Washing the dishes. It’s one of those jobs like ironing or mowing the lawn that is unappealing to most.
Along came the dishwasher and all problems were solved right? Maybe.
If you don’t get the right dishwasher you may end up having to endure insufficient cleaning, noise or high power usage.
On top of that there are multiple features in different models.
So how do you navigate all the options and find the best dishwasher available?
Knowing a few facts will help you find the best option for you. This guide will help you decide what’s important for you and help you choose the right dishwasher.
Table of Contents
- How a dishwasher works?
- Types of dishwashers
- What to look for before you buy
How a dishwasher works?
So how does the dishwasher clean your dishes? The dirty dishes are stacked into racks and detergent is loaded into a specific receptacle. Once turned on, water is heated and sprayed onto the dishes a detergent is dispensed. The combination of heat, detergent and agitation by the moving water cleans the dishes. The now dirty water is drained and fresh water is heated and sprayed onto the dishes to rinse any residual detergent. Once the rinse water is drained the dishwasher is filled with hot air or fanned to air dry the dishes.
Types of dishwashers
This is the most common type of dishwasher. It is a unit designed to be installed in your kitchen under a benchtop and left there permanently. It has a fold out door and racks that pull out to load dishes into. It is connected to power and water behind it, so connections never have to be touched again.
The front of the unit is finished like any other appliance would be, but the other sides are unfinished as they are never meant to be visible. This also means that space isn’t taken up with design and this style of dishwasher is usually one with the largest capacity.
It is the ideal design for someone looking to keep it as a permanent fixture in their kitchen and not concerned with moving house and taking it with them.
The complete opposite of the built in, the portable unit is on wheels and can be moved around easily. The unit is finished on all sides so that it doesn’t look too out of place. It has a similar fold out door and rack design. Connections need an adaptor for faucets, so it has to be connected to water before use and then disconnected again.
The advantage of the unit is that it can be wheeled away into storage if you don’t need it or it’s in the way. It also doesn’t take up under counter storage space that a built in does. Many have the option of a counter finish wood block on the top so that it can be used for additional counter space.
For those that want a dishwasher but can’t build it in and want the benefit of the portable model but don’t have the floor space, a counter top portable unit may be the solution. Just like the standard portable system you need an adaptor to connect to a faucet and it will need to be disconnected to use the faucet again. This is a smaller unit so not suitable for a big household. For the smaller household though, it is a great way conserve space and still have a dishwasher.
A newer style of dishwasher has hit the market in the last few years. Identifying that people were doing smaller loads and also didn’t like bending over to load the dishwasher, manufacturers created the drawer style dishwasher. This design is similar to the built in, that it is connected and installed as a permanent fixture. Aside from that they are a smaller unit that pulls out like a drawer. This allows easy loading from a standing position.
A single unit is smaller than a traditional built in, but most households have two units. They can be placed on top of each other or side by side.
The additional benefit to this is that you are able to wash smaller loads of dishes without wasting water or power. You can also run the two drawers simultaneously. This means you can run different cycles in the two different units. Pots and pans in one while delicate china in the other. While you do lose a little bit of capacity, you gain convenience.
- Compact dishwashers usually come with around 8 place settings and 6 serving pieces, while standard-capacity models can hold up much more than that. So look at your kitchen space and your most used dishes to decide which type (and capacity) you need.
What to look for before you buy
Space and dimension
It is important to look at your kitchen before buying a dishwasher:
If there is an existing space where you will put the dishwasher be sure to measure the dimensions of the space. Will the dishwasher fit? Not just into the dishwasher’s spot. Can you open the door fully in the space you have?
Make sure to take note of where connections for power and water are. You don’t want to have to move connections to accommodate the unit.
The other key part of looking at your kitchen is to examine your décor. Will the new dishwasher fit with how the rest of the kitchen looks? Do you want a handle which is flush with the rest of the unit, or a bar handle that sticks out for easier opening? Some units will be available in different finishes or can even have dress panels fitted to match your décor.
Wash cycle options
Each dishwasher will have a range of wash cycle options to choose from depending on the types of dishes, level of soiling and run time. The most common are:
- Quick wash or Express
- Half loads
- Rinse & hold
- Heavy (Pots or Pans)
- China & Crystal cycle
- Sanitize rinse cycle
- Automatic (sensor cycle)
So what are the differences between these settings? Let's take a quick look!
Standard: This cycle is designed for normal dishes with moderate soiling. It may not be suitable for fine china or baked-on soils.
Express: The fastest of the cycles, it is only recommended for dishes with light soiling. The run time is quicker as the temperatures used are lower and so take less time to heat up allowing for a quicker clean.
