It's easy to get excited about replacing your dishwasher. Usually, it starts with a visit to a friend's house, where they show off their brand-new machine with all kinds of custom cycles and WiFi connectivity. But then you start shopping and find that the dishwasher market is riddled with all sorts of different brands, models, and styles, many of them looking the same but offering widely varying price points. You might not even recognize some of the modern machines, especially if you haven't been in the market for a while. That's because technology has changed quickly and drastically over the last several years.

The good news is that Designer Appliances is here to guide you through the process. We will help you preserve the excitement of buying a new dishwasher without any of the stress or confusion. Our "steps to choosing your dishwasher" buying guide is designed to help you weed through copycat models that aren't worth considering so that you can find exactly what you're looking for.


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1) Cleaning Performance

This is what it’s all about. All of the stylish design, durability, and special features don’t mean much if your dishwasher doesn’t wash dishes effectively. Nowadays, there are lots of dishwashers ranging from cheap to ultra-expensive, and many of them throughout that range will give you the cleaning power you’re looking for. However, you’ll see lots of extra features on the market that can boost the cleaning power for a more dependable and thorough dish cleaning. For example, some dishwashers feature a concentrated wash sprayer for sports bottles and other types of glasses. You can even find machines with specially designed power-spraying cycles to get rid of baked-on grease and foods.

Clean Dishes

Features like this can quickly stack up, so you may want to focus on features that matter to you rather than ones that look flashy on an ad or website. Out of the many features offered by some high-end machines by major brands, maybe a handful are genuinely useful for the average user. Chances are you can find a quality dishwasher with effective cleaning performance within your budget.

As far as cleaning power is concerned, there’s one culprit that can cause some issues - hard water. Areas including New Jersey can cause problems for dishwasher quality, so some dishwasher manufacturers include water softeners in their dishwashers to ensure that you get crystal clear glassware without spots or fogginess.

In addition to the built-in quality of the dishwasher’s cleaning power, a lot of its effectiveness comes down to how you, the user, take care of your machine. It starts with proper installation, where we recommend either taking careful note of the manual or hiring a professional. From there, it’s important to watch out for any issues with your dishwasher and have them corrected early.

Finally, the placement of your dishes within the dishwasher will also affect on how well they’re cleaned. Most dishwasher manuals will give you guidance in this respect.


2) Drying Performance

It’s not just crucial for your dishwasher to clean your dishes—that’s only half the job. It also has to dry them effectively. To that point, think of a time when you opened your dishwasher to find the dishes still completely soaked. It’s a frustrating experience, requiring you to go through the work of drying each dish by hand. As a result, a dishwasher that can’t dry effectively isn’t worth much.

Mieledry

Some dishwashers, mostly in America, feature heating elements. Similar to electric stovetops, these are large metal pieces that heat up to 170 degrees Fahrenheit to dry dishes. While this is effective for drying the water, it also bakes food or calcium deposits onto your dishes which are almost impossible to remove. They can also melt plastic pieces that are accidentally placed near the elements.

The most advanced and energy-efficient drying technique is the use of a stainless steel tub. These stainless steel walls allow for condensation-based drying that won’t melt plastics or bake on food, but work wonderfully to remove moisture from dishes at the end of each cycle.

Many budget-friendly dishwashers use a plastic tub, but unfortunately, these usually can’t heat up enough to effectively lead to condensation and evaporative drying.

The proper arrangement of dishwes is also just as important in drying effectively.

  • Dry Performance Tip: Our advice? Don't neglect drying ability when seeking out a dishwasher. It's half the equation, and it can make a huge difference in your overall satisfaction with your machine.

3) Quiet Performance

With kitchens trending toward open floor plans and usually near family rooms, having a noisy dishwasher just isn’t a smart choice. You want to be able to operate your dishwasher and still have use of the kitchen and dining area while it runs. That won’t be possible if the noise is so loud that you have to shout over it. Fortunately, there are plenty of options available that offer impressively quiet operation. You just have to know how to understand decibel ratings and how they’ll affect cost.

quiet dishwasher

The volume of a normal conversation between two people is usually between 55-65 dB. A quiet library is around 40dB. So you ideally want to find a dishwasher that falls somewhere between those two ranges.

As dishwasher innovations have increased, so have the insulation materials and overall build quality during the last decade. That means quieter machines at lower prices. Generally, dishwasher noise levels fall into three general areas—greater than 50dB (noisy), between 44 dB and 49dB (moderately quiet), and less than 44dB (extremely quiet.)

For the average home environment, any dishwasher below 49dB won’t be an enormous nuisance. But if you are particularly sensitive to noise and want to operate your dishwasher without even noticing its noise, you’ll want a quieter model. That being said, once you go below 44dB the differences in volume aren’t even noticeable to the human ear in a home environment. That doesn’t mean that dishwashers that advertise 44dB noise are useless, only that you shouldn’t let that be the deciding factor when making a purchase. Anything lower than 49dB will serve you perfectly.

