Here’s What to Look for in a Dishwasher

Sometimes in life, your dishwasher dies. Other times, it embarks on a slow decline marked by leaks, weird noises, and dishes that come out dirtier than they went in. Either way, it’s time for a replacement.

But if it’s been a while since you bought a dishwasher, you might be surprised at how many options are available on the market today. More than just your basic black and white models, today’s manufacturers offer a range of finishes and features. Which features does your family need? How much should you spend? Is the brand name important? Here’s what you should consider when buying a dishwasher.

Price

The good news about dishwashers is that there’s little correlation between price and cleaning performance. A lower-end dishwasher will be just as competent at cleaning your dishes as a high-end one, although you’ll want to scrape your dishes before washing them in either case. According to tests performed by Cnet, dishwashers at all price points and all manufacturers offer adequate cleaning power, but pricier models have features that lessen the need for pre-washing or scraping and allow machines to handle dried, caked-on dirt.



That means if you just need a basic dishwasher, you confidently buy one for under $500. A no-frills model with a basic black or white finish could cost $200 to $300. For a reasonable range of features and a quieter run time, you can spend between $600 to $800. For $1,000 or more, you can buy a high-end model with all of the latest bells and whistles. To save money, look for a machine with a plastic tub instead of a stainless steel one, and physical buttons on the door instead of digital controls.

Features

Dishwashers these days come with a dizzying array of features and options. Even no-frills models will come with several cleaning cycle options, usually including a heavy-duty cycle, a normal cycle, and a rinse cycle. You might also get an energy-saver cycle, a china and crystal cycle, and an automatic cycle. A dry cycle is also standard on most 24- and 18-inch models, but may not come standard on countertop models.

Knowing what to look for when buying a dishwasher has a lot to do with familiarizing yourself with the different features and design elements of dishwashers on the market and thinking about what will work best for your family. If it’s just you and your partner, you might want a machine with an upper/lower-rack feature that allows you to wash just one rack at a time. If you entertain a lot, you might want to look for a large-capacity dishwasher with racks that can accommodate large serving dishes, pots and pans, and casseroles. If you have young children, a machine with a child lock will keep the tykes from resetting your cycle while you’re not looking.

Noise Level

Dishwashers in the past were loud because many of them incorporated food macerators — and some of the lower-end models available still do, which eliminates the need to rinse dishes before washing. However, most dishwashers these days rely on the user to perform regular maintenance and clean the filter to prevent clogs and smells. For $500, you can pick up a dishwasher that produces 50ish decibels, while for $600 to $900, you can get a machine with a decibel range in the 40s.

Capacity

Although dishwashers are all the same size on the outside, how much space they have for dishes on the inside varies. Most 24-inch dishwashers will fit 12 to 16 place settings, but more expensive models can fit more dishes. Some have a third rack, while most offer unique features, like tines that fold down, tines spaced closer together, stemware holders, and even extra jets, that help them hold more dishes.

Finish

In addition to black, white, and stainless steel, you can also get bisque, slate, and black stainless. Stainless and black stainless typically cost about $100 more than a white, black, or bisque finish.

Size and Type

Standard built-in dishwashers are sized to a 24-inch cavity, but if you have a tiny kitchen, you can get an 18-inch dishwasher, which holds about 8 place settings on average. You can also buy portable dishwashers, which have a finished top and sides, connect to the sink, and can be rolled out of the way when not in use. There are also countertop models, although you need a lot of space between your countertop and hanging cupboards to fit one, and drawer models, although these are pretty high-end.

Manufacturer

The manufacturer isn’t that important when it comes to dishwashers — all the major brands are capable of producing a competent dishwasher. The only time it might matter is if you want a drawer model, since these are only being produced by one company, Fisher & Paykel.

No matter what dishwasher you buy, it’s likely to do a competent job of washing your dishes. The real question is, what features do you want? If it’s been a while since you replaced your dishwasher, take some time to examine the features available on models in your local home store. You might be surprised at what dishwasher these days can do.