Economy: An economy is the most energy efficient of the cycle options and is suitable for moderate soiling. It uses less water and lower temperatures to conserve energy. It usually combines a soaking step to help remove food particles. The additional step helps the efficiency of the wash but takes longer than a standard wash.
Half loads: Not everybody, such as small households, can fill an entire dishwasher in a day. Alternatively, a larger household may have too much for one load but not enough for a second. The options are to wait until it’s full, which may cause potential growth of smelly mold and fungus, or two run a half empty machine, wasting water and power.
The use of a smaller dish drawer style of washer is one potential solution, but some units now also come with half load or top shelf washing options. These washes only target the single shelf for washing using less water and power and often also being faster. It gives the flexibility of wash size to the user.
Rinse and hold: An alternative to the half load is the rinse and hold option. This rinse part loads of dishes to remove food that could become smelly but doesn’t perform a complete wash.
Heavy: The harshest of cleans. This wash cycle uses higher temperatures and high pressure water jets. This combination removes tough baked on foods.
China & Crystal cycle: Another lower temperature cycle with lower pressure to ensure no damage to fine china or glassware. Suitable for low soiling only, so pre-rinsing or scraping may be required.
Sanitize rinse cycle: Worried about microscopic food being left on your dishes and allowing bacteria to grow and thrive without you even being able to see it, or bacteria from the raw chicken on your cutting board?
High temperatures have been proven to kill bacteria and sanitize surfaces. Armed with this knowledge, manufacturers have developed a sanitizing rinse cycle that is hot enough to kill bacteria. It is most effective as a rinse so as not to bake on any food particles, particularly proteins. The cycle is compliant with standards set by NSF International, an independent food safety organization, and kills 99.999% of bacteria. That’s a lot of bacteria.
- Always go for a dishwasher with lots of wash cycle options for water, energy and time efficiency.
- Not sure what cycle is best for what you just packed? Look for models that use sensors! In an automatic or sensor cycle different sensors are used to determine the length, temperature and heat intensity of the cycle. One sensor can determine the weight of the wash, while another sensor detects soil amounts in the water to determine if it needs to be drained and even if the cycle should advance to rinsing. These sensors allow you to load the dishwasher with whatever you like and let the appliance run the most energy efficient wash for the load.
Once the dishes are washed and rinsed, the dishwasher has a drying stage to ensure that the dishes are dry and ready for use immediately.
Most units rely on the heat of the final rinse to dry the dishes. Once rinse water is drained the temperature inside the dishwasher is hot enough to evaporate any residual water, the dishes start to dry. Additionally, the vertical stacking design of most racks will aid in water running off the dishes.
Relying on rinse heat alone can sometimes mean your dishes won’t dry effectively. As the interior cools some steam condenses to water again on the dishes. This is where other methods come in handy, including:
Fan drying, which is an additional drying step that is available in some models of dishwasher. Rather than blowing air on the dishes however, the fan sucks the steam out to a condenser draining away all of the water and leaving dry dishes. This does however mean additional power usage decreasing the energy efficiency.
Condensation drying, which only comes in machines with a stainless steel interior. After the hot rinse the stainless steel cools faster than the dishes and causes water to condense and run down to the drain. The draining of water means any steam won’t settle on your dishes and stop them from drying. This does usually mean that the drying step of the cycle takes a little longer, but it is more energy efficient.
As well as an eco-cycle many dishwashers have optimized energy efficiency and water use for all cycles. Using multiple smaller pumps and motors or extending run times has earned many dishwashers the US EPA energy star rating.
Different wash zones
The ideal situation for a dishwasher is that you can cook and eat your meal and then pack everything into a dishwasher all at once. If, however, you have heavily soiled pots and pans and want to run a stronger cycle you won’t want to risk putting glassware in the same wash.
The risk of breaking glass dictates that you will have to run the dishwasher twice. Some models have overcome this by incorporating wash zones into their design. A particular area or ‘zone’ of the dishwasher can be designated for heavier soiling, while the rest of the machine gets a gentler cycle. This means you can put the glasses in with the pots and pans and get it all done in one load.
Once upon a time the dishwasher was one of the noisier appliances in the house. Spraying water, motors, pumps and draining sounds would fill the house while the dishes were washed. Manufacturers sought to overcome this and redesigned the dishwasher to be quieter.
Dishwasher are now fitted with sound baffles, have multiple smaller quieter motors, less aggressive quiet cycles and sensors to make sure that there is water at a pump before turning it on to avoid the loud suction noise that older dishwashers were plagued with.
