American households are divided over how to load the dishwasher (2024)

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American households are divided over how to load the dishwasher (13)

Natasha Khan , The Wall Street Journal 4 min read 10 Apr 2024, 02:12 PM IST

American households are divided over how to load the dishwasher (15)


One of the most divisive appliances keeps sparking consternation in the U.S. and abroad. Even Britain’s prime minister has entered the fray.

Nina and Stephen Edwards have been on the same page for most things in their 25-year marriage: what to have for dinner, where to vacation, where to set the thermostat in their New York City home. But there is one thing they can’t agree on: how best to load the dishwasher.

Nina, an illustrator and adjunct lecturer at Pratt Institute, has a more freewheeling approach. Just make sure everything fits. “It might look random and messy," she says. “But I know where it all is."

Stephen, a professor of computer science at Columbia University, has a plan.

“I make a mental map of how the water moves around the dishwasher before I put the dishes in," he explains. “If we’re going to wash it, we should make sure it’s as clean as it can be."

It’s the household conundrum that keeps giving us load after load of headaches.

To pre-rinse or not to pre-rinse? Is playing Tetris with your dishes the superior loading technique? Which side should the cutlery face?

The global debate recently swirled anew after remarks from British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. In an interview with fashion magazine Grazia, he and his wife, Akshata Murty, were asked who was better at loading the dishwasher.

A loaded question?

“Definitely Rishi, but I am ‘A’ for enthusiasm," Murty replied quickly.

“But then it requires redoing after you’ve been very enthusiastic," Sunak quipped.

Their exchange lit up social media and the growing world of dishwasher-technique aficionados (yes there is one). The Facebook group “Extreme Dishwasher Loading" saw a jump in interest, topping 31,000 members.

A majority of Americans (65%) agree there’s a “right and a wrong way" to load a dishwasher, according to data from YouGov Omnibus. Another poll said the average American household has 18 arguments a month over dishes, from leaving them in the sink to who should empty the dishwasher.

In New York, Stephen Edwards says he “accidentally" conducted an experiment when Nina was out-of-town: He used only bowls and plates of the same size.

“I am a big fan of dish uniformity," he says. “It was so easy to empty, I didn’t have to make so many decisions."

That changed as soon as she was back.

“She has a collection of 100 spoons, no two are the same," he sighs. “When there are 15 sizes of bowls, none of which stack in the dishwasher, that drives me nuts."

‘Control freak’

For Nina’s part, as an artist, she says, “I use my right brain. I am very casual." She points to Stephen’s socks collection— “black or white so he never has to think about it…for me, it’s the opposite, all the sameness is so boring." (Stephen’s view: “they are all the same brand so I never have to look for pairs. Life is too short.")

For Brian Louie and Erin Bailey, moving from California to New York and into a smaller apartment with an open kitchen has sparked more dishwashing tussles than ever in their 20 years together.

“I have always been a control freak in the kitchen," admits Louie, a marketing executive. “I have my way of doing it right, so sometimes I can be a kitchen general."

Putting a mixing bowl in the bottom rack and therefore blocking anything above the bowl from getting water drives him crazy. Sometimes he’ll offer his wife what he imagines are helpful comments when it’s her turn to load.

Bailey, a photo producer, mostly entertains his tips, but sometimes rolls her eyes: “I think I have a great method, and don’t really need the feedback."

When Brian isn’t around, she can go wild—even unloading from the top to the bottom, and who cares if the water drips down?

Is there a right way? The conundrum is on minds at Procter & Gamble, the maker of products such as Cascade pods. “Washing dishes is the most hated chore after cleaning the toilet, so we think a lot about how to make that task less painful," says Morgan Eberhard, a dish scientist at the consumer-products giant.

Tips from the pros

At P & G’s dish-science center on the outskirts of Cincinnati, the work begins at the facility’s spa, or “soil preparation area," where scientists attempt to recreate and banish the messes of nightmares, such as scorched-on mac and cheese.

(Sometimes, kitchen items themselves are considered hard-to-clean because of the size, shape or nooks-and-crannies. “The Stanley cups of the world would fall into this category," says Eberhard.)

Eberhard says she never pre-rinses. Dishes that are too clean will confuse the dishwasher’s sensors, which are trained to detect food remnants, and make them work less efficiently.

Other tips: Put burnt-on pans and pots on the bottom shelf. Plastic items such as baby bottles go on the top shelf, where the temperature is slightly cooler, helping to prevent melting. Don’t let the spoons spoon.

How much do we care about dishwashing methods? Texas-based couple Megan Ewoldsen and Joel Freeman made a clip that was viewed more than 21 million times last year. It’s about loading the dishwasher.

It shows Freeman, a fitness trainer, loading the dishwasher to classical waltz music, using a tape measure to perfectly space items. Then comes Ewoldsen, a fitness influencer, tossing things in with abandon—to AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell."

“In every partnership, there is a person who stacks the dishwasher like a Scandinavian architect and a person who stacks the dishwasher like a raccoon on meth," says Ewoldsen. “Well, I’m the raccoon."

Since the two moved in together about a year ago, she’s ceded dishwasher control to Freeman.

“I have zero preferred methods and he very much has his preferred method, so it’s just better if he does it," she says. “Also, there is a sweetness to it. He’s taking care of us."

Write to Natasha Khan at

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American households are divided over how to load the dishwasher (2024)
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