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How to buy a dishwasher

Updated on January 6, 2018

Do I need a dishwasher?

Dishwashers save time in doing the dishes manually. New dishwashers are quieter and much more energy efficient than models produced in the past.

Like a washer, a dishwasher must be connected to a hot water supply, electricity, and a drain. Dishwasher installation is further complicated by the necessity of locating it in the kitchen, where space is at a premium. Despite all this, it is difficult for most people today to get along without a dishwasher. Modern dishwashers significantly reduce cleanup time and effort, and they can do a good job of cleaning most dishes and pots without the need of pre-rinsing. They can also reduce sink and countertop space requirements for dealing with dirty dishes and provide a place to store soiled dinnerware until you have time to wash them.

A dishwasher's resource consumption compares favorably to hand washing because the nine gallons or so that a dishwasher uses per load is less than what many people use in hand washing the same number of items.

Types of dishwashers

Built-in dishwasher

Dishwashers are available in two types, built-in and portable. Typically, built-ins are more popular. A built-in dishwasher measures 24 inches wide and is installed underneath a kitchen counter, usually next to a sink. Some manufacturers offer models for under-sink installation. Installing a dishwasher for the first time in a particular location involves both plumbing and electrical work, which can cost up to several hundred dollars depending upon the location. Replacing an old dishwasher involves minimal installation costs. American makes offer the lowest prices and the biggest variety of features. European models are stylish, quieter, more energy-efficient, and much more expensive. They also include a space-saving design, a custom appearance and they have many different styles and features. However, they are extremely difficult to move.


Portable dishwashers

If space is at a premium, if you are renting, or if you just want to minimize installation costs, you might consider a portable dishwasher. Many manufacturers offer models with casters for easy mobility. This way, you can just roll it into position, attach the water supply hose to the sink's faucet, place the drain hose in the sink, and plug the unit into an electrical outlet. A portable model is usually similar to the same manufacturer's mid- to low-end built-in model, in terms of features and performance. Portable dishwashers can also be permanently installed by a plumber. These are good for apartment kitchens and are easily moved between locations. However, they are less convenient to use than built-in dishwashers and may take up extra space in kitchen.

How much does a dishwasher cost?

Dishwasher prices range from around $200 to over $2,000. Price may vary considerably depending on the color or finish of the door panel. Most dishwashers are between $200 and $600. Models selling for more than $600 usually have features such as electronic controls, stainless-steel interiors, extra dispensers and indicator lights, and better sound insulation and vibration damping. There are many adequate models in the $400 to $600 range.

Dishwasher features

Dishwasher Controls

Entry-level machines feature knob and dial controls. You will find push-button switches hidden behind smooth one-piece plastic console covers on the better models. Some of the highest priced dishwashers feature electronic touchpad controls with lighted displays. The best European models now combine controls on the top of the door so that they can not be seen when the machine is closed.

Countdown timer — lets you know how much time is left in a cycle.

Clean light — signals that cycle is complete and dishes are clean.

Soil sensors —sensors optically analyze dirtiness of water and adjust water level and wash length accordingly.

Delay-start — this is a timer that allows you to start the dishwasher automatically. It also lets you take advantage of late-night off-peak power rates and run the dishwasher after everyone has taken a shower allowing everyone to have hot water.


Dishwasher cycles and temperature settings

All models have three basic cycles: light, normal and heavy. Cycles are combinations of water temperature, wash and rinse times, and drying-air temperature. Cycle differences also may involve extra fills during washing and rinsing to maintain clean water.

Rinse-and-hold — rinses dirty dishes without washing them, allowing you to accumulate enough for a full load.

China and crystal cycle — hot water (140-150°F) wash and hot water rinse brightens china and crystal; reduces spotting.

Pot-scrubber cycle — for caked-on foods.

Sanitary rinse — timed high temperature (150-170°F) rinse sanitizes to reduce germs.

Heated drying — dries dishes quickly using heated air.

Dish racks and holders

Adjustable or fold-down tines — create flat areas for pots and pans.

Fold-down shelves — increases space for small items and allows you to stack teacups and small bowls in double rows.

