Tougher new rules have slashed the energy and water dishwashers can use to get the government's Energy Star seal. But our latest tests show that you don't have to live with dirty dishes or endure even longer cycles. Better yet, some of the biggest energy misers are also easy on your wallet. Dishwashers built since January 2012 must use about 9 percent less electricity and 27 percent less water to meet the federal EPA's voluntary Energy Star standard. Our top picks qualify for that coveted seal.
Energy Star standards for dishwashers could add a wash-performance component as soon as the spring of 2015. The Department of Energy, which sets the underlying standards, bases them on lightly soiled loads. Consumer Reports has urged them to use much dirtier loads, as we do in our tests.
We slather plates with egg yolks, peanut butter, raspberry jam, and other stubborn goo to see which dishwashers made our clean-plate club. Our results show that it's easy to pay a tidy sum for so-so performance. You can also pay less and get more noise than you expected. Here's what else to consider:
Look for convenience
Dishwashers that score well for ease of use usually include adjustable racks and lots of flatware slots. Some mid-priced models have third racks that let you lay down large utensils or short cups. Many also have fold-down tines, which let you fit large or odd-shaped dishes and other dinnerware. Stainless-steel tubs resist stains better than white plastic tubs, though some plastic tubs are speckled gray for less noticeable staining.
Match your cleaning habits
Our picks clean well enough for you to skip prerinsing. If you do prerinse, skip extra-cost power-scrubbing modes. And if you're especially concerned about noise, opt for a manual-clean filter rather than a self-cleaning filter, which tends to be noisier. More models now have manual-clean filters.
Check the controls
Some models include interactive touch controls, but the usual touchpads are fine if they're clearly marked. Also look for cycle-time and other visible displays if you opt for controls that are hidden when the door is closed. Many models with hidden controls display a light or other indicator to tell you the dishwasher is running, a plus for extra-quiet models. Still, with cycle times running often two hours or more, we'd prefer a more detailed indicator of remaining cycle time.
Watch the dimensions
The width and depth of every conventional dishwasher is intended for a cavity measuring 24 by 24 inches. But the height of what you're considering could pose a installation challenge if--since the time you installed the old dishwasher--you replaced your kitchen floor or put in a new countertop that dips lower than flush with the bottom edge. Either or both changes could leave less vertical space and require you to buy a slightly shorter dishwasher. Before settling on a model, measure your space and ask the seller for the full height range, accounting for adjustment of the leveling feet.
Aside from performance in our tests, key dishwasher differences include types, costs, and features. Here are the types of dishwashers to consider.
Budget-priced conventional dishwashers
These are a smart buy if you care more about performance than glitz, and are willing to give up a few convenience features.
As a group, these roughly $500 models often clean dishes nearly as well as premium-priced models. Some include adjustable racks and self-cleaning filters.
They tend to be noisier than the upscale models. Fewer flexible-loading features also make loading and accommodating tall items tougher.
Premium-priced conventional dishwashers
These roughly $800-plus models tend to be quieter and have ample flatware slots, folding tines, and other flexible-loading features. Hidden controls and a cycle-time display add style and convenience. Many have a stainless-steel tub, which tends to resist stains better than plastic tubs.
They're not necessarily better than the best mid-priced models at cleaning dishes.
These typically include two small, stacked drawers you can use simultaneously or individually. Pull-out drawers also ease loading compared with a typical fold-down door.
They're typically expensive, and models we've tested haven't performed as well overall as less expensive conventional models. Relatively small capacities also limit how much you can wash and contribute to lower efficiency as a group.
Generally, the more you spend, the more features you can expect. But some aren't worth the extra expense. Here are the dishwasher features to consider.
Adjustable racks and loading aids
Racks that adjust up and down, adjustable tines, and silverware and stemware holders let you reconfigure the interior and organize the contents. Those devices increase flexibility, especially when you cook for a crowd, and they can help accommodate large and oddly shaped items. Certain models go an extra step with, for example, upper racks you can adjust with one hand.
This adjusts the cycle's time and water use to the load's soil level, improving efficiency.
It lets you rinse dirty dishes before you're ready to start a full cycle. This cycle can reduce odors and prevents soil from setting while you accumulate enough dirty dishes for a full load.
Some newer models designate a certain part of the dishwasher for heavily soiled items intended for washing in a special cycle. Such zones don't necessarily run the whole time--with certain models, it's only for a few minutes--but they so far seem to work as promised.
