Need a new dishwasher? The choices of brands, models, and features is daunting. And because it's an appliance you're likely to use all the time, it's important to do your research and take stock of your wants and needs to determine the right workhorse for your kitchen. Where to start?
The good news is that almost all of today's conventional dishwashers perform admirably in the cleaning department. They also run more quietly than the machines of the past, and their energy efficiency has increased. Dishwashers built since 2012 are required to use about 9 percent less electricity and 27 percent less water to meet the Federal Energy Star standard. The crucial differentiating factors include cleaning cycle options, interior setup, quietness of operation, and aesthetics—all of which impact cost and performance. Here are tips to help you figure out the machine that's right for you.
Above: A new dishwasher should last ten or more years. Image courtesy of Bosch.
What are your kitchen's size constraints?
While dishwashers are one of the most standardized appliances in terms of sizing, your kitchen may have unusual dimensions, so the first step is to measure your dishwasher opening, or the available space you have to create an opening. (Dishwasher placement is simple: it should be located to the left or the right of your kitchen sink.) Standard dishwashers are designed to fit in an opening that is 24 inches wide, 24 inches deep, and 34 inches high. "Don't make the mistake of assuming your opening is standard," advises Julie Lacap, owner of Contractor's Appliance Source in San Francisco. "Pay particular attention to the height of the opening. Things like layers of flooring or extra-thick countertops make the dimensions anything but standard." If the height of the opening is short of 34 inches, a standard dishwasher may not fit. One solution to consider is a dishwasher that's ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) compliant; these come in heights of 32 and 33 inches and are worth Googling.
There are other options for small kitchens, including 18-inch-wide dishwashers and dishwasher drawers. Flexible in size and installation, dishwasher drawers are available in single or double-drawer configurations. The double drawer models offer a total capacity similar to a full-size dishwasher, but each drawer operates independently for flexibility (great for doing a quick load while entertaining) and energy savings.
Above: The Fisher Paykel Tall Series Single DishDrawer (DD24ST) is 24 inches wide and accommodates seven place settings; $809 in stainless with a straight handle (as shown) at AJ Madison. For more options, see our post, Appliances: Dishwasher Drawers.
What are your cleaning habits?
How you handle your dishes before you load them can determine what level of cleaning performance and features you need from a dishwasher, driving the selection and price.
- Are you a pre-rinser? Then it may make sense to skip the higher cost of models with scrubbing and power washing features.
- Do you take dirty dishes straight from the table to the dishwasher? A model with a built-in hard food grinder to handle food waste should be on your list.
- Do your needs vary? Several dishwashers offer a soil sensor feature that automatically adjusts cycle times and strengths depending on how dirty the wash water is throughout the wash cycle.
- How large are your loads? Thinner (and more effective) insulation and compact bottom motors have enabled manufacturers to increase interior tub size without affecting the outer dimensions. If you need maximum space, look for models with tall tubs.
Above: Bosch maintained its dishwashers' exterior size while redesigning the interiors by introducing a larger stainless tub and concave interior door. These features allow for larger racks that increase the loading space by 3 inches. This improvement applies to all of the Bosch models from the 300 series and up. The Bosch 500 DLX Series Dishwasher with a bar handle and stainless finish (also offered in white and black) is $854 at AJ Madison.
What interior features are important to you?
This is where you need to be your own matchmaker. Are you an entertainer who needs interior racks that can accommodate stemware and large serving dishes? Or do you mostly eat takeout and need the simplest of rack configurations? Like so many things, the array of choices can be dizzying. Some of the key features to consider include:
- Adjustable racks. There are racks that raise to make room for large pots or platters in the lower level. Similarly, adjustable top racks lower to give more headroom for tall glassware. There are also adjustable tines (see example below) that create different configurations for loading plates and glassware.
- Two or Three racks. Many higher-end dishwashers offer a third rack at the top for cutlery and other flat kitchenware. This can increase capacity by up to 30 percent.
- Flatware tray or basket. The third rack at the top that is designed as a cutlery tray can eliminate the need for a traditional cutlery basket, freeing up the bottom rack for dishes. Many find that they like to have the option of both the basket and the tray.
- Interior lighting. This is a relatively new feature in high-end machines.
- Stainless steel or plastic tub. While there doesn't seem to be much difference in durability, stainless tubs won't stain and can aid drying as the entire surface heats up during the dry cycle speeding up the process.
When zeroing on a model, don't hesitate to give it a test drive. As Julie Lacap of Contractor's Appliance Source suggests: "If you have dishes of unusual size that you want to be sure fit in the dishwasher, bring them to the showroom and load them right into the machine."
