9 Dishwashing Mistakes That Could Waste Your Time, Money, and Energy

Dishwashers are one of our favorite inventions—but you have to use them right.


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Most of us would openly admit that it would be hard to live without our dishwashers. These appliances make one of the most tedious tasks for the home less stressful and more convenient. But dishwashers come with problems of their own and it’s crucial to use them properly, not just for the sake of getting dishes as clean as possible, but also to keep your dishwasher working for as long as possible. Here are nine dishwashing mistakes you could be making as well as professional opinions on how to remedy them. 

Pre-Rinsing Dishes

There are two types of people in this world—those who pre-rinse and those who don’t. Those who don’t have likely been subjected to family scorn or have even been called “lazy.” But it turns out, you aren’t supposed to pre-rinse your dishes after all, according to Ann Lighfoot and Kate Pawlowski, professional organizers and co-founders of Done & Done Home

However, if you’re part of the other camp, pre-rinsing can be a hard habit to break. “According to the manufacturer's instructions on modern dishwashers, dishes shouldn't be rinsed before being loaded," Lighfoot says. "Efficient machines, combined with good dishwasher detergent, actually work better with a bit of grease." So, skip the sink. "Save time, water, and energy, and just pop those coffee cups straight into the dishwasher,” Pawlowski says.

However, this doesn't mean you should just put dinner plates right into the dishwasher straight from the table. It’s crucial to remove excess food scraps or sauces. “You should do a quick rinse to get off loose food; however, it isn’t necessary to scrub the dishes prior,” says professional organizer Ashley Stewart and founder of O.C.D.

Washing Things in the Dishwasher that You Shouldn't 

Although most of us wish it weren’t so, not everything was designed to be cleaned in the dishwasher. Plastic, melamine, fine china, and crystal usually aren't dishwasher-safe. While your dishwasher might have a china or delicate setting, it can still be risky. So, check the bottoms of your plates and cups for directions. If you’re still not sure, err on the side of caution and hand-wash.

Opting for the Wrong Rack

If you’re not sure where to place things in the dishwasher, especially plastic, flip it over and see if there are manufacturer's instructions. But if there are no instructions, Lightfoot tells me, “For the most part, plastic food storage containers, glasses, mugs, small bowls, and top-rack-safe-only items go on top. Plates, large bowls, and casserole dishes should go on the bottom rack.”

Stewart also recommends using the top rack for long serving pieces and knives. “Essential to do when you have little kids in the house,” she says. 

Loading Plates Improperly 

Stewart believes it’s best to load certain larger dishes, like dinner and salad plates, toward you. “So, when you are unloading, you have a clear view making sure the dishes are clean.” This also gives the sprayer plenty of room to work, which can be compromised when the dishwasher is overcrowded with randomly placed and stacked dishes. But, technically, there isn't a right or wrong answer here, because the best way to load the dishes can also depend on how a dishwasher's rack is designed. 

Inserting Utensils Incorrectly

Handles up or handles down? According to Lighfoot and Pawlowski, handles should face up. This is pretty definitive, especially for homes with children or where the little ones help out by unloading the dishwasher. After all, you don’t want them to grab onto knife blades or fork prongs and get injured. 

Organizing Dishes the Wrong Way

Do you load the dishwasher and find you’re playing a real-life game of Tetris to fit it all in? Having a system for loading dishes can save time and energy. For example, the founders of Done & Done suggest loading glasses from back to front. This way, you can quickly see if there’s room to fit that one last mug in.

Having a system also makes the unloading process a less arduous task. “An organized dishwasher makes unloading the dishes easier! When all of the like items are grouped together when loading, unloading and putting away is quick,” explains Stewart.  

Using Too Much Detergent 

We’ve all been there with an extra-dirty load of dishes after a dinner party or holiday meal—tempted to add some extra detergent in the tray. But this won’t get your dishes any cleaner. In fact, residue from excess dish soap can leave your dishes gritty. Or worse, too much soap can cause the suds to overflow some machines. This can potentially lead to expensive repairs. So, avoid temptation in the first place and opt for a pre-measured tab, or just be sure to stay under that maximum fill line when loading your dish detergent. 

Failing to Clean and Maintain the Dishwasher

Like any other appliance, properly maintaining a dishwasher is essential. If your dishwasher has a filter, it’s important to clean it regularly. You should also keep your eyes out for things like seeds or food scraps that didn’t get scraped away at the bottom of the dishwasher and remove them as soon as possible. Don’t forget to check the spray arm for any debris as well.

If you notice your dishes aren’t getting as clean as they used to, the machine is soiled, has an odor, or you have hard water, consider using a dishwasher cleaner, like Affresh. If you’re still having issues, you may want to consult a repair person. 

Not Running the Dishwasher Often Enough

We all know dishes can be daunting, but Lighfoot and Pawlowski tell me the key to staying organized is to make a habit of running the dishwasher nightly. “[Run it] even if it's not completely full," Pawlowski says. "This can be done in an energy-efficient way if there's an option to adjust the load size. Empty it every morning while the coffee is brewing. This simple system makes the chore of doing dishes a little less taxing.”

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