Considerations Before You Buy a Dishwasher

Considerations Before You Buy a Dishwasher

The Spruce / Michela Buttignol

Dishwashers, which were once thought to be a luxury appliance, have evolved into must-have, time-saving kitchen appliances. Dishwasher prices are mainly affected by capacity and special features, but can also be influenced by certain dishwasher finishes, such as stainless steel. Dishwasher models are enhanced by numerous features and energy-saving options, so it is best to have an idea of what these features are; then you can decide what really matters to you when buying a dishwasher.

Capacity: Standard vs. Compact Size

The first consideration is dishwasher capacity. An 18-inch dishwasher generally is adequate for two to three people, and can hold up to six or eight standard place settings. A regular 24-inch dishwasher has a capacity for 12-14 standard place settings and is sufficiently family-sized. The number of place settings can be deceiving and for this reason, a standard 24-inch dishwasher is recommended for family use. A compact 18-inch dishwasher is great for a couple or small kitchen and occasional use.

Types: Built-in, Portable, Drawer, or Countertop Models

Your choice to buy a built-in, portable, or countertop dishwasher will depend greatly on whether you are renting or own your home, the size of your home, and the size of your household. Each dishwasher model has its own benefits and constraints.

When it comes to price, the most economical are countertop models and some portable units. The countertop models are the smallest and may not be sufficient for a large family, but if you are renting an apartment and have limited space, this may be the best option for you.

Prices for built-in's, higher-end portables, and drawer dishwashers are influenced by style and features. If you forego the bells and whistles, you can still find many economical built-in and portable models. If you are renting, and plan to take the dishwasher with you if you move, then a portable model is preferable to a built-in model.

Energy Saving Considerations

A dishwasher that proudly displays the Energy Star symbol, or that is certified by the Consortium of Energy Efficiency, will save you energy dollars compared to non-qualified dishwasher models. Today's dishwashers have become much more efficient to operate, but cycles have become longer. Some dishwashers have low water features or quick wash options which are handy if you are on metered water use. Another energy saver is a delay start option if your electricity usage is calculated on time-of-use rates—you can set the dishwasher to wash later when energy is cheaper.

Hard Food Disposal Feature

This is certainly a priority feature if you do not like to scrape, pre-wash, or rinse your dishes before loading them into the dishwasher. Installed right in the unit, this feature eliminates food residue and grime during the initial rinse cycle, so it does not swish around your clean dishes during the final rinse cycle. Some models have self-cleaning filters, while others have filters that must be removed and clean manually—confirm the type of filtration system the dishwasher has so you will know what to expect in way of maintenance.

Washing Cycles

The most important dishwashing cycles are light wash, regular wash, heavy wash (pots and pans), and economy settings. The economy cycle will air dry dishes, which saves on heating element energy costs. Enhanced cycles such as glass or stemware, rinse, quick wash, pot scrub, and sanitize wash are features you want to have but expect to pay more. A stainless steel dishwasher interior is a beautiful feature but will not improve washing performance—it is mainly a style option. However, a stainless steel dishwasher washing arm will not rust and will be more durable.

Performance Features

Performance is influenced by the number of washing levels: how and where the jets of water are distributed during the dishwashing cycle. A three-tier system will provide a good washing and more levels will ensure even better coverage, but it comes at an added cost. A quiet model is also a good option if your bedroom is located next to the kitchen and you run the dishwasher at night. Dishwasher detergent and rinse agent dispensers are usually standard features and ensure the right amount of detergent needed to clean the load. Electronic dirt sensors are definitely nice-to-have features. A child safety lock is important if you have small children.

Stacking and Racking Features

Standard dishwashers usually have two racks of dishes, but some models have three extending loading options and dishwasher capacity. Special dishwasher features can also include adjustable or removable tines, shelves, and racks built to accommodate tall glasses or stemware, oddly shaped and tall items, or convertible racks for multi-uses. A small closed basket for baby bottles and rings is also available on some dishwasher models.

Cutlery or Flatware Trays

The position of the silverware tray is usually a matter of preference and is generally does not affect washing performance. You might prefer a compact tray that sits on the bottom rack, and that easily removes for loading and unloading cutlery. Others prefer a model that is attached to the inside of the dishwasher door, which may take less room. 

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  1. Efficient Dishwashers. Energy Star.