Most of us give little thought to our dishwashers -- we just load the dishes, add the detergent, and turn it on. But a bit of planning goes a long way toward keeping your dishes and utensils in their best shape and getting them as clean as possible.
Most dishwashers have an upper and lower rack, as well as a basket for utensils. Some models have a shallow third rack on top for utensils instead. These are nice, as they keep the utensils from touching each other and allow for even cleaning. If using a model with a basket, you should alternate your silverware pieces, one piece pointing up, the next down, etc., to get them as clean as possible. Never allow stainless steel to touch silver -- this will cause an electrolytic reaction that will spot and pit the stainless steel. Since most silver-handled knives have stainless blades, don't wash them in the dishwasher.
On the bottom rack, load plates, staggering large plates with small ones, and put large cookware and pots and pans along the sides. Fill the top rack with mugs and cups, lined up between the rows of prongs -- not over the prongs where they might chip. Bowls go down the center of the top rack.
Before loading your dishes, you should take a look at where the water is coming from -- whether there are two water distributors or only one. With this knowledge, you can best arrange your dishes to get them as clean as possible. Also, remember to adjust the washing cycle depending on what you put in the dishwasher -- a heavy-duty cycle for pots and pans, a gentle cycle with cooler water for fine china and crystal.
Items That Should Not Go in the Dishwasher
Anything the manufacturer indicates is not dishwasher safe
Aluminum takeout or cooking containers
Pewter, brass, or bronze -- hot water can cause pitting or discoloration
Any wood or wooden-handled items -- they will lose their finish and the handles will loosen
Cast-iron or tin pots or pans -- they will lose their seasoning
Teflon or nonstick pots and pans
Metal utensils -- whisks, spatulas, etc.
Painted dishes, including old Pyrex -- their finish will fade over time
Cake pans -- they will lose the patina that keeps the cake from sticking
Kitchen knives -- the joinery will loosen over time
Wooden cutting boards
Dishes made before 1960 -- they were not made to withstand the heat of the dishwasher
Items That Can Go in the Dishwasher
Plastic cutting boards -- the high heat helps to sanitize them
Mixing bowls -- load them upside down
Fine strainers and graters -- rinse first to dislodge food particles
Anything stainless steel
Items That Are Dishwasher Safe but Wear Better if Hand-Washed
China with gold leaf or painted patterns -- it will eventually fade or discolor
Milk glass -- it will yellow with repeated washings