Some thoughts about dirty dishes

Adam Fields
4 min readDec 8, 2022

A little about me: I cook a lot, mostly dinner at home for my family and friends but sometimes for massive parties of upwards of 200 people. I’ve been doing sous vide cooking since 2010. I run a food blog called Unselling Convenience (also @unsellingconvenience on Instagram if you’d rather follow along there), which is mostly an inspiration board and memory database of things I’ve enjoyed cooking and probably want to cook again. I believe that shortcuts are great, but not at the expense of quality. I administer the Everyday Sous Vide and Instant Pot Love groups on Facebook. My food writing is collected at

It should probably come as no surprise that I’ve given a lot of thought to dealing with dirty dishes and the dishwasher. We don’t talk about this a lot, but cleanup is just as important as prep. You may think some of these are obvious, but the obvious things need to be repeated. If you buy something from one of the links, I probably get a small commission which won’t even come close to defraying the amount of money I’ve spent on these things over the years but which will make me happy anyway.

In no particular order, here are some of the rules I follow:

  • When loading flat items (cutting boards, sheet pans), they should not be touching each other. Along the side and back edges are good places for those things — put the dirty used side facing towards the inside of the machine. Why: when things stick together, water and soap can’t get between them to clean them.
  • Flat tall items should not go in the front side closest to the door, they’ll block the detergent dispenser. This was happening to me for a long time after I got a new dishwasher and I couldn’t figure out why there was always detergent left in the chamber, and then one day it clicked. Why: we don’t want the detergent to get stuck.
  • In the dishwasher, forks and spoons go head up, knives go head down. Load cutlery from back to front in the baskets. Why: more exposed areas get cleaner, but no one likes to be stabbed, and it’s much easier to fill in subsequent ones when you don’t have to search around for a free spot. This one applies most to my particular dishwasher, which has slots for cutlery, but you may have similar situations:
Silverware slots are nice!
  • Gravity matters, load everything such that water flows downwards out of it. Why: pooled water is annoying and usually has detergent residue in it.
  • For any fragile glassware (stemless wine glasses, cocktail glasses, etc…, not regular glass cups which are soda lime glass and more durable), alternate glass and plastic around them. Why: we don’t like broken or chipped glasses.
  • Fragile glasses (wine glasses, cocktail glasses) should not be left in the sink, they should be left on the counter. Why: things get dropped in the sink and they’ll break.
  • When leaving glasses in the sink, keep them upright and not on their sides. Why: glasses are much more likely to break when something else is piled/dropped on top of them and they’re on their side. The top rim has much more resistance to pressure/impact.
  • When leaving glasses in the sink, do not put silverware in them. If silverware needs to soak, do it in something that isn’t glass. Why: metal things knocked against the edges of the glass can break it.
  • Any dishes with food on them should be rinsed immediately before left to harden in the sink. Why: when food dries it gets caked on and harder to remove.
  • Most cooked-on stuck-on (not burned-on) food can be removed with soaking for a few hours or overnight and scrubbing with, in order, a nylon brush, a stiff nylon brush, a non-abrasive scrub sponge (not the green stuff), and finally steel wool if appropriate. A bottle brush is also useful for narrow spaces. Why: if you go straight for the sponge, caked on food will just gunk up the sponge. Use a brush first, it’s easier to clean and will do a better job of getting solid food off.
  • When finished with it, always squeeze out the sponge. Why: wetter sponges grow bacteria and get more gross.
  • For anything that has parts, WASH ALL OF THE PARTS TOGETHER. Do not run just one piece through the dishwasher without the others. Why: that’s how they get separated and lost.
  • Most plastic items should go in the top rack of the dishwasher unless you know they’re heat resistant. Why: the heat of the dryer will warp them.
  • Knives with edges never go in the sink (butter knives can). Very sharp knives (chef’s knives) get handwashed, dried, and put away right after using. Medium sharp-knives (steak knives, paring knives, carving knives, bread knives, etc…) can be put blade down by the side of the sink if needed for later washing. NEVER blade up. Never IN the sink. NEVER in the dishwasher. Why: it’s not good for the knives for them to get banged around and they’ll cut people.

Normally I use If You Care dishwasher tablets, Ecover rinse aid, and Ginger Lily unscented soap for hand washing.

Feedback is welcomed! Leave a comment here, or find me @unsellingconvenience on instagram.