The top rack of an energy-efficient dishwasher.

Today’s dishwashers use about half the water and energy that dishwashers used 20 years ago. Thanks to tougher federal efficiency standards, water usage is down to about 4 to 6 gallons per load—and less water means less energy required to heat the water. 

That explains why many dishwashers in CR’s ratings earn an Excellent rating for energy efficiency. The improvements didn't come without some compromise. 

“When manufacturers reduced the water use to meet the standard, they had to extend wash times and recirculate the water so that dishes would still get clean,” says Larry Ciufo, an engineer who oversees CR’s tests. Dishwashers in our ratings take anywhere from 90 minutes to more than 3 hours to do a full load using the normal cycle or its equivalent.

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To help fine-tune the cleaning process, manufacturers added soil sensors—which detect how messy plates are—to most machines. “Soil sensors adjust the amount of water and cycle time needed to get plates clean,” Ciufo says. “That improves water and energy efficiency.”

You’ll find more than 150 dishwashers in our ratings, and roughly a quarter of them earn Excellent ratings for cleaning and energy efficiency, and drying that’s impressive.

CR members with digital access can read on for ratings and reviews of five such dishwashers that sell for less than $800. (Keep in mind that prices may fluctuate over time.) For each model we note the annual energy cost, based on the national average electricity rate. 

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Make Your Dishwasher Even More Efficient

Energy Star dishwashers are certified by a third party to be water- and energy-efficient, and you may be able to earn a rebate from your utility company. But no matter which dishwasher you have, there are ways you can improve its efficiency. Here are some tips from CR experts and the Department of Energy:

• Run a full load. Even if you have to wait a few days to run the dishwasher, it makes sense to not do a load until it’s a full one. If you’re concerned that the dirty dishes will produce a funky odor, use the rinse-and-hold cycle.

• Don’t prerinse dishes. It uses up to 20 gallons of water, according to Energy Star, plus the energy required to heat it. Worse, if your dishwasher has a soil sensor, rinsing dishes can actually work against you because if the sensor detects that the load is fairly clean, the dishwasher will run a light wash, which can leave pieces of food stuck on bowls and plates. A better strategy? Just scrape food from plates before loading them. 

• Air-dry dishes. If your dishwasher has a heated-dry option, experiment with skipping it. Turn off the option before you press start. At the end of the cycle, crack the dishwasher door open so that the moist air escapes and dishes can air-dry. If your dishwasher isn’t great at drying, check out our article on five ways to improve drying.