Dishwashers save time and energy
Even if you've purchased a dishwasher as recently as five or 10 years ago, you may be surprised by how much cleaning performance has improved since then. In addition, energy and water efficiency has increased and quiet operation has become a given. Most of today's dishwashers, including budget and portable models, meet current Energy Star standards 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.
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 most models, 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.
One tip, though: read your owner's manual. It may not be the most exciting book, but manufacturers design and test their dishwashers with very specific loading configurations and they include those configuration in the manual. Following those guidelines will result in both maximizing capacity and in cleaner dishes.
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. Portables are, well, portable and can either be wheeled from place to place or moved from cupboard to counter.
Full-sized, 24-inch built-in dishwashers are the most common. Most built-in dishwashers have a single interior space. They can range wildly in price, from basic, sub-$500 models to more than $2,000. The higher the price, the more features and flexibility you can expect, but price doesn't necessarily equate to great performance. In testing, plenty of cheap dishwashers outperform those costing much more. 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.
Smaller, 18-inch built-ins are becoming increasingly popular. These are just smaller siblings of the 24-inch dishwashers, but not all 24-inch built-in dishwashers have a corresponding 18-inch option. This compact dishwasher is the most common type in Europe and in smaller kitchens, but they are finding their place in even normal-sized American kitchens as people seek to maximize their space by downsizing in other ways. In spite of the fact that they are smaller units, 18-inch units usually cost more than the otherwise exact 24-inch model.
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.
Finding the best dishwashers
To find the best dishwashers, including top-performing budget dishwashers, we analyzed expert and owner reviews. Among the experts, top review sites include ConsumerReports.org and Reviewed.com. Both have plenty of dishwasher reviews and they perform hands on tests of the models that they rate.
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 a few key factors: performance, ease of use, noise, appearance and durability. We also consider dishwasher prices and the relative value offered by different models. The final result is our recommendations for the best dishwashers.
The best built-in, 24-inch dishwashers
There are a lot of good, 24-inch dishwashers out there, but, overall, we saw some of the best feedback for the KitchenAid KDTM354DSS (Est. $1,000). Experts say it's a top performer, blasting away the toughest, baked on crud, and actually getting the dishes dry -- something many dishwashers struggle with. In testing, it earns Excellent scores for both washing and drying, and owners concur, saying it's one of the best dishwashers they've ever owned. Its best feature, all agree, is its ProFilter." This technology all but eliminates redeposit, the phenomenon where food particles removed from one dish land on (and stick to) other dishes. This means that, unlike most dishwashers, your dishes are being blasted with clean water throughout the wash and rinse cycle.
The KitchenAid KDTM354DSS doesn't skip on other features either. It has six cycles, including Express, Light, Normal, ProWash, Rinse Only and Tough. There is also a Top Rack Only option if you just need to wash a partial load. The interior is stainless steel, which both improves performance and adds to the KDTM354DSS's upscale appearance. KitchenAid says this dishwasher holds 15 place settings, but Johnny Yu at Reviewed.com says they were only able to fit 11 in; however, he still makes it one of the highest-rated full-sized dishwasher on that site, with an overall score of 9.1 out of 10. It also earns Best of Year and Editors' Choice awards. One thing that all can agree on: the loading options are spacious and very customizable for practically any dish size or configuration.
If keeping the noise of your appliances down is a priority for you, as it is for many people, then you should be perfectly happy with the KitchenAid KDTM354DSS. It's rated for 44 dBA, plenty low that it shouldn't bother any but the most sensitive ears. While it gets only a Very Good for noise in one professional test, owners say it's very quiet, and many double-check to see if they actually started it or just thought they had.
Although the initial price of the KitchenAid KDTM354DSS may be more than some would like to pay, you may feel better once you know how little energy this dishwasher uses. It will only cost you about $31 per year, which is considered very efficient. It also seems to be very durable, we read very few comments about failures or other issues of that sort.