Above: Adjustable racks with folding tines can accommodate cumbersome dishes. The Miele Futura Classic Series offers adaptable interior features such as a third cutlery rack and flexible racks and tines; $999 in white or black, and $1,099 in stainless. The higher-end Miele Futura Dimension Series adds hidden controls, a bar handle, and advanced acoustics; $1,899 in stainless at AJ Madison.
Above: Higher-end dishwashers come with convenience features like interior lighting. Image Courtesy of Miele.
Is quietness essential?
The good news is that most mid-range to high-end dishwashers run more quietly than machines of the past. The top-of-the-line brands and machines are in a fierce competition over decibel levels, which, of course, benefits the consumer. Before getting caught up in the data, it's wise to consider how important quietness is to your day to day dishwasher use. If you're an entertainer who needs to run the dishwasher in the middle of your dinner parties and your kitchen is open to your dining space, then acoustics are important. If, like me, you only run your dishwasher late at night when the kitchen is dark and the guests have gone home, noise is less significant.
Beyond the manufacturer's insulation and operational noise-reduction efforts, selecting a machine with a manual clean filter instead of a food-grinding filter will reduce noise significantly.The noise is also impacted by the way dishes are loaded—if they're touching, there's likely to be clatter—and soil level.
How does this translate to the figures listed by manufacturers? A normal conversation is considered to be at about 60 decibels (60 dB), while a whisper is about 30 dB. The levels on most dishwashers commonly range between 45 and 59 dB, with the highest-end, ultra-quiet models advertising levels as low as 37 dB. My dishwasher is said to be at 46 dB and while it is audible, it doesn't impact conversation.
Above: A dishwasher fronted with a custom shaker-style cabinet. Image via Desde My Ventana.
What about the looks?
Aesthetics are not to be ignored and are a big factor in the price of the machine. The decisions you have include the following:
- The face of the dishwasher. A primary consideration is whether you want your dishwasher to be fronted with a panel that matches your cabinetry for what's known as a fully integrated look. Many models are available in a panel-ready option (meaning you supply the dishwasher front). Alternatively, most dishwashers are offered with black, white, and stainless fronts, the latter being the most expensive. Some makes, such as Aga, also have color options that match their other appliances.
- Handle design. Do you want a straight or recessed handle—or no handle at all?
- Placement of the dishwasher's controls. This primarily comes down to two choices (with some variation): hidden or visible. Hidden controls are placed on the top of the door and are concealed when the dishwasher is closed. Controls situated on the front of the door generally bring down the price and offer the convenience of knowing where the machine is in its cycle.
Above: This line-up of Bosch dishwashers shows three handle options (L to R): recessed handle with angled controls, flush handle with hidden controls, and bar handle with hidden controls.
Above: The door-top hidden control panel on the GE Fully Integrated Stainless Steel Dishwasher (GLDT690D); $719 at AJ Madison.
Above: The dishwasher disappears—in this Viola Park Kitchen System the dishwasher is concealed behind a cabinet front to the left of sink.
Dishwasher Care Tips
With proper care, a new dishwasher should last ten or more years. The good news is that maintenance is minimal. Protect your investment with a few simple steps:
- Keep the filter clean and clear. In machines with manual cleaning filters, it's a good idea to remove and rinse them periodically. The frequency depends on how much you pre-rinse your dishes and how dirty your filters get. I rinse mine once a month and it seems to barely need it.
- Run your dishwasher with a cleaning solution periodically to reduce mold, mildew, and mineral buildup.
- Know your water. Hard water can be tough on dishwashers leaving deposits or scale not only on your dishes but in the water dispenser holes and other key operational parts of the machine. If you live in a region with hard water, consider selecting a model with a built-in water softener. Alternatively, be sure to add Dishwasher Water Softener Salts ($18 for a 2 kilo bag at Amazon) to prevent buildups and produce better cleaning results
- Suss out service. When considering brands, be sure to research service. You want a brand that has service professionals available in your area.
Above: A stainless-fronted dishwasher with hidden controls in the galley kitchen of a remodeled Eichler Home in the Bay Area belonging to Lisa Collins of Studio One|San Francisco. Photograph by Mark Adams.
Dishwasher Selection Recap
- Know your space constraints
- Review your cleaning habits
- Take stock of the machine's interior features
- Determine the importance of quietness
- Consider the aesthetics: face panels, handles, and controls
- Research brand service availability in your area
For information on specific dishwasher brands and models, see our posts:
- 10 Easy Pieces: Front-Loading Dishwashers
- The Ultimate Dishwasher?
- Appliances: Dishwasher Drawers
- Speed Cleaning: A Fast New Dishwasher from Miele
- 10 Easy Pieces: Favorite Appliances for Small Kitchens
Remodeling you kitchen? Get expert advice:15 Essential Tips for Designing a Kitchen.