What the best dishwasher has

  • Convenient loading. For ease of use, look for a dishwasher that has fold-down tines, adjustable racks and lots of silverware slots.
  • Multiple cycles. Not all dish washing tasks are created equal. Blasting lightly soiled glassware and dishes with hot water at high temperature wastes energy and can damage delicate items. However, a light or energy saving mode won't cut the mustard -- literally or figuratively -- if faced with heavily caked on or baked on foods.
  • Adequate capacity. If you are in the market for a built-in model that will accommodate regular family use, choose a standard 24-inch model, which generally holds 12 to 14 place settings. Smaller built-in dishwashers with an 18-inch width are also available, but these are more suited to a couple, a small kitchen, or occasional use. Among portables, countertop dishwashers are really only suitable for couples or small families as they can only hold four to six place settings at a time. Roll-away dishwashers that can accommodate up to 12 place settings are a better choice for larger clans.
  • A manual-clean filter. One way that dishwasher makers are cutting back on noise is by dispensing with food grinders that chewed up washed off food items before draining them away -- bit created quite a racket as they did their job. Filters are messy to clean, but most say that's a small price to pay to reduce dishwasher sounds from a roar to a whisper.

Know before you go

How much space do you have? Standard built-in dishwashers are 24 inches wide and sufficient for a family. Those who have less space can opt for a compact, 18-inch built-in. For apartment dwellers or those with no space for a built-in, portables come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including countertop and rollaway. However, as noted above, smaller dishwashers hold less, so don't lose sight of your dishwashing needs when deciding between standard and compact models.

Are you looking to reduce energy and water use? If so, you'll want to consider a model with a sensor that can adjust cycles and water use according to the load's soil level. That allows the dishwasher to use no more energy or water than necessary.

Do you use oversized dishes? Some models have tines that are closely spaced to accommodate more dishes, while others have far-apart tines to accommodate larger dishes. The best models have tines that can be raised or lowered, to accommodate a variety of needs. Some also have upper racks that can be raised or lowered to accommodate your needs.

How quiet is quiet? There's a lot of noise, if you will pardon the pun, about which dishwasher is quietest overall. In one expert test, the loudest dishwashers maxed out at 70 decibels (dB). Putting that in perspective, Josh Cadenhead, writing for the Yale Appliance Blog, notes that at 60 dB, it will be hard to have a conversation in the same room with an operating dishwasher. A lot of the most-liked dishwashers are rated quieter than that, however, with the best coming in at 50 dB and sometimes much less. Cadenhead notes that models with noise levels below 50 decibels will be virtually silent, and user reviews of dishwashers with noise levels that low largely concur.

Do you intend to pre-rinse your dishes? There are many dishwashers on the market that clean well without any pre-rinsing. Lower priced dishwashers can usually benefit from pre-rinsing and some light scraping of heavily soiled dishes before loading.

Do you entertain often? Some dishwashers have special racks to handle a lot of glassware, and some have fold-down caddies that can lock in stemware.

Do you have particular dishwashing needs? Many of today's dishwashers have a variety of special cycles and options that may suit your specific demands; among these, are a time-delay option, which lets you set a later start time, and a quick-wash cycle, for times when you can't wait for a normal cycle to run.

Do you want hidden controls? Certainly, these are a must if you plan to fit your dishwasher with a custom panel that will blend with your cabinetry, but they are also an option on many higher-end models. Hidden controls -- almost always located along the inside top edge of the door -- deliver a sleeker, more integrated appearance, but they don't provide any feedback on the dishwasher's progress. Some models overcome this by adding a discrete display or by shining a light on the floor.

Value expectations: The dollars and cents of it

Retailers like to sell extended warranties on dishwashers -- but ConsumerReports.org's warranty buying guide calls these "notoriously bad deals." That's because breakdowns often occur during the normal warranty period -- and if they occur later, repairs may cost no more than the extended warranty anyway.

If you still want one, ConsumerReports.org suggests checking your credit card agreement first, as some cards automatically extend coverage on purchases. You can also shop with retailers who offer extended warranties for no charge. Their final recommendation is to never pay more than 20 percent of the purchase price for extended coverage.

Buying tactics and strategies

  • Look for multi-product rebates. If you're renovating a kitchen or otherwise shopping for multiple appliances, you can save money by sticking with one brand. Many retailers offer single-brand multi-appliance rebates, so shop around until you find a store that's running this promotion on a brand you like.
  • Take advantage of Energy Star rebates when possible. Some local utilities offer rebates on Energy Star-rated appliances, so make sure to research your utility's policies to see if you're eligible.
  • Compare efficiency levels. A very efficient dishwasher (measured in kilowatt hours per year) may be pricier than a less efficient one -- but you could earn that extra cost back, in terms of lower electricity bills, fairly quickly.

Elsewhere in this report:

Best Reviewed Dishwashers: These are the best dishwashers as identified in reviews. We discuss the best built-in dishwashers, as well as the best values. Top portable dishwashers are named, too.

Best Dishwashers: If you want useful features, energy efficiency, quiet operation and, spotless dishes every time, these models are your best bets among built-in dishwashers

Best Value Dishwashers: Looking for a solid performing dishwasher that won't wash away your bankroll? These dishwashers perform better than their price tags might indicate.

Best Portable Dishwashers: If a built-in dishwasher won't work in your kitchen, these portable dishwashers can be a surprisingly strong alternative. Top countertop and roll-away dishwashers are discussed.

Our Sources: These are the expert and user reviews we used to name the top built-in and portable dishwashers, along with some budget-saving alternatives. They are ranked in the order of their helpfulness and expertise.

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