"It's not worth using the dishwasher: by the time you've gotten your dishes clean enough to put in, you might as well just finish washing them yourself."

People have a wide range of ways they deal with dishes before putting them in the dishwasher:

  1. Rinse well. The dishes should look clean before they go in.

  2. Rinse lightly. It's fine if the dishes don't look clean, but they should be close.

  3. Scrape well. There shouldn't be anything on the dishes that further scraping would remove.

  4. Scrape lightly. Get most of the food off, but it's fine if some stuff remains.

  5. Do nothing. Just dump the whole thing in there, food and all. [Not recommended.]

Earlier options are more work, give you cleaner dishes, and mean you need to manually clean the dishwasher's filter less often. Later are the reverse.

In my experience, people tend to be too far towards the early end for their particular dishwasher and time-cleanliness preferences. This makes sense: if you're too far toward the later end you notice and adjust, while in the other direction there's no signal that you could be doing better. Try a later option; you could be putting effort into pre-cleaning for minimal impact on your dishes. It's a cheap experiment to run: there's a good chance you're happy, and if not you can just re-run this load and go back to more thorough pre-cleaning.

Personally, I'm pretty happy with #4. It's very little work, and usually all the dishes come out clean. When one is still dirty, I just include it in the next load after scraping a bit. If dishes come out unusually dirty it's generally because something was loaded wrong (too tall on the bottom rack, poking through the middle rack) and prevented the middle arm from spinning.

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Technology Connections viewers already know this somewhat related bit: Consider switching to loose powder instead of tabs, or having both. The dishwasher runs three cleaning cycles (pre-wash, main, rinse), and the tab only goes in for the second phase. The first phase tries to get all the food and grease off using just water… which isn't ideal. Adding like 1/2 a teaspoon of the loose powder directly onto the door / into the tub at the bottom will greatly support the pre-wash phase and should deal with most things.

Since I started doing that, I don't bother scraping at all (obviously? still discarding loose food remains in the bin first) and basically never get stuck bits. (Every couple of months stuff like strongly baked-on cheese from e.g. a gratin may stick to the dish, but that's it.)

Also, for people in the United States, consider running the hot water from a nearby faucet until the hot water is hot. Then, turn off the faucet and turn on the dishwasher.

As always, check your dishwasher's manual for specific recommendations.

I employ the entire scale depending on the thing that is making the dish dirty. For the most part I employ 5, but I do acknowledge that some substances simply require abrasion. Peanut butter without added sugar, for example, is basically completely impervious to the efforts of any dishwasher I've ever used, so it gets a 1.

#4 is best if you run the dishwasher frequently, have not too hard water, and good quality tabs (or whatever these cleaning agent thingies are called).

We had to exchange the dishwasher three times in 20 years (each time, a model from the lower end of the price range with good independent test results). I have tried repairing it two times; one success (the pump thing is cheap). Mostly the pump breaks down - presumably from too much of the wrong stuff. 

Earlier options are more work, give you cleaner dishes

That's not always true.

An underappreciated element is that dishwaters calibrate how much cleaning they do based on the amount of dirt on the dishes. 

Some people get into a spiral of removing a lot of dirt -> the dishwasher does nothing because it thinks it needs to do little -> they try to do even more precleaning. 

6.   Pre-clean as necessary to keep dishes from stinking after three days when the dishwasher will be full and can be unloaded into the sink and washed manually because said dishwasher has been broken for three weeks!

[Bonus: discovered that manually washing dishes had 'zen' value.]
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Supplemental:
"As an interesting thought experiment, invent my brutally honest slogans to make the point that most products have both an ostensible, ‘official’ function and an ulterior function. The main value of a dishwasher, I would argue, is not that it washes dirty dishes, but that it provides you with an out-of-sight place to put them."
--Rory Sutherland, Alchemy, 2021

The annoyance of doing the dishes (even with a dishwasher) is so high for me that I choose:

6. Use paper plates/bowls most of the time, except for occasional meals that work better with plates, like steaks.

This seems to be a cultural thing as well - I heard a story of early Bosch engineers arriving to USA to do research why the german dishwashers failed so much often there, and finding out, to their horror, that while Europeans were 2-3 on this scale, Americans were more often 4-5. They then had to redesign the dishwasher to be able to deal with much more food remains.

I think a thing that most people neglect is that dishwashers are designed for approximately a family of four preparing and eating two meals a day together, which leads to a certain accumulation of dishes, and the dishwasher needing to be run at least every other day. That means a certain amount of time for the detritus to dry on the dishes. If you have a smaller dishwasher, or more people eating, the dishwasher will be run more often, and it'll be more effective at cleaning dirtier dishes. If you run the dishwasher daily, #4 or #5 might work well for you. If there are only two eating, or you're eating more take-out (fewer pots and pans) and you only do a load every 4 or 5 days, then the dishes need to be cleaner going into the dishwasher.

I haven't really found this to be much of a problem. The prewash cycle should be long enough to rehydrate anything that dried out. Dry things that won't come off (like baked cheese or eggs) won't come off if you wash them instantly either.

Also you could just run the dishwasher half-empty and it's probably still more water and energy efficient.

There’s always option 0: wash the dishes yourself. This differs from (1) only in leaving out the step of putting the clean dishes into the dishwasher.

I used to think that my Dad was a bit bizarre because he washed everything before he put it in the dishwasher. Now I know that he’s not alone.

I hand wash everything but for me it would be

  1. Lick the dishes clean before putting them in the dishwasher.

I think that would go at either 1.5 or 0.5, depending on how thoroughly you lick?

Rice is the killer, though. Make sure you keep anything bad for the dishwasher out of the dishwasher.