with that, hopefully all of your family members are better equipped to ensure the dishes get clean the first time. Getting them to actually load the dishwasher...that's another story for another day.


Rheney Williams writes home appliance tips for Home Depot. Rheney and her husband recently remodeled the kitchen in her Charleston, S.C., home. New appliances included a range, refrigerator and dishwasher. To view Home Depot's complete selection of dishwashers, including the one in Rheney's kitchen, click here.

All images courtesy of Rheney Williams.