Dishwashers today offer an endless array of features and options. Which ones make the most sense for you? Here's what you need to know before you buy.
By Rose KennedyMore in Kitchen
If you're shopping for a dishwasher for the first time in a few years, you're in for a treat. "You won't be buying a white box like our parents did; there are just so many more options out there today that it's really fun to shop for dishwashers," says Diane Ritchey, editor of Home Appliance magazine.
The models available today can do just about everything but decide whose turn it is to do the dishes. A few of the most publicized wonder washers include Asko's Encore, which "hand washes" the finest crystal; the double Dishdrawer by Fisher & Paykel that lets you mix delicate crystal and heavily soiled baking dishes; and KitchenAid's briva in-sink dishwasher, which runs a small load in half the time.
Other new features aren't as ballyhooed but are favorable nonetheless. For example, most models now include taller tubs, says T.J. Schwebach, a sales professional at the Furniture and Appliancemart Superstore in Stevens Point, Wis. "The dimensions outside the dishwasher are the same, but the tub inside has gotten taller and you can put taller pots, pans and platters in a load."
Touch pads, too, are a big thing on middle- and high-end dishwashers, says Schwebach. "They look nicer than the dials of old and are more reliable," he says. "Since they have fewer moving parts, they're easier to service."
Ritchey, who has written for the appliance trade for more than eight years, says noise level is coming to mean more and more to dishwasher consumers, in part because of the trend towards entertaining right in the kitchen or making it part of a "great room" where the family congregates.
"When the kitchen's the hub room, you don't want to hear the dishwasher grinding away," she says. "And it's great if you can run the dishwasher in the middle of the main course with people right in the other half of the great room."
Schwebach recommends several Bosch Appliance models for their quietness. "Other super-quiet models come from KitchenAid and Fisher & Paykel," he says, "and almost all models now have more insulation so they make less noise during operation than in days of old."
Other trends that Appliance Today editor Ritchey has observed include people buying 18-inch and countertop dishwashers if they live in small spaces or want a second dishwasher for the times they don't have a full load. People are also matching the dishwasher's exterior to their cabinetry with wooden panels.
"The seamless look is popular, but some people like to see their appliances," she says. "In Europe right now the dishwashers in light, bright colors and patterns are popular because they're eye-catching."
The increasing number of homeowners who want cooking spaces worthy of a chef means more units come with stainless steel exteriors, says Schwebach. "The stainless steel exteriors are more popular than colors with people who want a professional look, but they tend to run $150-$200 more."
Whether you consider so much choice and innovation fun or mind-boggling, Ritchey is confident the average consumer can choose a suitable dishwasher. "You'll need a pro to install it and make sure it fits properly, but if you take the time to make educated decisions, you'll do just fine," she says.
Here are some of the features that Ritchey and Schwebach recommend researching before you buy a particular dishwasher:
The energy cost of a dishwasher will be posted right on the side and should be taken into consideration, Ritchey advises. "An energy efficient dishwasher saves both electricity and water, and that can add up to quite a bit over the life of the washer."
If you live in a family group and eat at home a lot, you may be able to save by purchasing one of the models like Samsung's Tall Tub that can accommodate a large load and is super-quiet, to boot.
"When you live in a small space, or alone, or don't run the dishwasher at least once a day, you may do better with one of the smaller models that won't waste water even if you're only washing three or four plates," says Ritchey. One example is the Danby 18-inch portable dishwasher.
Arms of Steel
Check the arms on the bottom of the dishwasher and try to opt for a model that has stainless steel, says Schwebach. "They tend to be sturdier, have bigger holes and generate better water pressure so you don't use as much water to get the dishes clean," he says.
Two Tiers or Three?
The Maytag Jetclean III was the world's first dishwasher to include a third rack and other manufacturers have followed suit. The extra level is a good thing to have if you entertain or use a lot of utensils, says Ritchey. "If you stack cutlery on that third rack, it's a little cleaner and easier to unload."
For other people, adjustable racks like the ones featured on the Kenmore 24-inch Built-In UltraWash Dishwasher make more sense than an extra rack, since you can move them to accommodate larger pots and pans one day and reposition them to hold dozens of plates or bowls the next.
Don't Dis the Drawer
Lots of consumers think that the increasingly popular Fisher & Paykel Dishdrawer looks cool and is environmentally friendly, but that it won't hold much. "That's a huge myth," says Ritchey. "It holds just as much inside as the tall tub models and it has two other big advantages: no bending over to load and unload the bottom rack, and it's very energy efficient."
Sense My Soil
One feature that Schwebach would prefer not to do without is the Soil Sensor. "This feature checks the water after every phase of rinsing or washing, no matter what cycle you selected. If it senses that the dishes are clean after three parts of the wash cycle, it will move straight to the dry cycle, even if you selected the six-part cycle."
Frigidaire and KitchenAid feature dishwasher models that activate Soil Sensor automatically while some Maytag models include an option to select Soil Sensor on a given load, says Schwebach.
Choose the Future
Just about any new feature in a dishwasher is going to cost more, sometimes a lot more. That's when you need to get out a calculator and a calendar.
"The average dishwasher lasts from nine to 12 years, so you'll have that long to recover your investment," says Schwebach. "Most of the time it makes more sense to pay more for the more energy efficient model or any feature that you'll really rely on."