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Dishwasher Dos and Don’ts

Laurie March | February 22, 2021

Food | Heart to Table

Solving a common kitchen dilemma

Hey! Laurie March here. For more than a decade I’ve been making over people’s homes as a designer and project manager trying to help their lives function better within their walls. And do you know the space I get called on to fix the most? The kitchen! So, I’ve teamed up with Hormel Foods to tackle some of the kitchen’s most pressing issues, one task at a time, so that you can maximize the potential of YOUR kitchen! You’ll also see some tips and tricks from our “Heart to Table” podcast guests – experts, chefs and foodies – who will give you a front-row seat to how they solve problems in the busiest room of the house.

Our next task tackles a sensitive subject in many kitchens: dishwasher etiquette. How you load your dishwasher is a loaded question. Get it? Loaded? If you’re lucky enough to have a dishwasher (who is not your spouse), you invariably have a certain way you like to load it. And if you’re like me, you often reload it after someone else has done it. But did you know there actually is a right way and a wrong way to load a dishwasher? I’m going to break it down for you and reveal some things you may not know about dishwasher protocol.

Let’s start from the bottom. Granted, not all dishwashers are the same, but the bottom rack is generally where you put the big stuff. Obviously, your dinner plates can line up one after another in the long back row, but working from the outside in, you should angle them toward each other to meet face-to-face at the center, because that’s where the washer jets are. The rest of the bottom-rack dishes and pans is often a choreographed dance to stuff in as much as possible – which actually isn’t a good thing. Think about it. You don’t wash your hair with a shower cap on, so don’t cover one dish with another. If you do, the top of the bottom one and the inside of the top one aren’t getting clean. And let’s talk bowls. Do you put them on the bottom rack too? If they are deep cereal bowls, you shouldn’t. Those bowls go on the top because if you nest them on the bottom like we all do, the jets can’t get to them. (Mind blown on that one! I’m a longtime bottom-rack bowl girl.) Your larger pots, pans and baking dishes can tuck into the sides, but make sure you angle them down, or you’re just washing their backs. Avoid putting the flat trays and pans at the front of the rack, because now you just blocked your soap dispenser. I tend to put my plastic cutting boards and cookie sheets on the left side – away from the silverware and the soap dispenser. And keep pots and pans from being face down near the washer jets – they’ll be the only things getting cleaned.

Now on to silverware. You know that part of you that likes grouping knives with knives and spoons with spoons? Well, stop that urge. They actually get cleaner all mixed up, because then spoons can’t spoon, and forks can’t – well, you know. Also, if you have any of your grandmother’s nice silver, don’t wash it next to your stainless. They don’t get along and will do their best to ruin each other. Keep them on opposite ends of the basket, or hand wash the silver! Some say the eating surface of your cutlery should face downward, others say up, I say do that however you want, but probably put the knives facing down so you don’t stab yourself.

The upper rack is naturally where all of your glasses, mugs and smaller items go – and as we now know, your bowls (mind still blown). Angle them facing down – not nested – so the water can get to them. Do you know why plastic always goes on the top? It’s because the heating element of the dishwasher is on the bottom. That’s why you continually melt your storage containers. The upper rack is also a great spot to lay tongs, spatulas and ladles. If you’re lucky enough to have that fancy third rack on top, throw those babies and any extra flatware up there. Just make sure nothing can slip through the racks and tumble to the bottom, blocking the water nozzles.

Do you find yourself pressing the same “auto” button every time? Change it up based on your dish load. Thanksgiving? Hit the “heavy” button. Lunch dishes that only had a sandwich on them? Go for the express wash. Just like your own routines, your dishwasher needs you to switch it up once in a while. Plus, if your machine is anything like mine, that “auto” button is starting to look a little rough around the edges.

Just like your own routines, your dishwasher needs you to switch it up once in a while.

When it comes to unloading, there’s really just one big rule. Always empty the bottom rack first, because you know what happens … all that water pooled in glasses and crevices on the top rack spills down to the bottom rack. And that just bugs me.

You might be underutilizing this amazing resource in your kitchen. There are tons of other things you can wash besides dishes. Your dishwasher is a great way to wash baseball hats, because they’ll keep their shape on the racks. Can’t ever seem to get your flip flops clean? Toss those puppies in, too. Garden tools, kid and pet toys? The dishwasher is the king when it comes to getting them clean. Guess what else you can do? Warm food! When you run out of oven space for Thanksgiving, place your food on trays, set them on the racks and run a drying cycle. (But just a drying cycle or your meal will be toast.)

This brings us to what not to put in the dishwasher. Wood cutting boards, spoons, bowls, just anything wood. It’s porous, and it will never be the same. Sharp knives are a no-no as well. They should always be washed by hand. As for those trendy insulated cups, the extreme dishwasher temperature can ruin the insulating seal, which then ruins the purpose of the cup. Don’t wash things with the labels still on, because that paper can end up clogging the dishwasher’s filter. Keep your fine china and crystal out, and anything that says, “not dishwasher safe” (natch). Lastly, never, ever, ever put your cast-iron pans in the dishwasher. In fact, try not to ever wash your cast iron with soap, period. Wipe it out, rub a little oil in it and call it good. Hey, that might be a topic for another how-to ….

I’ll be back next month with more tips and tricks to solve another kitchen dilemma!

Until next time,