Think your dishwasher has it bad? To test this workhorse appliance, Consumer Reports slathers plates, cups, and silverware with an imposing mix of peanut butter, egg yolk, and other gooey stuff, then lets it all sit out overnight before running the wash cycle. Dishwashers that make our list of top dishwasher picks deliver sparkling results every time.

But even the best of the bunch won’t get the job done if they’re loaded improperly. Chances are you’re doing at least one thing wrong—cramming too many dishes in there or putting the silverware and large platters in the wrong place. Although it always pays to check the owner's manual for any special instructions, the following steps on how to load a dishwasher will deliver the best results in most machines.

Step 1

Top rack. Place cups, glasses, and small bowls in the top rack. We recommend scraping big chunks of leftover food, but prerinsing isn’t necessary with today’s dishwashers. Avoid overcrowding, which increases the risk of breakages and prevents the flow of water and detergent. Dishwasher-safe plastics also belong on the top rack, away from the heating element to prevent warping.

Step 2

Silverware. Load forks and spoons with the handles facing down. Place knives with their handles up, to avoid cutting yourself as you remove them. If your dishwasher has an open basket, mix spoons, forks, and knives to prevent them from nesting.

Step 3

Larger items. Put plates and serving bowls and other larger items on the bottom shelf. Oversize items, such as platters and dishwasher-safe cutting boards, should go toward the sides and back so they don't block water and detergent. Place items with baked-on food face down and toward the spray arm.

Pots and pans made of aluminum or stainless steel can usually go in the dishwasher. Look for a dishwasher-safe indication on the bottom of the cookware. Otherwise, check the owner's manual or manufacturer’s website for specific instructions.

Other Considerations

Dishwasher no-nos include large kitchen knives, since the heat and chemicals can take a toll, plus anything made of brass, bronze, wood, or china with gold leaf. We also recommend washing nonstick pans by hand, though some manufacturers say they're dishwasher-safe. 

Once you’ve loaded the dishwasher correctly, it’s a good idea to run the kitchen sink until the water gets hot. This will keep the wash cycle from starting with cold water.

You always want to use a top-rated dishwasher detergent. Our current picks include a half dozen single-dose detergents (led by a Cascade pac), as well as a handful of powders and gels.

Finally, keep the rinse-aid dispenser filled for fast, streak-free drying.