Smart Shopping: Dishwashers

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Getting Started l Types l Features

When you're shopping for a dishwasher, there are a number of factors to consider. Besides determining how much you're able to spend, you'll need to decide how many and which options you want and really need, check the quietness and energy efficiency of the different dishwashers, and look at other aspects, including cycle time.

GETTING STARTED

You can pay $1,500 or more for a fancy dishwasher with hidden controls, digital displays, and special grime-fighting cycles. But when it comes to clean dishes, sparkling performance starts well below $500.

What's more, you needn't settle for a bare-bones dishwasher at that price. Luxury features such as a stainless-steel exterior are migrating to more low-priced models. This dishwasher guide will help you with your purchase.

Size matters
Most conventional dishwashers fit a 24-inch-wide space under a kitchen countertop and attach to a hot-water pipe, drain, and electrical line. Cabinet-matching front panels are available as kits, typically for several hundred dollars. Compact, portable dishwashers come in finished cabinets and can be rolled to the sink and connected to the faucet.

Conserving energy
Dishwashers are using less water as manufacturers strive to meet tougher federal energy standards. But it's taking longer to get dishes clean. Lower operating costs can save you more over a dishwasher's lifetime than the price difference between an efficient and less-efficient model. Don't rely on those familiar yellow Energy Star labels. Our tests are based on much dirtier loads and are a more accurate gauge of energy efficiency, in our judgment. See our Ratings for more information.

TYPES

The greatest differences in dishwashers, beyond results differences in our performance-based tests, are features and costs. There are a few distinct types of dishwashers, however, including traditional models, drawer-type versions, and portable models.

Low-priced dishwashers
They may suit buyers who care more about performance than glitz.

Pros: As a group, they clean dishes as well as premium-priced models.
Cons: They tend to be noisier than the upscale models and less convenient to load.

High-priced dishwashers
Pros: They tend to be quieter and have additional features that improve loading flexibility.
Cons: They don't clean dishes any better than the best low-priced dishwashers.

Dishwasher-drawer models
Pros: You can use them simultaneously or individually, and you don't have to bend to load a single- or, sometimes, a double-drawer model.
Cons: They can be expensive, and three versions of one model we tested had significant problems. What's more, models from Fisher & Paykel, which introduced these products to the U.S. market, have been repair-prone.

FEATURES

Generally, the more you spend, the more features you can expect. But some aren't worth the extra expense. Here are the dishwasher features to consider.

Adjustable racks and loading aids
Racks that adjust up or down, adjustable tines, and silverware and stemware holders let you reconfigure the interior and organize the contents. Those devices increase flexibility, especially when you cook for a crowd, and they can help accommodate large and oddly shaped items.

Dirt Sensor
It adjusts water use and cycle length to soil level. A dirt sensor can improve efficiency, but not all work well.

Rinse/hold cycle
It lets you rinse dirty dishes before you're ready to start a full cycle. This cycle can reduce odors and prevents soil from setting while you accumulate enough dirty dishes for a full load.

Filters
These keep wash water free of food that could be redeposited on clean dishes. There are two types: self-cleaning and manual. Most filters are self-cleaning; a grinder pulverizes the debris and flushes it down the drain. That's convenient but noisy. Some models have a filter without a grinder. It's quieter, but it needs periodic cleaning, a job that takes a few minutes. It's your choice.

Special wash cycles
Most dishwashers come with at least three cycles: light, normal, and heavy (pots and pans). Some offer pot-scrubber, soak/scrub, steam clean, china/crystal, or sanitizing cycles as well. The three basic cycles should be enough for most chores--even for baked-on food. A sanitizing option that raises water temperature above the typical 140° F doesn't necessarily clean better.

Stainless-steel tub
Steel is more durable than plastic, but models with a plastic tub tend to cost far less. While light-colored plastic might become discolored, gray-speckled plastic should resist staining. Even a plastic tub should last longer than most people keep a dishwasher.

Hidden touchpad controls
Controls mounted along the top edge of the door are strictly a styling touch. They're hidden when the door is closed. You can't see cycle progress at a glance. (Partially hidden controls are a good compromise. They show that the machine is running and often display remaining cycle time.)

Copyright © 2006-2010 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction in whole or in part without written permission.

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