Height-adjustable upper rack — this allows you to create space for tall items above the upper or lower rack.

Flatware basket — this is for utensils. Covered compartments on some models will retain small items.

Stemware holder — this secures wine glasses.

Food filters and grinders

All dishwashers feature a screen, filter or chamber to trap particles. Midrange American and all European models have two filters, one for larger particles and another for smaller ones. Many American models also feature a food grinder that chops particles so they are small enough to wash away into the main drain system.


Rinse-aid dispenser

Rinse-aid chemicals prevent water spots and filming on glassware, dishes and utensils. An automatic dispenser adds aids to the final rinse. Some are adjustable and some also feature a window in the dispenser cap to indicate when it is time to refill. Dispensers on better models have an indicator light.


Spray arms

Spray arms distribute water during washing and rinsing. The more direct the spray, the better. Most dishwashers offer at least two spray arms, one on the bottom and one on the top. Midrange models offer a third arm or a center spray tower. Smaller holes in spray arms result in higher water pressure and better cleaning action. Some high-end dishwashers have up to six outlets in the spray tower that direct water onto dishes from several heights.


Water-heat booster

This feature heats water for dishwashing above the temperature supplied by most household water heaters. Higher temperatures improve dishwasher performance. A water-heat booster supplies hotter water economically without creating a scald hazard elsewhere in the house. Depending on the dishwasher model, a booster will increase incoming hot water temperature by 20°F to 50°F.

Other dishwasher features to consider

Dishwasher door

Many manufacturers provide a reversible painted aluminum door panel that coordinates the dishwasher with the rest of the kitchen. A screwdriver is the only tool needed to switch the panel from black to either white or almond. Some models can be fitted with a thin wood or laminate panel to match kitchen cabinets. Door panels on some high-end dishwashers are stainless steel.


Custom Panels

Some dishwashers can accommodate custom door panels. This gives you the option of matching your dishwasher to your kitchen cabinetry or any other decorations.


Dishwasher energy use

Yellow and black EnergyGuide labels on dishwashers and other appliances are required by law. You will find them on all display models. The label shows the estimated amount of electricity that the dishwasher uses during a year of operation and compares that amount to that used by similar dishwasher models. The label also includes the estimated annual cost of operating the dishwasher with both an electric and a natural gas water heater. Your actual operating cost will vary depending on your local utility rates and your use of the product. Generally, the higher price tag on an energy-efficient model will be offset somewhat with energy savings over the life of the appliance.


Sound insulation

Insulation reduces the dishwashers operating noise, especially during filling and draining. Usually, the amount of insulation and sound-deadening features increases according to the price of the dishwasher model. Noise-reducing features include vents that close during the wash cycle to keep noise inside the dishwasher, and motor modifications like heavy-duty suspension systems, special seals and vibration dampers. A manufacturer's choice of motors can also make a difference.


Unit Size

Dishwasher sizes are standardized. The standard size fits spaces with a width of 24 inches, whereas the compact size fits spaces which are 18 inches wide.


Number of Cycles

This refers to the number of wash cycles that can be selected. Cycles vary in duration and temperature. Dishwashers have from 2 to 10 cycles, with most having 5 cycles. The basic model has 2 to 4 cycles, the expanded model has 5 to 7 cycles, and the deluxe model has 8 to 10 cycles.


Pots/Heavy Cycle

This indicates whether the dishwasher has a Pots and Pans or Heavy cycle. This type of cycle is designed to remove baked-on foods by using very hot water and extending the wash duration.


Delay Wash

This feature enables you to set the dishwasher to turn on at a later time. For example, you can set the time to turn on while you are asleep and energy use rates are lower (also mentioned in the features section of this guide).


Hard Food Disposal

Dishwashers with hard food disposals are able to grind solid food into particles that are small enough to fit through the filter. By doing this, food particles will not be re-deposited onto your dishes. This feature also eliminates the need for rinsing dishes thoroughly before washing.


Child-safety locks

These locks protect children from accidentally opening the dishwasher while it is functioning.

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