The only other dishwasher that gets a higher rating than the KitchenAid on Reviewed.com is the Electrolux EI24ID50QS (Est. $1,000), with a perfect score of 10, as well as Best of Year and Editors' Choice awards. What keeps the Electrolux out of our top spot is the fact that other experts and actual owners are more lackluster in their opinions, and we saw more complaints of durability issues with the Electrolux than the KitchenAid, as well as owners saying that the manufacturer is less than responsive to problems.
The biggest gripe is that it's terrible at drying; Yu doesn't really comment on its drying performance in his reviews, he merely notes that it uses condensation rather than heat to dry. Even in the comments section of Yu's review, however, owners express their surprise at this dishwasher's perfect score, saying that plastics don't dry at all. Another professional testing site agrees, giving the Electrolux a dismal score for drying performance. However, both that organization and Yu give it top marks for washing performance.
Still, if drying performance isn't your top priority, the Electrolux EI24ID50QS is very feature-rich. Almost everything in the interior is adjustable for unlimited loading options, and Yu was able to fit in 11 place settings (the manufacturer claims 14). It has nine wash cycles, including Auto, Heavy, Normal, Eco, Fast, Delicate, Stemware, Rinse Only and Favorite, which you can customize. It also features an upper rack only option.
Our former Best Reviewed dishwasher the Bosch SHP65T55UC (Est. $900), is still a good choice, but the KitchenAid edged it out on the strength of newer and stronger reviews. The SHP65T55UC is part of the Bosch 500 series of dishwashers. This is a family of dishwashers that vary in finish, style and control placement, but not in performance and all models tend to get good reviews across the board from experts and owners. The Bosch SHP65T55UC features a flush pocket handle and digital controls that are hidden away on the inside top edge of the door. There are no exterior buttons, displays or markings. A red InfoLight shines on the floor to let you know that the dishwasher is running -- a good thing because reviews say that, yes, this machine is that quiet. However, we did see one complaint over and over about the handle breaking off way too easily -- some who otherwise love it give it very low scores for this and for poor customer service.
Other options in this line include the Bosch SHX65T55UC (Est. $950), which replaces the pocket handle with a sturdier 24-inch bar handle. The Bosch SHE65T55UC (Est. $900) moves the controls to the front for a more traditional, and less built-in look, and loses the InfoLight feature. All of these come in a stainless steel finish. You can save a bit of money by opting for the Bosch SHP65T55UC or Bosch SHE65T55UC in white or black, but the SHX65T55UC is stainless-steel only. The Bosch SHP65TL5UC (Est. $900) is identical to the Bosch SHP65T55UC but adds a SpeedPerfect function that's said to deliver the same cleaning performance but in less time. It's also available in white and black versions for about $50 less.
Feedback is very strong for the Bosch line. One independent reviewer tests the Bosch SHP65T55UC and gives it Excellent scores for washing, drying and energy use. It also gets Very Good scores for noise and ease of use. Reviewed.com names the Bosch SHP65TL5UC an Editors' Choice and awards it Best of Year honors, commenting that "This dishwasher is loaded with features normally not seen for under $1000." Performance is strong as well, especially in the Heavy cycle.
With the exception of the SpeedPerfect option found on the SHP65TL5UC, and the finish, handle and control panel layout differences detailed above, these dishwashers offer similar features. You'll find five wash cycles to handle everything from lightly soiled items to those with heavy, baked on stains. You can further customize those with options to sanitize dishes or treat them with extra care. SpeedPerfect does cut down cycle time, but uses more water. An Extra Shine option is designed to keep spotting to a minimum. Load flexibility is good. Niceties include an upper rack that can moved up or down as needed for tall items. There's also a very shallow third rack that can accommodate silverware or other items, leaving you the option of not using the silverware basket. In addition to increasing loading flexibility, Bosch claims that it increases capacity by as much as 30 percent.
These Bosch dishwashers carry a 44 dBA noise rating. You can find pricier machines with better ratings, but users and experts say that it would be hard to improve on the Bosch. More than one user reports that they have to check for the InfoLight on the floor to reassure themselves that they remembered to start it.
