Updated March 2015
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Dishwashers save work and energy

Even if you've purchased a dishwasher as recently as five or 10 years ago, you may be surprised at how much cleaning performance has improved since then. In addition, energy and water efficiency has increased and exceedingly quiet operation has become a given.

High-performance dishwasher

GE Profile PDT750SSFSS
GE Profile PDT750SSFSS

With top-rated machines, dishes that previously required significant pre-rinsing can now be dropped right into the dishwasher, even if they have gooey or baked-on food. Sensors, once available only at the very high end, are now offered on many mid-range and even budget dishwashers. These automatically adjust the cycle to deliver just the right cleaning power while conserving both water and electricity. Engineering advancements and improvements in sound insulation mean you might be near your dishwasher and not even know it's on -- though the very quietest machines have a filter that needs to be manually emptied on occasion.

Types of dishwashers

There are two basic types of dishwashers -- built-in and portable. Built-ins are installed into the kitchen, just like other major appliances such as ovens or refrigerators. Most built-ins have a single interior space. Independent dishwasher drawers are another option. Once thought to be the next great thing, dishwasher drawers are only offered by a few makers. On the plus side, dishwasher drawers can be loaded and operated independently of one another. On the negative side, the individual compartments are substantially smaller than standard dishwashers -- inconvenient for even moderately sized families.

Built-in dishwashers run from about $300 to as much as $2,000. Higher prices bring you more features, greater flexibility, and higher styling -- but not necessarily better performance. Top-end machines can also be among the very quietest, but sound insulation on even some moderately priced dishwashers has advanced to the point where  they can be as quiet as very expensive machines -- at least most of the time.

Most built-in dishwashers, including budget models, meet current Energy Star ratings for energy and water usage. These dishwashers must be at least 5 percent more energy efficient and 15 percent more water efficient than nonqualified models.

Portable dishwashers are mainly used in apartments or small homes, where space limitations or rental agreements make permanent installation impossible. These models can be on casters, so they can roll away for storage, or they may be designed to sit on a countertop. Generally smaller than built-ins, portables attach manually to a faucet for their water supply. Once known as annoyingly noisy energy hogs, today's portables can be as energy efficient and quiet as their built-in counterparts.

Portables tend to run between $200 and $1,000, with higher prices corresponding largely to more interior space. Roll-away portables are still available and popular, but we noted better -- and more -- feedback for countertop dishwashers.

When you are comparing prices of either built-ins or portables, keep in mind that an energy-efficient model can save you money over the long term on your electric and water bills, so it may pay to spend a bit more upfront. In addition, some local utilities offer rebates if you purchase an Energy Star-rated model.

Finding the best dishwashers

To find the best dishwashers, including budget dishwashers that perform like champs, we analyzed expert and owner reviews. Among the experts, top review sites include ConsumerReports.org and Reviewed.com. Both have lots of dishwasher reviews and they perform hands on tests of the models that they rate. J.D. Power and Associates doesn't test or rate individual dishwashers but does conduct a large annual survey to assess owner satisfaction with brands.

User reviews fill in the back story of how a dishwasher performs in the home. Top sites for those include BestBuy.com, Amazon.com, Sears.com (for Kenmore models) and HomeDepot.com -- with one caveat. While BestBuy.com and Amazon.com only post original reviews, some  other sites might also post reviews that originally appeared elsewhere -- typically manufacturer web sites. While such reviews are valid, and usually balanced, they appear again and again on multiple sites across the web. We only consider such reviews once in analyzing which dishwashers are truly best liked by their owners.

Once that data is analyzed, we boil things down further by placing particular attention on four key factors: performance, ease of use, noise and cost of ownership (which includes energy efficiency). We also consider dishwasher prices and the relative value offered by different models. The final result is our list of Best Reviewed dishwashers.

Elsewhere in this report:

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.

Buying Guide: We discuss what you need to consider when figuring out which dishwasher is best for you.  These are the key factors you need to consider when shopping for the best model.

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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