When purchasing you can look for the decibels (Db) of the appliance. Decibels are a measure of sound intensity. An increase in decibels is directly proportionate to how loud something is. For example, a normal conversation would measure 50dB, an average modern vacuum cleaner operates in the 70-75dB range, while a motorcycle or lawnmower would measure around 100dB.
Most dishwasher are now labelled with their decibel rating. Most run with a noise level around 50dB, but some quieter models are run in the low 40s or even the high 30s and when running are not noticeable. If not for the indicator light you may not know they were running.
Rather than a plastic interior a lot of units have stainless steel bowls which are more resistant to abrasion and in some cases allow for condensation drying.
Water hardness refers to water with a high level of calcium and magnesium. This reduces how effective detergents can be and can also cause abrasion of glassware. Water can be softened using dishwasher salts which remove the calcium and magnesium from the water. Many dishwashers now have a softener unit. If you know that you have hard water you can load dishwasher salts into the softener unit and it will inject them into the water supply before it enters the dishwasher. This ensures that hard water never touches your dishes.
Old models of dishwashers required thorough scraping or rinsing before washing so that food wasn’t caught in the dishwasher drain. Food traps were built in to catch potential blockages. In addition to this many dishwashers now incorporate a food disposal unit. The food disposal unit employs some kind of mechanical system, usually spinning blades, to break down any food into particles small enough to flow through the drainage system without causing blockages. Most will still have food traps for harder foods that can’t be broken down, but these will need to be emptied less and pre rinsing or scraping isn’t needed as much.
Ease of loading
It is important to consider how easily loaded the dishwasher is before purchase. Most models have two racks with a cutlery basket. Some will incorporate glass holders into the top rack to allow stemmed glasses to be packed with risk of breakage. Units may have a third rack to fit more dishes. When looking at a potential dishwasher take into account the tallest of your glassware, the biggest of your pots and pans and any awkward sized baking trays. Make sure that you will be able to fit them into the unit (or decide if you are happy hand wash some bigger items). Are racks removable or adjustable to compensate for these larger dishes? Also investigate the size of the racks to surmise if there is adequate rack space for your average (or larger) sized wash.
Some units feature a cutlery rack as their additional rack. This slim rack, usually at the top of the machine allows for cutlery to be packed on its side and spaced out evenly for more water contact. It also prevents smaller cutlery coming loose in the machine and potentially damaging the unit. Other units include a removable rack that is recessed into the door. This again allows cutlery stacking without taking up rack space for crockery and pots and pans. As with normal racks it is important to size up the rack to see if it can accommodate larger utensils, and if not if the main racks can hold them adequately.
Door top control
Dishwasher have controls, in either dial or button form, on the front of the unit, some models have the controls recessed in the top of the door. When the unit is open these are visible for use, but when the door is closed they cannot be seen. The advantage of having door top controls is that instead of crouching or bending uncomfortably to see and use the controls, the dishwasher cleaning settings can be set from a standing position. Additionally, it provides a flush surface on the front of the dishwasher, making it look less ‘appliance like’ in a designer kitchen.
A dish washer could be hazardous to a small child. A heavy door, hot water, glass crockery and sharp cutlery could all potentially do harm if a child was able to open the dishwasher. While once cautious parents would put a lockable strap around the unit, manufacturers have seen the need to make units safer and included child locks. A child lock is engaged by a switch on the unit and stops the dishwasher being opened. The lock can easily be disengaged by adults to enable access the unit. It usually needs a button to be held or multiple buttons pressed at once, making it difficult for small children to unlock even by accident.
Bulk detergent storage
While rinse aid can be put in dishwashers into a storage reservoir, detergent needs to be added each wash. A newer feature in some models has a similar reservoir for detergent. When using liquid detergent rather than dishwasher tablets, you can fill the reservoir with enough detergent for multiple washes. The dishwasher automatically dispenses the correct amount for the cycle. Similar to the rinse aid, a low level light comes on when refilling is required.
Warranty and support
Not really a feature, but very important to research with any appliance purchase, is the details of the warranty. While standard warranties may cover the whole unit for around a year, some will include extended warranties that cover the bowl, racks and circuitry. It is always good to confirm that the manufacturer has customer support and service centers. Also a service agent local to you should you need repairs. A dishwasher is not something you can load up and take to a service centre. You will want to be able to have somebody able to come and service the unit quickly if it needs repair.
As more features are incorporated into designs, dishwashers are becoming easier to use and more functional. Whether you are looking for size, energy efficiency, quiet, design aesthetics or convenience there will be a dishwasher that suits your needs. You just need to know what you are looking for.