It's reasonable to worry about your home being immaculate, the turkey being perfectly succulent and the wine breathing just long enough, but there's no point in fretting about the holiday dinner cleanup - especially loading the dishwasher.
For guidance on getting through everyone's least favorite part of the holidays, we turned to Sandra Steward, who tests dishwasher usability for Whirlpool at the company's corporate headquarters in Benton Harbor, Mich.
She has dishwashing wisdom to share after 23 years in the trade, including this gem: You can tell mom to stop rinsing, already. Scrape, load, let the magic happen.
What are some common pitfalls of dishwasher loading?
People sometimes block one of the spray arms (the rotating spigots distributing water) with something in the lower rack that's very tall, like a platter. A good way to prevent that is to just take your hand and spin the spray arm to see if it moves freely. Nesting can also be a problem - for instance, if you have two spoons loaded in a silverware basket beside each other facing the same direction, the back of the front one and the front of the back one won't be clean. The water has to be able to get in there.
So what is the ideal way to load a dishwasher?
Glasses and cups should go in the upper rack, between the tines, not over the tines. Plastics should be loaded in the upper rack because the heating element below the lower rack can cause plastics to melt or warp. Plates should be on the lower rack, facing the center. If you have 10 plates, it's best to have five facing in on one side and five facing in on another, rather than all 10 facing the same way. Bowls can be on the upper or lower rack.
Silverware. Facing up or down?
Knives should always go point down for safety. Other silverware should be alternated up and down to avoid nesting.
Who tends to be better at loading, men or women?
Most families have a chief loader, and that's the person that goes behind the back of anyone else who might make an attempt and straightens it up.
Is it polite to offer to load the dishwasher as a guest at a holiday meal? Or is that too intrusive?
It depends how well you know the person and how familiar you are with their dishwasher. The polite thing to do is to ask, "Would you like me to help?" and they can decide what that help should be. Most people develop a pattern for how to load their dishwasher, so they're particular about it, because they know just where that one pan fits best.