Even if you've purchased a dishwasher as recently as five or 10 years ago, you may still be surprised at how cleaning performance has improved, energy and water efficiency has increased and exceedingly quiet operation has become a given.
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 prevalent throughout the middle and even lower price range, automatically adjusting the cycle to deliver just the right cleaning power with no water or electricity waste. And better design with improved insulation means you may be near your dishwasher -- and not even know it's on!
Still, all this innovation comes with some challenges, as models are launched and garner a significant body of expert and user reviews, only to be discontinued and replaced with even newer lines. In addition, some machines have recently been added to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) list of recalls. So if you're in the market for a dishwasher, it's essential to be aware of the latest information.
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, although some higher-end models have multiple drawers. These may be desirable from a convenience standpoint, because the drawers can be loaded and operated independently of one another.
Built-in dishwashers run from about $300 to as much as $2,000. Interestingly, even moderately priced models can be as quiet and energy efficient as pricey ones, according to decibel levels, user reviews and Energy Star ratings. (Energy Star is a program of the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy; according to the group, models that qualify for Energy Star ratings are generally 10 percent more energy efficient and 20 percent more water efficient than nonqualified models.)
Additionally, higher prices can buy you more wash cycles; more adjustability of tines, racks and flatware containers; and a more pleasing appearance, with hidden controls and a stainless-steel front. It's a good idea to make sure you need these extras before paying for them.
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 $350 and $650, with higher prices corresponding largely to more interior space. Generally, portables manufactured by major appliance manufacturers will cost more than those made by smaller companies.
When you are comparing prices of either built-ins or portables, keep in mind that an energy-efficient model can save you money on your electric and water bills, so it may pay to spend a bit more upfront. In addition, retailers sometimes run rebate programs for customers buying multiple appliances from a particular brand at the same time. Some local utilities also run rebates if you purchase an Energy Star-rated model.
Dishwashers have been subject to Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) product recalls as recently as August 2012, when several GE models were voluntarily recalled because they were considered to pose a fire hazard. Earlier recalls, dating back to 2007, have been posted for other GE models, as well as models by Maytag and Asko. This recall activity reinforces the importance of filling out a registration card when you buy an appliance, so you will be notified in the event of a recall that involves your purchase.
To determine our list of top models, we analyzed expert and owner reviews of dishwashers, placing particular attention on four key factors: performance (which includes both cleaning and energy efficiency), ease of use, noise and cost of ownership. We also considered dishwasher prices and the relative value offered by different models. Our research includes professional test results and consumer surveys, as well as reports from standard-setting agencies. We also studied user comments on retail and consumer-opinion websites, which describe real-world experiences and durability feedback that can be missing from professional reviews.