For further information, you can look at our blog post about the quietest dishwashers. We even included an audible test for you to experience the difference.


4) Cycles and Options

For those that haven't already done lots of research into dishwashers, you might be wondering what exactly different cycles do for a dishwasher. What sets one apart from the other? Basically, there are three main variables from one cycle to the next:

  • Cycle duration
  • Water temperature
  • Intensity (water pressure and amount of water used)

Cycles

Brands have distinct names for their cycles, but most offer a universal set of related cycles for specific tasks. It's important to note that lots of cycles don't automatically mean a dishwasher is of higher quality. You want useful cycles, ones with a purpose. Quality over quantity. The important thing is to have enough cycles to cover your personal needs.:

Popular Wash Cycles

Normal Cycle
The most advanced and energy-efficient drying technique is the use of a stainless steel tub. These stainless steel walls allow for condensation-based drying that won’t melt plastics or bake on food, but work wonderfully to remove moisture from dishes at the end of each cycle.

Quick Cycle
Sometimes called Express, or One Hour Cycle. This cycle uses more and higher-temperature water for around one hour or less. It is good for speed cleaning dishes with an average level of soiling.

Heavy Cycle
This cycle is for heavily soiled dishes that have dry, sticky, baked-on dirt. Mostly used for pots and pans. That’s why it’s sometimes called the "Pots&Pans" cycle. Essentially, this cycle uses more water at higher temperatures for a longer washing time.

Auto Cycle
Dishwashers with integrated soil sensors offer this option. It is very popular, quickly becoming a standard feature as more modern models are released. The sensor detects the soil level from the water and decides the washing time, intensity, and heat temperature. Brands use different names like “Sensor Wash,” “Smart Wash,” etc. It is a very efficient option if you have mixed dishes and cannot decide on a washing cycle.

Rinse
Sometimes you put just a few dishes in the dishwasher and want to wait until it's fully loaded to run a cycle. Rinse cycle only sprays a small amount of water without detergent to prevent a bad smell and dried-on soil.

Energy Saving
This cycle uses less water and energy. Meanwhile, the water temperature is not very high. The duration is usually longer or equal to regular “light cycles” which are similar and used for lightly soiled dishes.

China & Crystals
This cycle is for protecting your valuable, delicate china & crystal glassware. It uses a less intense spray, similar to a “light wash”. Don’t worry if your dishwasher doesn’t have this option-- a gentle cycle like “light wash” does the same job.

Sanitization
This cycle is designed to kill bacteria on the dishes by using very high-temperature water. This function is based on the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) requirements that state you can remove more than 99% of bacteria with water that's 150 degrees F or hotter.

Steam Wash
Steam cycles are especially effective on dry soiling. Steam makes the soil softer so that cleaning will be easier. Some producers use additional steam generators for this option.

Steam Pre-Wash
This is an additional option which softens the stuck-on food before the actual wash cycle. Please note that if your dishwasher uses very hot water (around 150 degrees C), it has the same effect as steam even if it doesn't have the steam cycle.

Custom Wash Options

In addition, to wash cycles, there are also custom wash options that help you add more heat, time, drying time, and more adjustments.

Let's take a look at some of the most popular washing options.

High Temperature
Sometimes called the “Extra Hot” option, this option makes your washing cycle hotter than normal. It’s excellent when you see harder, baked-on dirt, and soiling on the dishes.

Delay
If you want your dishes to be cleaned when you’re not at home, the Delay option is here for you. You can set the starting time and delay between 1-24 hours for the start of the wash cycle.

Half Load
This option is for washing only the top or bottom rack. Some manufacturers set this option as “top rack only,” and some manufacturers make it selectable between top or bottom rack washes. It is excellent when you have a small number of dishes in need of cleaning.

Extra-Dry
This cycle involves heaters working at higher temperatures for a longer time to get super dry results. Manufacturers have different drying processes, and for condensation drying, this option sometimes adds a fan when there is no heater.


5) Connected, Smart Dishwashers

As time goes on, dishwashers and other home appliances integrate more and more high-tech and connected features for greater convenience. While many newer, high-end models feature wireless connectivity, how this connectivity is used varies from brand to brand and model to model. Let’s take a look at what connectivity means and how it can make your dishwashing experience more streamlined and convenient.

smart dishwashers

So what do we stand to gain from a dishwasher with a WiFi connection?

One convenient feature is the ability to control your dishwasher from your smartphone, or by using digital personal assistants like Alexa and Google Home. You can also check the remaining cycle time as well as general dishwasher maintenance info remotely.

Additionally, you can get feedback about efficiency during and after washing loads. You can even select cycles and custom options from your smartphone—all ways that these advanced machines are trying to make life easier.

wifi dishwashers

Have mischievous kids at home? You can use your smartphone to remotely lock the buttons on the dishwasher so that they won’t function until you unlock them.


