Looking For A New Dishwasher? What to Consider Before You Buy

published Mar 12, 2017
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(Image credit: Minette Hand)

While we’ll never know the exact number of marriages that ended over fights about dirty dishes left in the sink, it’s safe to assume it’s not zero. Some of the more enlightened among us claim to love doing dishes, but for many people it’s a chore that’s avoided as much as possible. If you have the space and ability to modify your kitchen, nothing can save you from time hunched over a sink full of dirty dishes like a dishwasher (except takeout).

But if you’ve never bought a dishwasher, or the last time was decades ago, you might not know where to start with today’s models. Start here if you want to consider style first. This guide below is intended to inform you about some of the common options, and help you pick the right dishwasher for you.

(Image credit: Minette Hand)

Consider: Cleaning Effectiveness

The only job a dishwasher has is getting dishes clean, so if it can’t do that right, what use is it? High tech features, like soil sensors that can detect how dirty your dishes are and adjust the cycle accordingly, may increase the likelihood that your dishes will come out sparkling clean, but reading user reviews should give you a sense of whether a particular dishwasher does a good job. Consumer Reports is always a great place to look. Late last year they reported on the best dishwashers under $500.

Consider: Style

The standard dishwasher model, with a door that folds down, isn’t the only option out there. Dishwasher drawers, which often include two compartments that can be run separately, have lower capacity, are more expensive, and don’t necessarily perform as well. The small size is definitely a plus if you’re trying to fit one in a tight kitchen, but if you’re just after an appliance that blends into your cabinets, you might be better off with a standard cabinet-front model.

Another element of style is button placement. Models are available with controls on the front or the top, making them invisible when the dishwasher is closed. Top controls are easier to see when programming, and many people prefer them for looks. One caveat with top controls is that the timing indicator may be hidden when the dishwasher is closed. If you’re prone to absent-mindedly opening a running dishwasher, look for one that at least has an indicator light on the front to remind you that it’s running.

(Image credit: Caitlyn Cartlidge)

Consider: Features

One of the most useful features available these days is flexible racks, which allow you to raise or lower them, or move dividers or tines, to make room for whatever you need to wash. Some models even feature a third rack at the very top, which allows you to fit more small items.

Filters that keep food from being redeposited on dishes come in manual and self-cleaning versions. You have to occasionally take the manual type out and clean it (if you currently have this type, this is your reminder to go clean it). The self-cleaning type essentially incorporates a garbage disposal, grinding up bits of food so you don’t have to worry about them. The trade-off can be extra noise, however.

In addition to the basic cycles, many dishwashers come with special cycles for quick washing, sanitizing, or pot-scrubbing. Some have settings for steam, or special zones with extra jets for cleaning baked-on food. After the dishes have been blasted clean, a heated-dry setting will help make sure that your dishes don’t come out wet.

If you’re someone who wants the most high-tech dishwasher available, you can also find models with wifi that can be managed via smartphone. Your phone can notify you how long it’ll be before your dishes are clean, tell you when you’ve run out of rinse aid, and let you know about leaks.

(Image credit: Jessica Isaac)

Consider: Noise

When it comes to dishwasher noise, “too loud” is entirely subjective. If the appliance will be located near bedrooms or other areas where you need quiet time, you’ll probably want to minimize the noise. Quieter dishwashers tend to be more expensive, so evaluate the importance of minimizing sound accordingly. Stainless-steel-lined tubs tend to be quieter. Since you can’t generally run a display model to check how loud it is, read reviews online, and try this little trick to compare noise levels of different models: play a ringtone or song on your phone, put it in the dishwasher, close it, and listen. This will give you an idea of how well a particular model contains sounds.

Consider: Energy Use

With all of that heating and blasting water around, dishwashers can use up a lot of water and energy, but here’s some good news: With energy-efficient models and phosphate-free detergents (new formulas actually work!), you don’t have to feel any eco-guilt about using a dishwasher. If you’re running full loads of an energy-efficient dishwasher, you most likely use less water and energy than you would washing the same dishes by hand. To help minimize your water and electricity bills, look for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star ratings. The non-profit Consortium for Energy Efficiency also issues lists of energy-efficient dishwashers, which you can find online.