The Official, Only Way to Unload the Dishwasher

published Jul 9, 2023
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A person is pushing the top rack in of a dishwashing machine
Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

When it comes to household tasks that people have very strong feelings about, wearing shoes in the house, paper towel versus rag usage, and how to load a dishwasher are at the top of the list. 

If memes are to be believed (there’s a grain of truth in every joke, right?), whole relationships seem to hinge on whether a person’s partner loads the dishwasher the “right way” or the wrong way. (To dishwasher-loading rule followers, there doesn’t seem to be an in between.) 

Interestingly, talk about dishwashers and the dishes that are placed in them starts and ends with loading. While the way a dishwasher is loaded definitely affects how clean your dishes get and the longevity of your kitchen items (don’t put plastic on the bottom rack!), the way you unload a dishwasher affects how easy it is to get those clean dishes back where they belong. 

Unloading the dishwasher used to be one of my least favorite chores. (I’ll be honest: That’s one of the reasons I passed this job off to the kids!) But now, after taking a careful look at my dishwasher-unloading habits, I have an unloading method that makes this chore almost satisfying. 

Credit: Shifrah Combiths

The Best Way to Unload the Dishwasher

Here is a guideline for the right way to unload your dishwasher.

Load strategically.

The following tips work whether you’re a rule-following loader or not, but loading the dishwasher strategically helps so much when it comes to unloading. Try to follow best practices around putting similar types of dishes together so they’re easy to grab all at once. This reduces the energy required to find the particular type of item you’re unloading or to switch back and forth between cabinets or drawers where you’re putting dishes away. 

Unload the bottom rack first. 

Start by unloading the bottom rack of the dishwasher first. The reason for this is straightforward: It keeps your dishes from getting wet when you unload the top rack. 

Focus on one type of item at a time.

Focusing on one type of item at a time means you don’t have to waste energy switching between locations where items get put away. For example, if you’re unloading the bottom rack, take out all the large plates first, then move on to the salad plates, and finish up with the bowls. When you’re unloading glassware, unload water glasses all at once and then unload mugs. You’ll maximize efficiency by creating a “path of motion” between the dishwasher and where dishes get put away.

Credit: Shifrah Combiths

Put still-wet dishes on the dish rack to dry. 

Even if you angle your dishes to minimize water retention when you’re loading, some dishes will still be wet when you unload. For instance, most of my coffee mugs are slightly indented on the bottom; this creates small pools of water that are still there, even after the dishwasher’s drying cycle. Rather than trying to shake these dry and putting still-wet dishes in the cabinets, I have started to put them straight on the dish drying rack, which is strategically placed on the counter above the dishwasher. The same applies to food storage lids. If you want to put wet dishes away right away, have a towel ready to dry them. 

Stack similar items that belong “far away” together on the counter. 

In addition to focusing on one type of item at a time as you unload, also consider the location of the items that need to be put away. In my kitchen, items like spatulas, tongs, and large glass cooking/storage bowls go in drawers and cabinets on the other side of my kitchen. When I unload, instead of making several trips across the kitchen, I gather all these items in one spot on the counter and then make one trip at the end of unloading. This might seem like such a tiny thing, but it saves time, decision-making, and movement, which all contribute to how tedious a task feels. 

Finding ways to streamline chores, especially daily chores that have to get done in such a busy space as the kitchen, makes everything else run more smoothly. Any time you can automate a task, the time you put into actually doing it can also become a time for a brain break or quiet reflection, and that’s always a win.