Dishwashers that save water, energy, and money

Of course, the best way to save is to stop rinsing your dishes first

Published: April 15, 2015 05:30 PM
Photo: Mark Lund Photography

Today’s dishwashers use a lot less water than the one you grew up with so if you have a new machine and the water in your kitchen is still flowing, it’s not the dishwasher’s fault, it’s probably yours. Anyone who rinses the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher is not only failing to take advantage of its cleaning prowess but wasting water and money as well. Lots of water. Consumer Reports has been giving this advice for years but with drought conditions in the West, it bears repeating.

A dishwasher made before 1994 wastes more than 10 gallons of water per cycle, according to Energy Star. Over its presumed lifetime of 10 years, an Energy Star dishwasher will save at least 1,600 gallons of water over older models. Do the math by multiplying that number and your water rate and you’ll see the savings. Still not persuaded? If you have a pre-1994 dishwasher you’re also paying an extra $35 a year for your utilities. Dishwashers that have earned the Energy Star are, on average, about 5 percent more energy efficient and 15 percent more water efficient than standard models.

How do they achieve these efficiencies? Design innovations and improved engineering have made dramatic differences. Energy Star attributes the gains to the following:

  • Soil sensors test how dirty dishes are throughout the wash and adjust the cycle to achieve optimum cleaning with minimum water and energy use.
  • Improved water filtration removes food soils from the wash water allowing efficient use of detergent and water throughout the cycle. The final clean-water rinse assures your dishes come out sparkling.
  • More efficient jets use less energy to spray detergent and water over the dishes when cleaning.
  • Innovative dish rack designs maximize cleaning by strategically situating the dishes.
  • Better temperature control boosts water temperatures to 140 degrees, which allows for improved disinfection, especially compared to hand washing.
KitchenAid KDTM354DSS

Water misers from Consumer Reports’ tests

When Consumer Reports tests dishwashers, it measures how much water and energy each model uses in addition to how well it cleans and how quiet it is. Our top-rated dishwasher,  the KitchenAid KDTM354DSS, $1,080, uses only four gallons of water per wash although most of our other top picks use five or six.  At 125 minutes, it has a shorter cycle than a number of other recommended models. But the clincher is a self-cleaning, ultrafine filter that breaks food particles down throughout the cycle without noisy grinding while still remaining fairly quiet.

Using one more gallon of water and 20 more minutes of time is the Kenmore Elite 12793, $1,200, which was our reigning champ for a few seasons. In addition to top-notch performance, this Kenmore offers an industry first—a motorized spray arm that, among other claims, reverses direction should a utensil fall through the racks, blocking the arm's rotation.

One of our CR Best Buys, the Bosch Ascenta SHX3AR7[5]UC, $700, has a speedier cycle of just 95 minutes but the trade-off is it uses six gallons of water per load. It aced our wash test, which uses a full load of very dirty dishes and silverware, and was very good at drying plastic items. It was also among the quietest models during fill, wash, and drain and was especially energy-efficient.  

5 more 5-gallon champs

For more choices see our full dishwasher Ratings and recommendations.

—Mary H.J. Farrell (@mhjfarrell on Twitter)

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