We all know someone who is persnickety about loading the dishwasher—maybe you're even married to one. Fortunately, “there isn’t one correct way to load a dishwasher but there are many wrong ways,” says GE. Loading a dishwasher haphazardly results in wasted water, wasted energy, and wasted time when dishes come out dirty and need to be run through a cycle all over again.  

To get dishes cleaner, dishwasher manufacturers have reconfigured the racks and sprays to make sure dirty pots, plates, glasses, and flatware get as much exposure to the water jets as possible. That means that some of the old rules for loading a dishwasher may no longer apply to newer models. On its website, GE says that with its newer dishwashers you no longer have to face the dirty side of the dishes towards the center and that new silverware baskets are better at keeping your spoons from spooning.

The best way to learn how to load your dishwasher is to read the manual that came with it. Most have diagrams that show you a normal load of dishes and silverware as well as where to put your stemware and your dirtiest pots and pans and why. Such innovations as third racks and middle racks that are easy to adjust offer more loading options for odd-sized items. You’ll appreciate these improvements when the kitchen is humming over the holidays and you need to wash large pans, mixing bowls, your best china, stemware, and more. Here’s how to get the most out of the dishwasher you have:

Comparison of three dishwasher loading schemes.

Dishwasher Dos and Don'ts

  • Right before turning on the dishwasher, run the hot water faucet on the kitchen sink until the water gets hot. That prevents the wash cycle from starting with cold water.
  • Pre-rinsing is a real water waster and today’s dishwashers can handle the food detritus. Scraping off leftover food is usually enough.
  • Check the location of your water jets then load large items in a way that doesn’t block them or the soap dispenser.
  • If your manual says so, you can face your dishes in the same direction rather than towards the center. But make sure bowls and plates aren’t nesting as that can interfere with proper water circulation.
  • Use the top rack for dishwasher-safe plastics and delicate items like wine glasses (if they fit without hitting the roof). If you’re washing sauce pans or mixing bowls put them face down.
  • Rest glasses on the prongs to prevent breakage and to keep water from pooling in the stems of wine glasses.
  • Load forks and spoons with the handles facing down, but place knives with their handles up, to avoid cutting yourself as you remove them. The baskets and top racks in newer models make it easier to separate flatware but if your dishwasher has an open basket, mix pieces to prevent them from sticking together.
  • Use the bottom rack for plates and saucers and such large items as platters and serving bowls. Place items with baked-on food face down and toward the spray arm.
  • Don’t put brass, bronze, cast-iron, wood, or china with gold leaf in the machine. And to keep china from chipping, don’t allow it to touch other items.
  • Consider hand-washing your fine china and porcelain by lining the sink with a towel to prevent chipping, and using a mild dish detergent.
  • Use a top-rated dishwasher detergent from Consumer Reports' tests. Our top single-dose detergent is Cascade Complete ActionPacs. For powders, try Cascade Complete Powder.

Need a New Dishwasher?

For a look inside some of Consumer Reports’ top-rated dishwashers, check out the model pages, which show the configuration of the racks as well as the controls on the exterior. Here are the five top models from our tests.

Skip Pre-Rinsing Your Dishes