There are several other dishwashers in this price range that are also worth considering. The GE Profile PDT750SSFSS (Est. $1,200) is described as "one of the best dishwashers we've ever tested," by Johnny Yu at Reviewed.com. This GE is also tested in another large independent dishwasher review, earning an Excellent for washing performance, but just Good for drying. Reviewed.com, while mainly heaping praise, notes that items in the far corners of the top rack failed to completely clean -- though everything in the bottom rack came clean regardless of position.
One drawback is that this GE Profile dishwasher is a bit pricier than the KitchenAid or the Bosch 500 series, at least at its everyday selling price. But if you shop carefully, we've seen occasional sales promotions that cut the difference to essentially zero, improving the value proposition.
On the features front there are some significant pluses and minuses. The biggest miss at this price point is the lack of a third rack, so you lose some capacity and flexibility. The biggest plus is four Bottle Wash Jets -- raised jets in the top rack -- designed to completely clean tall items. Controls are integrated on the top inside edge of the dishwasher door, so they are hidden, but there's a small LED display on the front, above the rounded, protruding handle. The noise rating is 42 dBA, and user comments that say you can only hear it working in a silent room are common. The GE Profile PDT750SSFSS comes in stainless steel. This dishwasher is also available in slate as the GE Profile PDT750SMFES (Est. $1,200).
You can get a top-performing dishwasher at a lower price point
Unless you really like high-end appliances, there's no reason to spend more than $600 for a dishwasher that will leave your dishes sparkling -- and your wallet a bit fatter. The best of the bunch in this price class is the Whirlpool WDF540PADM (Est. $550), with an attractive, stainless-steel appearance that is a nice upgrade for a budget dishwasher. It lacks some other features you'll find on more expensive dishwashers, including customizable loading options, but most people probably won't miss those as long as their dishes are clean.
And the Whirlpool WDF540PADM excels when it comes to cleaning, earning an Excellent for both washing and drying performance in one professional test. Yu, at Reviewed.com, is equally impressed. With the exception of the toughest, burnt on cheese, the Whirlpool blasted dishes as clean as higher-end models. It also gets great scores from experts and owners for drying even plastics, something many dishwashers struggle with. Yu's only real complaint is that you have to push too many buttons to get to the various cycle options, and some say it's noisy -- at 53 dBA it's not the quietest -- but most say it's plenty silent. It has a plastic interior rather than stainless steel, which tends to be noisier. We saw very few durability complaints.
If you'd like to pay even less, we recommend taking a look at the Amana ADB1100AWB (Est. $300). Price is the main draw here, followed closely by surprisingly strong -- though not quite perfect -- performance. And that's it … but, as Reviewed.com notes, for many that's enough. "If a low price and clean dishes are your only concerns, you could spend a lot more money on a lot worse dishwasher," reviewer Johnny Yu says.
Reviewed.com offers the only reliable expert review we could find for this Amana dishwasher, and the raw score of 4.0 out of 10 looks unimpressive; however, Yu notes that's more of a statement of how good some other dishwashers are -- mostly at considerably higher prices. There are few of the refinements found in better, pricier machines. Cycles are limited to normal, heavy and one-hour, and options are kept to two: hotter water for tougher stains and heated rather than air dry. Performance is slow, interior flexibility almost non-existent and the noise insulation falls short of the very best; this machine has a noise rating of 63 dB -- high enough to make holding a conversation at normal volume a challenge, experts say.
But users largely don't care and we saw hundreds of positive reviews, more even, than we saw for some much pricier dishwasher. No surprise since people tend to expect more out of an expensive dishwasher -- as they should. This model is black, but it's also available in white as the Amana ADB1100AWW (Est. $300) and in stainless steel as the Amana ADB1100AWS (Est. $350). Most owners are more than willing to give up frills -- and added complexity -- for a dishwasher that costs so little and does this good a job of getting dishes clean. Despite how much louder this dishwasher is compared to higher rated ones, we spotted more than a few owners that were pleased with its "quiet" operation. That's quite a compliment for this machine, and quite an indictment of the noise levels of older models. This Amana dishwasher is Energy Star certified, another plus.