How To: Choose a Dishwasher

Despite the seemingly endless choice of dishwasher models, choosing one is relatively easy. The good news is that it’s hard to make a bad choice.  Most dishwashers perform the basic task of washing dishes exceedingly well, when paired with an enzyme-based detergent. So most of the choices come down to budget and personal preference. You can get a damn fine dishwasher for $350. At $600, you can get a great one. Everything more expensive than that is styling and fancy options you probably don’t need.

Plus, while there appear to be lots of different brands, lots of that "difference" is cosmetic.  A few manufacturers make dishwashers sold under multiple brands.  At the high end, Bosch, Gaggenau and Thermador are all different skins over the same body. A quick look at things like detergent dispensers, control placement and silverware baskets can help you determine what’s what.

Consumer Reports offers lots of general buying advice, and has consistently given high marks to Bosch and Kenmore models, but here’s my simple solution to finding the best dishwasher:

Choose the dishwasher that’s easiest for you to load.  The better your dishes fit in the dishwasher, the better it will clean them and the happier you will be.  How can you tell:  Bring a box of dishes shopping with you. My tall glasses, my favorite 13×9 baking dish, a couple place settings and a few cereal bowls are the best testing tools for choosing a dishwasher. 

In the last six years, I’ve bought and used Maytag, Bosch, Kitchen-Aid and Fisher-Paykel dishwashers in my homes.  My current favorite:  Kitchen-Aid.  I love the way it loads. For my new home, I’ve chosen the S-Series, because I really like the Pro-Scrub feature: an area at the back of the tub that concentrates a powerful spray against really dirty dishes — like my 9×13 baking dish! The top-of-the-line U series is the same, just a few decibels quieter. Which doesn’t really matter to me, cause I leave the kitchen when it’s running.

Forget the 12 different cycles.  How many different cycles do you use on your current dishwasher? Here are some features that might make a difference to you:

Self-Cleaning Filters

Surprisingly, you won’t find these on the expensive European-made dishwashers.  They’re basically a built-in food disposal that grinds large food particles and sends them down the drain.  The Europeans eschew them because they make more noise.  I’d rather have the noise than have to check and rinse the filter weekly.

Delay Start Timers
These sound like a great idea, but there’s a little problem.  Dishes wash best in hot water, and I find running the hot water before starting the dishwasher so that the first cycle fills with hot water makes a difference.  If you like the idea, be sure you pair it with a model that will also heat the water.

Stainless-Steel Interiors
They look nice, but have no impact on cleaning performance, and standard plastic tubs will generally long outlast the mechanical components of the machine.  You’re paying for the appearance.

Dirt Sensors
Consumer Reports says that dishwashers with this feature really do no better than those without.

Sound Insulation
If you’re in the room while you run the dishwasher, the "premium" sound insulation found on higher-priced models may be important.  Also, choosing a European model without a "self-cleaning filter/food grinder" will help

Fully-Integrated (Hidden Controls)
With all of their controls in the top of the door, you put a cabinet front on these models and they "disappear" into your kitchen. Personally, I like to see the controls and a timer countdown on the front of my dishwasher.

Miscellaneous Brand Notes
KENMORE: The store brand at Sears is manufactured by a few different manufacturers.  Their top-of-the line models often rate as a consumer reports top choice or best buy.

BOSCH: Often top rated, I like but don’t love mine, simply because my glasses don’t fit well in the upper rack, and my bowls don’t fit well in either rack, And the separating slots in the silverware basket are too small for my knives. Cool new feature: Their newest "fully integrated" model has a "power beam" light that projects on the floor to let you know it’s running.

MAYTAG: Formerly my favorite, their innovative three-rack design was a bust — currently being discontinued. They also manufacture Jenn-Air, Amana and Admiral.  Amana rates well among budget brands, but I wouldn’t buy a Maytag until the company’s acquisition and integration into Whirlpool is complete.

ASKO: Makes a compelling sales pitch in that practical, earth-friendly Swedish way, but terrible repair records, and a high cost/feature benefit ratio.

GE: Has a new model in their Profile brand that holds a full bottle of liquid detergent, automatically dispensing it, and alerting you when it needs more. Kind of a neat feature, but powdered detergents generally work better and are less expensive.

FRIGIDAIRE: While I can recommend their ovens, cooktops and namesake refrigerators, their dishwashers don’t cut it.

Miele:  Distinguished by it’s  topmost utensil rack, which some people prefer to a standard cutlery basket — and yes, if you care about keeping your flatware scratch-free, by all means, get one. Otherwise, forget it. I like the patina of worn cutlery.


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  1. 1
    J Horton

    What a great and informative article about dishwashers!!! It really has helped me narrow the field. I printed it and will be taking it with me when I shop (along with my tall glasses, plates and bowls). Very helpful.

  2. 3

    In the interest of full disclosure my Fisher Paykel Dish Drawers are wonderful in so many ways… great to load, energy efficient BUT — It requires a service call every 6 months like clockwork and has since we got it 3 years ago. It’s a wonderful concept, but there’s no filter — self cleaning or manual. The service men all say it’s not designed to handle FOOD WASTE. Why buy a dishwasher that really is just for drying and storing dishes?

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