Dishes that come out of the dishwasher wet is a top complaint from consumers. And Consumer Reports' tests have confirmed that some dishwashers are much better at drying than others.

The best can dry even plastic; the worst have you reaching for a dish towel. In our tests of more than 100 models, very few were better at drying than at cleaning. And isn’t cleaning the harder part? Maybe not.

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“Drying is harder than cleaning because dishes and glasses have areas that trap water, and the water doesn’t evaporate,” says Larry Ciufo, the engineer who runs Consumer Reports’ dishwasher tests.

“Dishwashers also contain a lot of humid air," he says. "As it cools, water droplets form on the dishwasher’s interior and on the dishes."

Lab Tested for Your Kitchen

To find out how well a dishwasher dries, we place plastic sippy cups on the top rack and run a test cycle. We use plastic because it’s more difficult to dry than glass and ceramic. Plastic doesn’t retain heat, which contributes to the drying process, so the water doesn’t evaporate as easily. That’s where the dishwasher’s heat comes into play.

Dishwashers dry dishes in several ways. They can rely on an electric coil that heats the air, a fan that blows hot air around, an increase in water temperature near the end of a cycle, or a combination of all these methods. None guarantees dry dishes or stands out as a better drying method in our tests, so we can’t recommend one type.

Manufacturers continue to offer possible solutions. The latest is a dishwasher door that automatically pops open in the last 10 to 15 minutes of the cycle, allowing the moisture to escape. Otherwise it’s trapped and ends up dripping down on your dishes. In our dishwasher ratings, you can find a pop-open door on the Samsung DW80K7050US, $600. 

5 Ways to Boost Drying

Even without a pop-open door, there are steps you can take to improve drying performance. Here's what our dishwasher experts recommend.

1. Allow space between dishes. They shouldn’t touch, and don't overload your machine. The idea is to improve the circulation of the water and air, which improves drying.

2. Use a rinse aid. It prevents spotting and enhances drying. The rinse aid breaks the bond between the water molecules and dishes, causing water to form sheets and slide off. 

3. Use the heat feature. The more heat, the better the drying. Depending on your dishwasher, the heat may be added during washing, rinsing, or drying.

4. Open the dishwasher door a few inches as soon as the cycle ends. This allows the moist air to escape.

5. Empty the bottom rack first. Water collects on concave surfaces, such as mugs and glasses that are placed upside down on the top rack. Empty the lower rack first to avoid spilling any water below.

Dishwashers That Ace Drying

You’ll find more than 100 models in our dishwasher ratings. About 30 dishwashers scored Excellent in both drying and cleaning, including the KitchenAid KDTM354DSS, $800, and the Whirlpool WDF540PADM, $495. You can use the filters in the dishwasher ratings to narrow your options in a number of ways, including performance scores in our tests for washing, drying, energy use, noise, and cycle time. 

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