I have a friend for whom loading a dishwasher is serious business. If anyone decides they're going to throw a few things in, he freezes and looks on with a terrified half-smile plastered to his face, practically quivering as he restrains himself from running over and intervening. As soon as the interloper finishes "helping", he will fake-casually saunter over, do a scan and immediately start rearranging in the proper manner. I'm not suggesting loading the dishwasher should be treated with this much gravitas, but make no mistake, there's 100 percent a wrong way to do it.
A properly loaded dishwasher maximizes space, organization and safety. Mugs and wine glasses can live in harmony in a properly loaded dishwasher. Tupperware can emerge grease-free and unmangled. But don't put cast-iron or wood in a dishwasher unless you want a talking to.
I'm going to come clean (HAHA, GET IT?!) and say that while I understand these principles, I don't always practice them. There are times when I'm absolutely an agent of chaos, forgoing rinsing and space efficiency, using the dishwasher as a way to merely pre-rinse particularly crusty dishes. I even believe there are instances when it's alright to run the dishwasher when it's not packed full. I understand the environmental ramifications of this, I just happen to believe the mental calmness of clean dishes wins out. I'm not suggesting running it to clean a single mug or anything, but if there are a few open slots at the end of the day, Morning You is telling Night You to go ahead and hit start on that sucker. A realistic approach to dishes (and cleaning in general) allows for life's curveballs. It's perfectly OK to have standards, and it's also perfectly OK to fail to meet those standards sometimes! It's what makes us human! And it's also what makes me, as some would say, "annoying to live with." But lucky for you all, I'm not looking for roommates this year.
1 Knives go blade down. I understand that the food gets on the blade part and you want to expose that to as much sloshing water and soap as possible, but think of your roommates and their vulnerable little forearms.
2 Pre-rinsing shouldn't be a long, drawn out affair, but a cursory swish wouldn't hurt, either. I don't love the idea of using the same amount of water you'd use if you did the dishes by hand to pre-rinse. That's a waste of both water and time.
3Pack your dishes in as efficiently as possible. Don't leave spaces in between the plate racks, but you may leave a space between particularly delicate glasses. Obviously dishwashers vary in layout, but the racks do have specific places for different categories of dishes. Group like with like.
4 Remember how gravity works. If a receptacle is loaded any other way than upside down, water will collect in said receptacle and you open up the dishwasher to full cups of dishwasher water.
5 You should clean the dishwasher from time to time. It gets surprisingly stinky and grimy, especially around the inner seal and around the bottom hinge. A damp microfibre cloth with a drop or two of dish soap, wiped around the seal, will turn up some nasty shit. It's quite satisfying. Most dishwashers have a basket in which loose food bits congregate. Emptying this is a bad, but necessary, task. Draw straws.
6 The bottom rack is for the big dogs. Load lighter items, like plastic containers and lids, on the top rack. In fact, if anything seems weird to you (tea strainer? Potato masher?), either wash it by hand or load it carefully on the top rack and pray.
7Don't use the little drawer thing for your dishwasher tabs/soap. Forget that little drawer thing exists. Put the tab right in the drum. The results are just better.
8 If there's only one of it (frying pan, scissors, colander) and you don't run the dishwasher every day, to the sink!