To Rinse or Not, That is the Dishwasher Loading Question

Dear Home-Ec 101,

My Mom, love her, former home ec teacher, but not strong as a housekeeper…recently I was at her house and as always the sink was full of dirty dishes. Just dishes, no water. So, I wanted to fill it with hot soapy water and the dishes, to have them soak a bit. I was having trouble getting a novelty sink stopper she had, to work, and asked her about it, what she usually did with it. Her reply – ‘I never fill the sink with water.’ (!) That explained a lot, mostly why about 1/4 of dishes taken out of her dishwasher are still dirty. I think many people just rinse their dishes right after using them and then put them in the dishwasher, but that’s not the case here, as she and my sister leave dirty dishes sitting around the house and stuff dries on.

So…is it necessary to soak dishes in hot soapy water before loading into the washer, or is it a waste of time, energy, and soap?

Crusty in Crumpler

Heather says:

I’m going to be a little blunt here: Your mother (and sister) needs to rinse the dishes.  But to be honest, I’m not always the best dish-rinser, either. Sometimes I take the risk. Yeah, I live on the edge, but I know and deal with the consequences.

Does anyone else remember the commercial where an entire cake was placed in a dishwasher? I doubt even Cascade (the brand in the commercial) could handle just the frosting if it were allowed to dry for a couple of days. And probably not at all now that the formulation for dish detergent had to change.

I’m not going to get too precise in the chemistry here, I’m on my first cup of coffee and it isn’t even 6am, but the goo in food is harder to remove as it dries. The longer food has had to bond with a dish, the more difficult the removal process becomes. This is why we can get away with doing a less thorough job of rinsing and scraping if the dishwasher is going to be run immediately. It’s science, people, science.

If you live in a small household, of just a couple of people, where the dishwasher is not run at least once a day, you’re probably going to have to do a better job rinsing the dishes than in a large household whose dishwasher runs after every meal.

Bob over there with his sandwich plate, he can probably just shake off the crumbs. And Suzy over here with her Dishy-poo 5000 with the built in food disposal can probably get away without even scraping before loading the dinner dishes.

The answer to the question: Do I have to rinse the dishes before loading isn’t a simple yes or no, it’s an it depends.

1. Is your dishwasher a cheap, My First Apartment model?

Always rinse.

2. Will the dishes be sitting in the dishwasher for more than a couple of minutes before it is run?


3. Did you eat something gross?


Submit your questions to

PS If your dishwasher’s performance has gone downhill, a little maintenance may get it back up to speed.

PPS I realize I didn’t answer the bit about soap… only use soap if the crud formation has already occurred. Let the soap in the dishwasher handle the last little bit of non-rinsed food. Hopefully that answers all of your dishwasher loading question!

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1 thought on “To Rinse or Not, That is the Dishwasher Loading Question”

  1. I learned it the hard way to always rinse the dishes. First, I had to clean some of the dishes after taking them out of the dishwasher. Sometimes I only noticed that I should have done that when I put them on the table – embarrassing! Then the dishwasher died. And when the repair guy showed me the system of very small tubes and sharp bends which the water has to pass to be used over and over again I understood why you really shoud at least scrupe, better rinse, and runthe dishwasher empty once in a while, too.


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