What the best dishwasher has
- Flexible loading options. For ease of use, look for a dishwasher that has fold-down tines, adjustable racks and a separate basket for silverware. Baskets with silverware slots are even better as they keep utensils from sticking together and help them get more thoroughly clean. However, more basic loading options will cut down on the cost of the dishwasher, so if you're on a budget, this may be something you can live without.
- Multiple cycles. Virtually all dishwashers include a quick wash, normal wash and heavy wash (sometimes called pots and pans). If you wash a lot of delicate glassware you may want to look for a light or delicate wash as well. If your top priority is saving energy and water, look for an Eco or Air Dry setting. If you often need to run your dishwasher before it's full, look for a top shelf only cycle. Many people appreciate a delay cycle setting as well.
- Good drying capability. This is an area where many -- maybe even most -- dishwashers struggle, especially when it comes to drying plastics. European-made models are the worst, as many of those don't have a heat dry function at all. A stainless steel, as opposed to plastic, tub will improve drying. Liquids that claim to help improve drying may help, although plenty of users say they don't and they add to your ongoing costs.
Know before you go
How much space do you have? While some of this decision may be out of your control, standard built-in dishwashers are 24 inches wide and have the largest capacity. 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.
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. Most built-ins and even some portables have sensors.
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. Some also have upper racks that can be raised or lowered for greater flexibility for odd-sized items. If you have particularly thick dishes (think stoneware), you may want to take a place setting to the store with you to see if the dishwasher can easily accommodate your dishes.
Are you bothered by even small noises? Most of today's dishwashers, even cheap models, are very quiet. According to the experts at YaleAppliance.com, anything rated at less than 47 dBA will be more than adequate. However, we read few complaints that dishwashers were overly noisy even when evaluating reviews for the louder, less-expensive and portable models included in this report.
A few things to know about loading your dishwasher:
As we noted in the introduction to this report, proper loading of your dishwasher will improve cleaning performance and probably allow you to fit more dishes in the dishwasher. All manufacturers will include a loading guide somewhere in the owner's manual. If your dishwasher is struggling to get your dishes clean, try following loading instructions before calling the manufacturer -- or posting a negative review.
And one more word about capacity: Manufacturers exaggerate (okay, two words). Virtually all dishwasher descriptions include the total number of place settings the dishwasher can accommodate. However, in professional testing, that number is almost always lower, sometimes by two or three place settings. Whether the manufacturers are using tiny elf dishes or they have some other way of measuring, we don't know, but if you have a big family, or entertain a lot, you may want to buy up in number of claimed place settings.