How to Pick the Right Dishwasher

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In the market for a new dishwasher? You can't just look at the price tag. Here is what you need to know before you buy.

When Consumer Reports recently rated 90 dishwashers, they found prices averaged $950. And if you skimp on price, you might be going back to the scrub brush after the machine’s “done” beep.

Take one of the cheapest they tested, the $310 Frigidaire FBD2400KS. According to Consumer Reports, it was energy-efficient and inexpensive, but “washing was only so-so; drying was worse.”

But you don’t have to drop a grand to get a good machine. Here’s how to pick the right dishwasher without buying the most expensive.

1. Cleaning

If you think every dishwasher on the market will be able to clean and dry dishes, Consumer Reports begs to differ. Not all dishwashers do their jobs. To keep from buying a dud, look for clean and drying settings that suit your needs. For example:

If you wash off your dishes in the sink before loading, you don’t need pre-rinse or pot-scrubbing settings. Look for a model with a basic clean setting to save some cash.

If you don’t pre-rinse yourself, look for a model that has a heavy scrub setting. Otherwise you’ll end up running the dish cycle more than once trying to remove leftover food.

Look for an air dry feature on the heat cycle. Using heat to dry your dishes sucks up a ton of electricity. If you can turn that heater off and air dry, you’ll save money on your utility bills.

Once you find a few dishwasher models you like, read the reviews before you buy. Check out:

  • CNET – Regularly reviews new appliances
  • Epinions – Consumer-submitted reviews on nearly every model
  • Consumer Reports – Maintains a list of top-rated dishwashers (one of their highest-rated dishwashers was the Bosch Ascenta at $600)

2. Features

Modern dishwashers go beyond washing and drying. Newer models can come fully loaded with a ton of features, but the price increases with each extra you add. For example:

  • Stainless steel tubs – Resist stains and look a bit more stylish than plastic tubs, but also cost more.
  • Self-cleaning – Some models have a built-in cleaning system that empties the filter (where food waste collects) and cleans the interior of the dishwasher.
  • Sanitizing – Sanitizes your dishes to remove germs and bacteria that may make it through the dish cycle.

Decide which features you need (and don’t need) before shopping. That will prevent you from being seduced on the showroom floor.

3. Energy use

If you have a dishwasher made before 1994, according to, you’re paying an extra $40 every year for electricity and wasting 10 gallons of water with every wash. Buying an Energy Star dishwasher will save an average of 1,300 gallons over its life.

Even if your dishwasher isn’t that old, you might still save. According to the EPA, current models built under the latest standards are 8 percent more efficient than pre-2012 Energy Star-certified models.

Energy Star models are often more expensive, so if you don’t want to shell out the extra cash, at least check out the EnergyGuide label. This bright yellow label will allow you to compare annual operating costs of various models.

4. Size

Average full-size dishwashers are 24 inches wide, while smaller units are 18 inches. Here are some guidelines to know which size to buy.

A good dishwasher should provide ample room for soiled dishes. If you cook using large mixing bowls and other large dishware, look for a dishwasher that has a lot of room. Also keep an eye out for the size of silverware baskets and the number of shelves. Adjustable shelving is super-useful, as is the ability to raise a flap over a basket to provide room for longer utensils.

If you’re doing dishes for a big family, take into account how many dishes pile up in the sink. But if your household is small, look for a more compact machine with a quick-cycle option.

There’s no reason to buy a huge, two-hour-cycle dishwasher if you don’t cook a lot or don’t wrestle with stacks of dirty plates. But if you’re planning on running pots and pans through the machine, make sure to account for the size of those too – and look for a “pot scrubber” option or its equivalent.

 5. Noise

If your kitchen is close to your living or bedrooms, noise is important. Typically, cheaper models will be louder. Without proper planning, a rumbling dishwasher could disturb some quiet downtime or silence a poignant-but-subtle sentence coming from a movie in your living room.

Bottom line? When it comes to dishwashers, the key to balancing price and features is to think about how you use your machine, how big it needs to be, where it’s located relative to other parts of your home, and how much you’re willing to pay upfront for lower utility costs later.

What many people do is opt for features like stainless steel, which costs more but delivers little, and buy the most expensive dishwasher they can afford, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best.  Think it through and do some online reading – you’ll be glad you did.

Stacy Johnson

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