6) Efficient Interior Design & Stainless Tub

If your budget permits, consider getting an ergonomically designed dishwasher to fit more dishes in the same space. Thoughtful manufacturers offer the smart arrangement of racks and tines, plus the use of more compact tine patterns to enable more closely-packed dishes. You will still get quality cleaning thanks to the advanced power of spray arms and nozzles.

  • Interior Tip: Make sure to check your dishwasher’s included manual to learn how to load it optimally. This can make a big difference in the quality and thoroughness of cleaning, mainly when it takes into account the placement and orientation of nozzles and spray arms.

Most quality dishwashers will also feature foldable tines, allowing you to place large items on the lower or upper rack and create custom arrangements of your dishes. This lets you find the perfect spot for tall wine glasses, large plates, and bowles, or even vases.

Dishwasher Tines

Adjustable racks create extra room for your large or tall items such as wine glasses or large plates on upper/lower racks.

A third rack is a great option for fitting flatter utensils and bowls, freeing up space on the lower racks for larger dishes, including pots and pans. Some third racks even include silverware tines to ensure separation for thorough cleaning.

  • Interior Tip: Never buy a dishwasher without looking inside first. You want to get a sense of how customizable and adjustable the interior will be, not to mention the overall level of space. You’ll also want to know whether it uses a stainless steel or plastic tub.

Stainless Steel Interior

Does it matter what material the interior of your dishwasher is made from? It turns out that it matters a great deal. Generally, tub interiors will be either stainless steel or plastic.

tub

Stainless steel tubs will drive up the cost of your dishwasher, but not without reason. Stainless steel boosts drying performance by adding the element of condensation to help pull moisture off of dishes and onto the tub’s surface. They’re also more durable and easier to maintain, plus they’re less likely to stain.

That being said, a plastic tub can help you spend less on your dishwasher. And it won’t affect the overall cleanliness of your dishes, just the drying capability. If you’re willing to clean your plastic tub from time to time, it might be a viable and less-expensive alternative to a stainless steel tub.

  • Interior Tip: Your tub interior won’t always be the same as your dishwasher’s exterior. That means that a stainless steel front facade doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a stainless steel interior tub.

7) Reliability, Maintenance & Installation

Whichever dishwasher you choose, you want it to last. No one is interested in spending more money beyond the purchase price for maintenance, repairs or premature replacements of their dishwasher. While it would be great to have a definitive rating of which brands offer the most reliable and long-lasting products, the truth is that reliability varies from model to model, even within a single brand.

shutterstock_767179954

That being said, there are certain factors and features that generally lead to a more reliably long-lasting machine. For example, stainless steel tubs often last longer than dishwashers with plastic tubs. You also want to ensure that your dishwasher is installed properly– improperly placed drain pumps can become clogged and damage your dishwasher.

You can also ensure an extended life of your dishwasher by performing regular maintenance and any required cleaning. Filters must be cleaned at the suggested intervals, and choosing a high-quality detergent is also extremely important.

If your dishwasher doesn’t feature an integrated disposal system, it’s important to remove major soiling before loading dishes to keep particles from clogging and damaging the wash arms or drain.

Hard water is another culprit of dishwashers wearing quickly. We mentioned earlier on the importance of using a water softener if you live in an area with hard water.


8) Energy Efficiency

‘Energy Efficient’ is a phrase we hear a lot, but what exactly does it mean?

Basically, it’s about machines that have an as little negative impact on the environment as possible. It’s a method of designing appliances so that they drain as little energy as possible while operating. You might be most familiar with the Environmental Protection Agency’s EnergyStar ratings. This rating speaks to how efficiently (or inefficiently) an appliance uses resources, whether that’s electricity or water.

energy efficient dishwashers

In addition to simply qualifying for EnergyStar ratings, many dishwasher brands go above and beyond in order to improve the efficiency of their machines. They add extra features, including soil-sensing cycles, half-load options, and speed wash or eco-wash cycles. While these go a long way in collectively improving humanity’s impact on the environment, it should be noted that you’re unlikely to notice anything more than a negligible difference in your electric bill. The variations from one unit to another generally will add up to just a few dollars per year.


Conclusion

While we’ve covered a lot of ground in this guide, we hope it’s served as a good primer to prepare you for the process of selecting and buying a new dishwasher. In general, the best advice that we at Designer Appliances can give is to buy what you need, not what an advertisement or a blog post tells you that you need. It can be easy to get caught up in brand names and high-tech features, and some of these brand names and features come with a track record of improved customer experience. But in general, what matters most is that you select a machine that’s within your budget while meeting all of the criteria of what you’ll ask of it on a day-to-day basis

If you’re willing to do your research and focus on your personal needs, you'll end up with a dishwashing machine that's perfectly suited to your home.