These keep wash water free of food that could be redeposited on clean dishes. There are two types: self-cleaning and manual. With self-cleaning filters, a grinder pulverizes the debris and flushes it down the drain. That's convenient but can be noisy. Some models instead have a filter without a grinder. It's quieter, but it needs periodic cleaning, a job that takes a few minutes.
Pay more for your dishwasher, and you're more likely to get a third rack for, say, large utensils and small cups (think demitasse). A few models let you raise or lower portions of the rack to fit slightly higher items.
Special wash cycles
Most dishwashers come with at least three cycles: light, normal, and heavy (pots and pans), with many newer models also including "quick" or "express" cycles that clean lightly soiled loads in as little time as 20 minutes. Some offer single-rack, pot-scrubber, soak/scrub, steam clean, china/crystal, or sanitizing cycles as well. The three basic cycles should be enough for most chores--even for baked-on food. A sanitizing option that raises water temperature above the typical 140 degrees F doesn't necessarily deliver better cleaning.
Typically starting at mid-priced models, steel tends to resist staining better than light-colored plastic. Gray-speckled plastic tubs also resist stains and trim the overall cost. Any plastic tub should last longer than most people keep a dishwasher. You'll also see some newer models with hybrid stainless/plastic tubs.
Budget-priced dishwashers typically dry solely by drainage and ambient air over the few-hour period following completion of a cycle. Pay more, and some models will either heat the water further during the rinse (to warm up the stainless tub) or use a heating element to dry the dishes--perhaps coupled with a fan to circulate the warm air. All such options, however, can raise your electric bill.
Hidden touchpad controls
Controls mounted along the top edge of the door are strictly a styling touch. They're hidden when the door is closed. You typically can't see cycle progress at a glance, however. Partially hidden controls are a good compromise. They show that the machine is running and often display remaining cycle time. But some have only an indicator light that tells you the dishwasher is running.
There are dozens of makes and models of dishwashers from many brands. Use this review to compare dishwashers by brand and learn more about some of the leading manufacturers.
This highly rated European brand is positioned as the maker of the quietest, most energy-efficient models with features that leave dishes sparkling. The machines are known for their quiet operation and washing ability. The company is introducing a stainless-steel tub that has a nonstainless tub base (gray). Bosch dishwashers also have a manual filter, unlike most of the other brands sold in this country.
Fisher & Paykel
This maker is known for having introduced the dishwasher drawer to the U.S. market.
This brand is sold mostly at big-box stores, Independent appliance stores, and other national retailers for $300 to $800; the company also makes the Frigidaire Gallery and Frigidaire Professional lines. Frigidaire is known for its least expensive models. It introduced a gray-colored speckled stainproof tub and the Sahara Dry technology on it's models. Frigidaire is owned by Electrolux.
This company, which touts its innovations and features, is the second-biggest dishwasher brand and has four lines: GE, Profile, Café, and Monogram. Prices range from about $250 for a basic GE model to $1,400 for a Monogram product. In 2006, GE introduced the Smart Dispense feature, which automatically dispenses detergent in the right amount for the load and is found on its high-end Profile, Café, and Monogram models. The Café line offers professional-style models at lower prices than the Monogram series.
Kenmore, the largest dishwasher brand in this country, is known for its reliability and dependability and has three lines: Kenmore, Kenmore Elite, and Kenmore Pro. Prices range from approximately $250 for a basic Kenmore model to $1,600 for the double-drawer dishwasher in stainless steel ($1,400 in white). Major features such as the TurboZone power-scrubbing mode tend to be shared among the higher-priced Kenmore models ($650 and up) and the Elite models. Kenmore recently introduced steam cleaning, hidden-control models as well as top-rack-only wash on some Elite models.
This high-end brand positions itself as maker of heavily featured appliances geared toward the kitchen enthusiasts and sold through independent dealers. The brand includes a model with steam cleaning and will launch a new dishwasher drawer model this year. The line now includes fully integrated displays with function indicator on the front. KitchenAid is known for quiet operation and high cleaning performance.
A Whirlpool-owned brand, Maytag introduced a steam model in 2008 and will introduce a dishwasher-drawer model later this year. The company positions its products as durable, but its dishwashers have been relatively repair prone, according to our Annual Product Reliability Survey. Prices range from $300 to $900.
This European brand, like Asko, makes dishwashers that generally excel in energy efficiency but come at a premium cost.
Whirlpool, the third-biggest dishwasher brand in the U.S., is known for reliability and reasonably priced models. It has two lines: Whirlpool and Whirlpool Gold. Overall, Whirlpool is known for less-expensive models—prices range from about $250 to $850. The company’s PowerScour zone appears on models starting at about $550.