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Dishwasher - How to Find the Best Dishwasher

Dishwasher 101 - From Buying to Caring for a Dishwasher

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Most homes today have a dishwasher for the sheer time-saving convenience and some believe sanitizing the dishes is essential to their family's wellbeing.  Over the past decade there have been many advances in dishwasher design including making them much more energy efficient while improving how the dishwasher can be stacked. 

And redesigning stacking and racking formats has resulted in more dishwashing space, so you can get more done in the same load.  There have also been improvements to operating noise which is a welcome design change. 

When buying a dishwasher, there are decisions to be made regarding stacking features and wash cycles, as well as installation versus portable options to choose from.  I'll take you through some of the decision-making steps so you can find the best dishwasher for your kitchen.

1. Types of Dishwashers

Standard Size Dishwasher - Installed

Dishwasher types are influenced more by capacity than style and the most common is the standard size 24" model that is available as either an installed (electrical and plumbing) unit within your cabinetry, or as a stand alone portable dishwasher with temporary faucet hook-up. 

The installed versus portable decision will more likely be based on whether installing is possible or not, as it requires sufficient space and you may need professional help to complete the set-up.  These units are not interchangeable; a portable cannot be installed and an installed model has no side panels.

  • Pros:  Best for convenience, features, style and offers best value
  • Cons: Requires plumbing and electrical hook-up; uses cabinet space which could be for storage  

Standard Size Dishwasher - Portable

While a portable dishwasher may not appeal to all, it's the next best thing to an installed unit.  If you rent, move a lot or installing is not possible, a portable dishwasher is the way to go.  The top of a portable dishwasher can also add a handy workspace in the kitchen.

  • Pros:  Good variety of features; best non-permanent option; can wheel out of sight; top adds to workspace
  • Cons: Must be wheeled to faucet for hook-up; faucet inaccessible while dishwasher is running

Compact 18" Installed or Portable

A smaller model, the 18" dishwasher is most commonly found in portable style, but there are installed models.  This is the ideal choice when space is limited, your dishwashing needs are small, or for cottages and RV's.

  • Pros:  Space saver, best for condos, apartments, cottages
  • Cons: Smaller capacity; limited features; less energy saving features

Dishwasher Drawers

Another option for small spaces is the dishwasher drawer.  Though more costly, it's a stylish alternative and a good way to save on energy by doing small loads, rather than running a large dishwasher for only a few dishes. It also uses only half the space of a standard model and that may be a consideration if you lack cabinet storage space.

  • Pros:  Space saver; best for condos; apartments; cottages or where space is limited; enegy saver for small loads; stylish
  • Cons: Smaller capacity; limited features; costly

Countertop Dishwashers

More suitable for a 2-3 person household, the countertop dishwasher is an economical choice that offers dishwashing convenience with a temporary hook-up.  But most are heavy and bulky to place and they should be on a stable cart, counter or table close to the sink.

  • Pros:  Ideal for a couple or very small family; cheapest models; easy to use; temporary hook-up
  • Cons: Bulky, heavy and needs counter space and faucet hook-up

More Dishwasher Buying Tips

2. Important Dishwasher Features

Since the standard dishwasher size is 24", you might assume that capacities are similar across brands and models, but they only to a point.  It's the various racking and stacking options that may allow you to fit more into certain models.  Manufacturers will give an idea of place setting load sizes for dishwashers and that's a good indication of capacity.  Best dishwasher features include:

  • Built-in food disposal
  • Adequate racking, stacking options
  • At least a two tier wash spray action but three is better
  • Quick wash cycle
  • Pots and pans or heavy scrub wash cycle
  • Delay start if on time-of-use electricity rates
  • Econo or air dry
  • Energy Star qualified
  • Self-cleaning filters
  • Quiet sound package
  • Child safety lock

3. Dishwasher Bells and Whistles

Expect to pay more for frills, but some are definitely worth having such as enhanced quiet operation and better than average filtration systems.  A rinse cycle can be very handy if you want to loosen the dirt and leave them for the next day, so you can add to complete the load.  And if you're on metered water, features to reduce water levels will be a help.  But consider frills carefully and avoid paying for those you may never use.

  • Enhanced racking, stacking, adjustable shelving
  • Enhanced filtration system
  • Enhanced wash and spray system
  • Special racking for stemware, tall items
  • Sanitize cycle
  • Rinse cycle
  • Dirt sensors
  • Enhanced quiet operation
  • Basket for small items
  • Low water use features

4. Energy Efficiency - A Must to Save Money

Buying an Energy Star dishwasher assures you that it meets certain energy efficiency targets, but the best in terms of energy efficiency is Energy Star combined with a CEE Tier certification.  When shopping, take time to compare Energy Guide labels to see which dishwashers cost less to operate and an economy or air dry cycle can also save you energy.  When water use is a concern, go for a dishwasher that maximizes efficiency while reducing the average amount of water most dishwashers use.

5. What Not to Buy

If you have a large family, buying a compact 18" dishwasher or counter model will leave you short when it comes to loading your dishes.  While advertisers may say it can handle several place settings, consider this capacity more for a couple, rather than a family. 

And if the budget's tight, avoid some of the expensive frills like stemware racks unless you entertain a lot; you can reduce your purchase cost substantially by sticking with the essentials.

When trying to decide on a portable versus installed dishwasher, if you can sacrifice the cabinet space and handle the plumbing and electrical set-up, go for an installed model.  Wheeling a portable to the kitchen sink and having to hook it up each time can be very inconvenient, unless installing is not an option and you don't mind this type of set-up.

6. Dishwasher Price Ranges and Compare Prices

Expect to pay around $500 for an Energy Star dishwasher with nice racking options and features, though basic models can be had much cheaper.  High end models with stylish integrated fronts, quality finishes and loads of features will run you closer to $1000.  You don't really save by buying a portable unit, so if you can install, that's the best as far as convenience goes. 

A counter dishwasher unit will cost around $200 - $300 and is a great option if you move a lot, cannot install a standard size unit as long as you don't wash many dishes.  Compact 18" models can be found in the $400 range and they offer more features and capacity than a countertop model.

Compare Prices

7. Dishwasher Reviews

With different types and features, it can be difficult to find the right dishwasher.  To find the best dishwasher, read dishwasher reviews:

To help others make good dishwasher buying decisions, take a minute and review your current or previous dishwasher:

8. Dishwasher Care, use and FAQ's

Dishwasher care is minimal compared to some other large appliances, but it should not be neglected.  While you often run dishwasher loads and assume the interior of your dishwasher is being cleaned, that's not the case.  Food particles and residue can become trapped and can hinder an efficient operation.  Bacteria and mold can also begin to grow in damp interiors.  For this reason, you should give your dishwasher interior a regular cleaning with dishwasher cleaners and wash/wipe the door and gasket areas regularly. 

When it comes to dishwasher performance, how well a dishwasher cleans your dishes can be affected by how you've stacked your dishes and whether you've overloaded the area in an effort to get every dish in. Proper dish and cutlery placement can improve washing results.  And if you want to avoid cracks and chips on your dishes, allow room for vibration during operation.

9. General Appliance Tips

What to do if your appliance has been recalled or you've upgrade to a new model.  And there are reasons why it's a good idea to inform manufacturers of problems or areas where appliances could be improved.  Remember to review your product manual and keep it handy - it has lots of use information, as well as key tips on how to properly care for your new appliance.

Promotional Feature: View this video series to learn how to take good care of your house.

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