How To Choose a Dishwasher
The elements of a dishwasher that affect most decisions are the appearance, price, how well it cleans, reliability, ease of loading and quietness. Other features like the number of cycle choices, delayed start, number of spray arms and stainless steel interior may also be a factor but for most those features just sell them on the choice they have already made.
Stainless Steel Tub - Stainless steel tubs look sleek and clean. They will theoretically remain stain free although different grades of stainless steel perform better than others. The higher cost may be justified because stainless steel interiors improve a dishwasher's efficiency. Stainless steel reflects heat allowing the use a lower wattage drying element. It will also improve performance over a plastic tub because hotter water can be used. Stainless steel is also quieter than plastic tub models.
Tall Tub - Some models boast a tall tub. This configuration compacts the equipment under the dishwasher to take up less room. The room that is gained allows the floor of the dishwasher to be a bit lower. This increases the overall capacity of the dishwasher. Some models take advantage of this space by adding a third rack for utensils and baking sheets. Other models utilize the space by accommodating bulky items that wouldn't fit in standard dishwashers.
Integrated Controls - This feature moves the dishwasher's controls from the front to a position on the top of the door and out of sight. Open the door, choose the cycle, press "start" and the controls disappear as you close the door. Once a high-end feature, integrated controls are now available at nearly all price points. The chief advantage is the sleek look. If you add a custom door panel, the dishwasher blends in with the cabinets, making the dishwasher virtually disappear. Some manufacturers offer "partially integrated" controls which means that an indicator or start / stop button is visible while the rest of the controls are hidden.
Waste Grinder - In the past, you had to practically wash the dishes before you washed the dishes. Now you can put the dirtiest dishes into the dishwasher and get sparkling clean dishes out. A waste grinder processes the dirty rinse water, turning everything into manageable debris that can go down the drain. There is no longer a need to even rinse your dishes if your dishwasher has a built-in waste grinder.
In-Line Water Heater - Hot water is key in getting dishes clean. A water heater is not essential for the dishwasher, it can use hot water from the your home's hot water. However, your home hot water may not be quite as hot as is ideal and there is also the problem that it takes a while for the hot water to actually start flowing to the appliance. A built in water heater will raise to water temperature to the optimal level and will preheat the water so it is available at the beginning of the cycle.
Cabinet Panel - Select models of appliances allow the installation of a custom door panel. A door panel supplied by your cabinet manufacturer allows you to match the appliance to your cabinetry. Most high-end appliances offer this option as do many mid-priced units. Be sure to get the specifications for the door panels for the dishwasher before ordering your cabinets.
Quiet Operation - A quiet dishwasher allows you to run it even while working in the kitchen or while the family is watching TV in the next room without being disturbed by the noise. Some manufacturers claim to be quiet but don't publish a decibel rating. Because "quiet" is a relative term, we feel all appliances should publish their decibel rating. Unless you can verify personally that a particular model is quiet, be skeptical of manufacturers claims if they do not publish the decibel rating. A rating of 40-45 dB is library quiet, a rating of 50 dB is well under the loudness of a normal conversation. A rating of 60dB is about the level of a conversation and would be considered somewhat noisy. Anything over 65dB would be a distracting sound to those nearby. We consider this to be a worthwhile feature if you might be bothered by noisy appliances.
Multiple Spray Arms / Jets - At one time, there were spray arms at the bottom of the dishwasher and that was all. If you put something that was too dirty on the upper rack, it wouldn't get clean. It is much more common now for there to be a spray arm under both the top and bottom basket. This is important for good cleaning results. Many models go beyond that and add various sprays and jets to scrub even more thoroughly. For a quality clean, look for a unit with multiple sprays to get at all the dishes.
Versatile Racks / Loading - On the lowest price models, dish racks typically have a fixed layout. You must fit your dishes according to the rack layout. A flexible layout allows you to adjust for unusually shaped and oversized dishes. It also can allow you to load more efficiently by making adjustments to accommodate the unique size and shape of your glasses and dishes. Of the various features, we rate this one as being important to your overall satisfaction.
Delayed Start - A delayed start option allows to you to set a delay before the dishwasher starts the wash cycle. This is convenient because it allows you to start the cycle after you have finished up in the kitchen, after you go to bed or leave the house. With the quietest models though, there is little use for this feature.
Dishwasher Drawers - This alternative to a standard dishwasher fits into the same space but provides an upper and lower drawer. The drawer look is popular and blends nicely with cabinet drawers. Ideal for individuals and couples who have small loads or as a back up to a primary standard dishwasher.
Operating Cost - The large yellow label will tell you the expected energy cost to operate the appliance for one year. These ratings have been updated and are now more accurate than in the past. The operation cost is useful as a comparison between models. While the difference may not seem significant, consider that over the life of the product, the savings can up.
Energy Star - The rating means the appliance meets certain efficiency standards set by the government. An Energy Star rated appliance should save water and energy over a model without the rating. A large percentage of the appliances now available in the U.S. are Energy Star rated.
Heated Dry - A heated dry cycle will reduce or eliminate water spotting as well as reduce drying time. It isn't a critical feature and some high end units even omit it to save energy. However, some people feel that heated drying provides an important benefit by subjecting the load to high temperatures and thereby killing germs.
Soil Sensor - A soil sensor monitors the waste water and adjusts the cycle length based upon clarity of the water. Extra soiled dishes will take longer to clean, the dishwasher will sense this and wash them longer, until it senses the water is clean.