Types of Dishwashers
Not sure what dishwasher is best for your home? Here are the types of dishwashers to choose from:
Built-In – These dishwashers are built into your kitchen counters, and they're the most common option for large-family households. They have the greatest range of options for wash cycles, features, tub sizes, and styles. They're usually 24" wide and deep and 35" high (standard counter height) and are designed for 12-14 place settings per load.
Portable – Portable dishwashers are free-standing, meaning they're not anchored to your counters like built-in machines are. They come with two connections: faucet adaptor and drain pipe. The fact that they're portable means you can install them anywhere, or you can take them with you if and when you move homes. However, you won't be able to use your sink while the dishwasher is running.
They come with wheels that allow you to move them, and they function exactly like a built-in model. They're usually sized either 18" or 24" wide, similar to regular or compact models.
Slimline – The slimline dishwasher is a smaller machine--usually 18" wide, 24" deep, and 35" high—and designed to hold 6-8 place settings. They're good for couples, smaller families, singles, or dorm rooms, as they're more compact. They can be either built-in or portable.
Drawer – Drawer dishwashers are either single- or double-drawer machines that are installed like a traditional unit, but have drawers instead of racks. You can run one or both drawers at a time, setting different wash cycles for each. This makes them a good energy-saving choice, as you can wash smaller loads of dishes at once—great for singles, couples, or small families.
They come with all the features, settings, and options of traditional dishwashers—more, in many cases. However, they're the priciest of the dishwashers, as there are few brands that manufacture them.
Countertop – Countertop dishwashers are compact machines designed to sit atop your counters and connect directly to your faucets and drains. They are sized for four place settings, and usually only accommodate smaller dishes. They don't offer the same water pressure as floor units, so you'll need to rinse dishes well before placing them in the dishwasher. They're not practical for large families and take up a fair amount of counter space.
Hidden – A hidden dishwasher is a built-in dishwasher with a door that resembles your kitchen cabinets. Function-wise, they're identical to any traditional built-in. Style-wise, however, they're unique to your kitchen. The doors come in a broad range of styles to match your cabinets. The machine is integrated seamlessly into your counters, so it's not noticeable to visitors.
Semi-Hidden – A semi-hidden dishwasher fits snugly under your counter, but the front isn't the same style as your kitchen cabinets. It's an integrated machine designed for use under a benchtop.
Dishwasher Buying Guide
On the market for a good dishwasher? Here's everything you need to know to help you make the right purchase:
Price – When shopping for a dishwasher, expect to pay anywhere upwards of $500. Budget buys hover around the $250 to $50 mark, while higher-end models can run upwards of $1,000 or $2,000. Higher-end doesn't necessarily mean more reliable—simply more stylish, more bells and whistles, and a more familiar brand name. Price really only matters when considering how much you can afford, not the quality of the machine.
Features – Every dishwasher has their own unique features: soil sensors, adjustable racks, flexible loading, versatile washing options, folding racks, hidden controls, LCD display screens, timers, and many more. Depending on your needs (washing for a family, for a group of singles, for an active couple, etc.), you can find many great dishwashers with all the bells and whistles you need.
The more important features to look for in a dishwasher include:
- Soil sensor, which adjusts the cycle water use and run time depending on how dirty the dishes are.
- Rinse/Hold cycle, which allows you to rinse dirty dishes without starting a whole wash cycle—perfect for smaller loads.
- Wash zones, which allow you to target heavily soiled items with a heavy duty wash.
- Adjustable racks, which allow for greater customization of your dishwashing.
Construction – Obviously you want a dishwasher that is built to last, especially if you're using it in a household with children and teenagers. A stainless steel machine will be more durable than plastic, and more resistant to scratches and damage. The racks should feel solid and able to hold plenty of flatware and dinnerware without bending, and should slide in and out easily.
Style – Function is important, but so is form. Brushed stainless steel is highly popular for modern kitchens, but you can find hidden dishwashers with a custom panel-ready door that resembles your kitchen counters. Each brand has its own unique stylistic embellishments and designs to consider.
Size and Capacity – The size of the dishwasher refers to its exterior dimensions, meaning the amount of space it will take up under your kitchen cabinets. Most built-in dishwashers are constructed to a standard size. Measure your kitchen cabinets to see what size machine can fit.
Capacity refers to the interior dimensions, or the number of place settings it can handle. Smaller families can get by with a 4-6 place setting capacity, while larger families will want upwards of 10 place settings.
Interior Customizability – The dishwashers that get higher user reviews are the ones that have customizable/adjustable racks. Some dishwashers have multiple slots and rails, allowing you to adjust the distance between the two racks. You may even be able to find machines with a third rack, which is perfect for washing large loads of cups, bowls, and utensils. Foldable tines make it easy to wash odd-shaped or large serving dishes and dinnerware. Adjustable flatware slots and racks give you more control when washing a lot of dishes at a time.
