How To Load a Dishwasher Guide

To ensure your dishes come out sparkling after each wash cycle, you’ll want to know the proper placement for each item in your dishwasher. Use this guide to learn a few tips on how to properly load a two-rack or three-rack dishwasher to get your dishes and cookware clean and ready for your next creation.

Woman picking up dirty bowl to load into dishwasher Woman picking up dirty bowl to load into dishwasher

How To Properly Load a Dishwasher

Before you begin, review these tips for proper dishwasher loading. 

  • Remove any food, bones, toothpicks and other hard items from your dishes.

  • Remove labels from jars or containers.

  • Load from back to front on both the upper and lower rack. Unload from bottom to top so any water pooled on upper rack dishes doesn’t drip on dry lower rack dishes.

  • Place items facing the center of the dishwasher and angled down toward the spray jets. Placing them at an angle will not only help with cleaning but will also help ensure proper draining and drying. If your dishes aren’t drying in the dishwasher, it may be because of improper dish placement.

Person loading a small cup in a dishwasher

Step 1: Load The Upper Rack

Read on below for tips to load the upper rack of your dishwasher for the best cleaning results:

  • Place mugs, cups, drinking glasses and stemware face down along the sides of the upper rack. Position these items between the tines, not on them to keep them more secure. Some dishwashers come with stemware holders to provide protection for wine glasses and champagne flutes. KitchenAid brand offers dishwashers with 2, 4 and 6 stemware holders to keep your favorite glasses safe.


  • Small bowls and plates should be placed between the tines and angled downward toward the center of the dishwasher. Be sure to avoid “nesting” or overlapping bowls to help ensure optimal cleaning.


  • Large utensils, spatulas and ladles should be laid flat on the upper rack. Avoid placing these items in the utensil holder as they can potentially block a lower level spray arm. Smaller utensils can also be loaded on the upper rack as well; just make sure they’re placed so they won’t fall through an open space in the rack.


  • Plastic containers should be loaded on the upper rack, away from the heating element to avoid warping or melting. And only wash plastic items that are marked “dishwasher safe.”

Dishwasher rack full of dishes and silverware

Step 2: Load The Lower Rack

To properly load the lower rack of your dishwasher, you should:

  • Load larger items like plates, large bowls, dishwasher-safe casserole dishes and stainless steel cookware in the bottom rack of the dishwasher. 


  • Place soiled pans, bowls and casserole dishes on their sides. This is especially important for older dishwashers that might only have a spray arm in the bottom of the tub that could potentially get blocked by a face-down dish.


  • Make sure plates are placed between the tines and there is room between plates. If possible, alternate large and small plates to improve surface area. The soiled surfaces of plates should be angled toward the jets at the bottom of the dishwasher.


  • When loading pots and pans make sure handles are pointing away from spray arms so cleaning isn’t impeded.


  • Platters and dishwasher-safe cutting boards should be placed along the perimeters of the lower rack. Make sure they don’t block spray arms and avoid placing them in the front of the rack as this could prevent detergent from dispersing properly.

Dishwasher utensil holder full of silverware

Step 3: Load The Utensil Holder

With the exception of knives, cutlery should be loaded in the utensil holder with handles down. If your utensil basket doesn’t have covers, alternate the handle placement of forks and spoons to avoid nesting, which can keep water and detergent from hitting all surfaces. Place knives and skewers with blades down to protect your fingers from getting nicked or cut when emptying the dishwasher.

Illustration of a properly loaded dishwasher Illustration of a properly loaded dishwasher

1. For more information on loading the FreeFlex Third Rack dishwasher see your Use and Care Guide.

Dishwasher Loading Tip

Many dishwashers come with a clean indicator light that will illuminate to signal that dishwashing is complete. The light will remain illuminated until the dishwasher is opened to eliminate the question of whether the load of dishes is clean or dirty.

View of a loaded dishwasher with its door open View of a loaded dishwasher with its door open

How To Load a Three Rack Dishwasher

Depending on what your third rack can fit, place items face down on the rack, making sure to leave enough space between each dish or utensil to allow soap and water to flow through.

KitchenAid brand offers Third Level Utensil Rack Dishwashers designed to hold large, flat items like spatulas and serving utensils to free up space in the lower racks. The KitchenAid® FreeFlex Third Rack Dishwasher is the largest third rack dishwasher available2 and provides versatile loading options.

A deep, angled design fits 6" glasses, mugs and bowls. Rotating jets target the Third-Level Rack while a drying bar wicks away moisture. See the KitchenAid® FreeFlex Dishwasher in action and get a closer look at the amazing loading possibilities it delivers.

2. Among leading brands based on usable volume.

How Not To Load a Dishwasher: 3 Common Dishwasher Loading Mistakes

When loading your dirty dishes into your dishwasher, try to avoid the following common mistakes to ensure your dishes come out spotless.

1. Pre-Rinsing Dishes

A dishwasher’s job is to wash the dishes, so you don’t have to, but many people still get carried away with pre-rinsing. If you’ve bought a dishwasher within the past 10 years there’s no need to do this. Seriously. Not only is over-zealous pre-rinsing a waste of time and resources, it can actually interfere with the cleaning process. Most modern dishwashers have built-in sensors that measure the soil-level of your load. If your dishes don’t have any soil on them the dishwasher might be cutting your cycle short, leaving your dishes less than sparkling. In addition, the detergent will be most effective if there’s a bit of food for it to cling to and wash away. 

2. Overloading Your Dishwasher

We’re all concerned about the planet these days but keep in mind that overloading your dishwasher may not be helping in the way you want it to. Dishes need a little space – if water can’t reach something it won’t get clean – so by all means, avoid stacking and nesting to prevent washing your dishes a second time or overflowing the dishwasher.

If you have a large household or do a lot of cooking or entertaining and are consistently running larger loads, the KitchenAid® FreeFlex Third Rack Dishwasher is designed to take on large loads.

3. Loading Non-Dishwasher Safe Items

Before you put anything in your dishwasher make sure it’s dishwasher safe. Here are some things that need hand washing:

  • Wooden cutting boards, bowls and utensils – They’re porous and they might warp

  • Cast iron and non-stick pans – Hot water and detergent can destroy their coatings

  • Silver or enamel – Heat and detergent can ruin these finishes 

  • Fine china – Some dishwashers have cycles specifically designed for fine china but keep in mind that these items can break or chip easily

Dishwasher rack full of dishes and cookware Dishwasher rack full of dishes and cookware

Is There a Proper Way To Unload a Dishwasher?

There is no wrong way to unload a dishwasher, but you can make the task easier by unloading heavier items first and sorting dishes and utensils as you unload. This can help you stay organized and efficient, making kitchen clean-up less of a chore.

Explore Dishwashers From KitchenAid

Be sure to browse KitchenAid® stainless steel dishwashers, black stainless steel dishwashers and front control dishwashers so you can focus more on cooking and less on cleaning.

Learn more about KitchenAid® Dishwashers