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No, How to Load the Dishwasher Isn’t a Matter of Debate. Here’s What You Need to Know

6 minute read
Belinda Luscombe is an editor at large at TIME, where she has covered a wide swath of topics, but specializes in interviews, profiles, and essays. In 2010, she won the Council on Contemporary Families Media Award for her stories on the ways marriage is changing. She is also author of Marriageology: the Art and Science of Staying Together.

As the novel coronavirus has forced us to stay home, eating from our own dishes, drinking from our own mugs and then cleaning them up afterward, like some old-timey pioneers, we’re making some interesting discoveries about our households. One of those is that the people we live with don’t know how to pack a dishwasher. We’re using them more often, we’re confined in a tight space with the offenders, and it feels like another on a long list of offensive habits from which there is no escape.

Dishwasher differences are not new. In their 2019 book Argument Addiction, Philip Lee and Diane Rudolph, co-heads of Marital Therapy at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City, claim it’s among the most common spousal battles they see. A 2012 Harris survey commissioned by Bosch found that 40% of people argued about it. Indeed, dishwasher technique was the only sticking point in the otherwise serene relationship of Cam and Laurent, who got married at the end of of Netflix’s 2020 hit dating show Love Is Blind.

This gap in our understanding of how to use the common household appliance is not entirely our fault. For years we have been victims of a disinformation campaign that the best way to pack a dishwasher is a matter of debate, a lovely-sounding idea which is as dangerous as nestling silver next to stainless steel cutlery. Around the land, people are opening dishwasher doors to discover such horrors as wooden spoons, copper pots and knives with the pointy ends up. Plates and bowls are configured as if tossed from a distance at a country fair. The good cutting knives have somehow found their way in there, their edges duller than Broadway right now. It’s all enough to make Mr. Whirlpool stop spinning in his grave.

To put an end to this ignorance, we consulted with such white goods cognoscenti as Richard Tarrant, a director of dish care at Bosch, Cindy Leichliter, consumer advocate for home cleaning at Whirlpool and Justin Pachuta, systems integrator for dishwashers at KitchenAid, to examine the top six dishwasher myths and how to dispense with them.(You may notice that dishwasher advice applies to other parts of the lockdown too.)

Myth: You must pre-rinse
Reality: Trust the science

Surveys suggest 90% of people wash their plates clean before cleaning them; it needs to stop. Pre-rinsing is the pet hate of dishwasher folk. The enzymes in the detergent are designed to attach to food, so washing your dishes first is the equivalent of watering your lawn while it’s raining—a waste of time and water. Leichliter often challenges friends to just put their lasagna dishes with the baked-on cheese right in the dishwasher to prove she’s right. By all means scrape off the chunks, but step away from the tap. (Bonus: Dispensing with the pre-rinse means nobody can use that old “just leaving it in the sink to soak” excuse for not putting their dish in the machine.)

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Myth: You can always squeeze in one more thing
Reality: As with time at home, more is not always more

There is a beautiful economy and order to a well-stacked dishwasher that’s not unlike a symphony. Adding one more plate or whisk or large cookie sheet may make the whole enterprise discordant and have you pulling half-soiled items, dripping with water, out of the machine in the morning. But running the machine every night, even if it’s half-empty, is like not giving the violins anything to do: just wasteful. Don’t feel too bad, even Tarrant has this argument with his wife. “I’m more methodical; she has an every-plate-for-himself mentality,” he says.

Myth: Everything should face the same way
Reality: Looking inward usually helps

See those propeller-like arms inside the machine? The water and detergent come out of those, so have your plates face the center of the machine where the water is coming from. Put plates with plates and bowls with bowls so they fit together without touching. Put your cookie sheets and plastic cutting boards at the outer edges so the arms don’t hit them. And make sure the spoons and forks aren’t spooning, because then the water can’t get between them. Social distancing matters in dishwashing too.

Myth: The layout of the machine is pre-ordained
Reality: There’s more than one way to play with a toy

Do you always drive your car in first gear? Do you only use your mobile phone for making calls? Learn your machine’s capabilities. “When we design, we look at mathematical models to look at how can we best optimize to serve everyone’s needs,” says Pachuta. “But we can’t cover every single scenario. We provide general loading patterns and hope people try putting things in different places.” Reading the manual may be too much, but just fiddle a bit. Some interiors have drawers you can lower or raise, others have racks you can fold down to accommodate a big bowl or little hidden shelves to fit more cups. If there are little yellow clips or levers on your machine, they move something. Fun fact: the different cycles actually do different things.

Myth: Fill the detergent to the top
Reality: Don’t opt for more than you need

As long as you are using a quality cleaning product, this is one time when your cup shouldn’t runneth over. And if you’re cheaping out on detergent, more won’t be better. It’s like spending lockdown with a person you’re just not attracted to: still no chemistry. Premium powder, some of our experts say, is usually more effective than gel. Many tout the economy of those little dishwasher powder tablets. I personally think they’re a sign that you’ve just given up, but whatever.

Myth: This is worth fighting about
Reality: If it used to be, it isn’t anymore

Now that you’re armed with some solid data, you can end this battle forever. But even if someone you live with persists in thinking dishwasher-packing is a matter of personal style, and their personal style is slipshod, it’s probably not worth going to the mat over. People are more important than machines. And anyway, you can always quietly rearrange it after they go to bed.

Please send any tips, leads, and stories to virus@time.com.

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