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Cutlery up or down? We solve the great dishwasher debate

CHOICE expert Ashley Iredale reveals the best way to wash.

Choice tester Ash Iredale stacking cutlery in dishwasher
Last updated: 07 January 2021

Need to know

  • Ashley reveals there's a clear winner in the common domestic dispute
  • He also shares his expert dishwasher tips and traps to avoid  
  • We regularly test dishwashers and detergents to find the best products

It's the age-old argument that can fire up family members and divide offices – should your cutlery point up or down in the dishwasher? Make a mistake in someone else's kitchen and you could land yourself in hot water. 

Safety-minded souls swear it's best to put utensils facing down in the basket – while some like to live on the edge with pointy ends up, convinced they clean better out in the open. Others like to go both ways. 

Make a mistake in someone else's kitchen and you could land yourself in hot water

Most people would say they don't care either way. I didn't think I did, but then realised I subconsciously stack up every time. Even knives – wild, I know. Just not super-sharp ones – c'mon, I don't have a death wish.

What do dishwasher manuals say?

Well, it varies.

  • The LG manual says forks and spoons up, but knives down for safety reasons. 
  • Bosch recommends placing cutlery "always unsorted with the tips face down, in the cutlery basket", with "long, pointed implements and knives on the knife shelf".
  • Fisher & Paykel advises knives "facing down to avoid risk of injury" but offers no direction on forks and spoons, so it's your call.

Our expert declares a clear winner

Meet Ashley Iredale, our resident dishwasher wiz and part of our product review team that tests new models in our labs so you know which ones perform best. He's helped review more than 90 machines and has even cooked dinner in a dishwasher (yes, you read that right).

So what's his call when it comes to cutlery? Put simply, it's down, down, down.

choice tester Ash Iredale holding knife and fork portrait

Our expert Ashley: Strong advice, even stronger poses

The 'down' verdict explained

Ashley acknowledges there are some valid arguments for up, but he explains there are far more for down. Here are his top three:

1. Safety first

"The last thing you want to do is get your clean knives and forks dirty again by bleeding all over them because you stabbed yourself reaching into the tub without due care and attention," says Ashley. 

"While you'd have to be especially aggressive to do yourself an injury on a spoon, forks can do just as much damage to you as knives if they're tines up."

2. It's easier to unload

Another reason to go down? If handles are up, they're easier to grab and get into that cutlery drawer.

"It goes slightly smoother if everything's facing the same direction from the outset," Ashley says. "It's not a huge deal – you're saving seconds, not days. But hey, the whole point of a dishwasher is to save time and effort in the kitchen, so every little bit counts."

3. Fewer germs and smudges

If you're handling handles, you're also avoiding touching the eating ends of cutlery, which has to be a good thing.

"Your fingers are covered in germs and bacteria, so obviously you want to minimise touching any surface that's going to come into contact with your food if you can," Ashley says.

And there's another reason to only handle the, er, handles, according to Ashley: "On a more benign level, your fingers could also leave smudges on the shiny blades of knives, which isn't a good look if you have guests over."

But doesn't cutlery wash better facing up?

Some insist pointing utensils up gives you a better clean, because it's more exposed to the spray arm overhead and not buried at the bottom of the basket. Ashley says that may be true, but the difference is marginal, and it's still "not worth the risk of injury".

If you find the difference noticeable, it might be how you're stacking your cutlery – see our expert tips below for the best wash.

What about water marks and rust spots?

Another common argument for putting knives pointing up is that water will run down and off the blade when drying, and not leave blemishes.  

Ashley admits this can be an issue with cutlery facing downwards, especially with cheaper, harsher dishwasher powders. He advises quickly polishing off water or rust spots with a tea towel or soft cloth. Again, he says, putting knives up isn't worth the safety risk.

Extra tips for stacking cutlery and utensils

Ashley's sage advice doesn't end with which way to wash. He's also got some great advice for your other dishwashing dilemmas.

1. Avoid cutlery 'nesting' together

"A big one is don't stack like with like," says Ashley. "Mix up your knives, forks and spoons in the basket, because forks and spoons will tend to stack tightly together so they won't clean and dry as well. If they're all jumbled, then water and detergent will more easily be able to circulate for better cleaning."

2. Chefs' knives are a no-no

"They're made of high-carbon steel, which doesn't fare well in the hot, wet conditions in your dishwasher and can corrode," warns Ashley. "The action of the dishwasher can also bang things together, which can chip or dull the razor-sharp edge you've so carefully honed on the blade.

"Finally, they're sharp and stabby, which is dangerous when reaching into the dishwasher. If you care about your knives then, yes, wash them by hand."

cutlery and plates stacked in a dishwasher

Knives can be knocked about and damaged by abrasive detergents.

3. Wood also not good  

Want to pop that wooden spoon or chopping board in? Think again, says Ashley.

"You shouldn't put anything wooden in the dishwasher, for a few reasons," he says. "First, the detergent will eat away at it, and the heat and moisture will cause it to warp and split. Also, any laminates will fare particularly badly, as the heat and detergent can dissolve the glue holding them together. It's better to wash wooden items by hand."

4. Bigger utensils go on top

"It's important to make sure these don't foul the spray arm as this will prevent the dishwasher from washing anything properly," suggests Ashley. "Longer items might be better off laid down in the top rack – in fact, a lot of dishwashers have special accommodation in the top rack for long knives, utensils and even chopsticks."

Ladles should face open-side down, so water and residue don't pool in them. Graters are good to go anywhere they fit, but tongs should be at least partly open so food doesn't get stuck in between. Give them a few clicks after the wash to keep them in good working order.

5. Get a handle on your cutlery

Ashley's 'pro tip' for super-quick unloading is to know your cutlery handles. "Your knives will have heftier handles than your forks and spoons," he says. "This makes it easier to identify knives and grab them out to pack away first, which in turn makes it easier to sort the forks and spoons."

6. Cutlery basket versus cutlery tray – which wash wins?

"We've compared this here at CHOICE and found it makes no difference, so it comes down to personal preference," Ashley says.

"I'm a basket man – I find loading and unloading each item individually in the tray is a time-consuming chore, and the cutlery tray also reduces the height of other items you can put in the dishwasher. Other people may have a different opinion, though."

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact checking at CHOICE.