Interior Finish – Most dishwashers come with a plastic interior finish, but there are stainless steel options. Stainless steel is pricier, but more energy-efficient because the metal retains the heat for longer, meaning your dishes dry more quickly. Stainless steel is also odor-resistant, more durable, and more resistant to stains than plastic. However, plastic interiors are a much more affordable option, and they're not significantly less durable than steel.
Handle – The dishwasher door handle can affect ease of use as well as cleanliness. Recessed or pocket handles are better for keeping the machine clean, but bar handles make opening the dishwasher easier.
Controls – Some dishwashers come with simple knob or dial-based controls, which are easy for setting the machine in a couple of seconds. However, more advanced machines will have a built-in touchscreen or LCD screen, with interactive or button-based controls that allow you to adjust the more complex settings. Invisible or hidden controls are hugely popular thanks to their modern style, but they may not be the most practical. A screen, display, or built-in indicator lights are handy to know if the machine is running and how much time remains on the wash/rinse cycle.
Effectiveness – This is one element where user reviews are invaluable. Some dishwashers (often budget buys) are ineffective at rinsing off food before washing, meaning your dishes don't get properly cleaned. Most high-end dishwashers don't need a pre-rinse, as they have a soil sensor that determines the wash cycle and run time.
Water Economy – Going green is important! Finding a dishwasher that uses less water per wash is a good way to reduce your carbon footprint. Most dishwashers use 6 gallons per wash, while Energy Star-rated dishwashers use closer to 4 gallons. It's worth paying a bit more for an Energy Star dishwasher in order to cut water costs. Over the course of 3-8 years, your water savings will more than pay off the extra investment.
Noise – No one wants a noisy, whirring, clunking dishwasher in their modern kitchen! Noise output is another important factor to consider when shopping for a dishwasher. Average sound output is 45 to 60 decibels, but you can find some that drop as low as 30 to 40 db.
How to Make the Most of Your Dishwasher
Dishwashers are a time- and money-saving appliance that will help you keep your kitchen clean and tidy. Follow these tips to reduce water usage and keep your dishwasher working well for years to come:
- Skip the rinse cycle – The pre-rinse cycle uses more water than necessary, increasing your carbon footprint. Instead, keep a spray bottle filled with water and a little detergent beside your sink. Spray each dish before placing it in the dishwasher to let the detergent do its thing before the wash cycle begins.
- Run the dishwasher empty – To get rid of smells, run the dishwasher through a short wash cycle and set it to "steam dry". Squeeze a bit of lemon juice into the liquid detergent compartment. Lemon makes a potent anti-bacterial and odor-killer that will leave your dishwasher smelling clean.
- Hand-wash pots and pans – Large skillets, frying pan, stock pots, and oven trays will waste water and reduce the efficiency of your dishwasher's cycles. Wash these larger items by hand, and keep the dishwasher only for your regular dinnerware. Consider washing serving trays, plates, and bowls by hand as well.
- Turn off the dry cycle – The dry cycle uses steam-hot water to give the dishes a final rinse, shortening the dry time. Instead, turn off the dry cycle and open the door once the last rinse is done. Allowing the dishes to air dry will save a lot of water with regular use.
- Wash baby utensils in a mesh bag – To protect baby spoons, plastic lids, and other baby dishes, place them in a mesh bag before washing. This will keep them from being knocked around by the high-pressure jets.
- Scrape immediately after eating – Don't let food get crusted on your plates, bowls, cups, and silverware. As soon as you've finished eating, scrape any excess food into the garbage and place the dishes into the dishwasher to run.
- Don't overcrowd the dishwasher – For optimum results, make sure there is ample space between each dish for water to wash away the food/debris. If the dishes are packed too tightly together, the machine won't be able to do a properly thorough job.
- Kill off bacteria with hydrogen peroxide – Worried that your dishes aren't getting as clean as they should be? Pour a bit of hydrogen peroxide in with your regular detergent. Not only will it kill of germs, but it will give your dishes a brighter sparkle than usual.
- Load the dishwasher properly – Yes, there IS a "right" way to load the dishwasher: containers, glasses, cups, and bowls on the top rack facing downward; plates on the bottom rack, along with any pots or pans; and cutlery and silverware in the cutlery holder, facing upward.
- Use vinegar – Instead of spending money on a "rinse agent", use white vinegar to reduce water spots, eliminate food and detergent residue, and speed up the drying process.
- Run the full load – Never run a half-empty dishwasher, but make it a point to fill it completely before setting it to run. Remember: you're using four to six gallons per wash!
- Turn down the heat – You don't really need blisteringly hot water to wash your dishes. Turn the thermostat on your water heater down to "Hot", but not the highest heat setting. The booster heater in the dishwasher will heat up the water if necessary.
- Always go Energy Star – The cost of Energy Star-rated dishwashers is a bit higher ($100 to $200, depending on the model), but it's worth it in the long run. Not only will you use less water per wash, but you may receive a tax rebate for energy-efficient appliances. (Find out more here…)