Getting a Better Dishwasher

If your long day ends with you up to your elbows in dishwater or shouting over the roar of an old dishwasher, it might be time for a new dishwasher. Fortunately, the new models have lots to recommend them.

The Dishwasher Myth

The biggest myth about dishwashers is that they use more water than washing dishes by hand. Today's dishwashers can use as little as 6 or 7 gallons per load, which is less than half the water needed to wash the same number of dishes by hand. Water savings increase because you don't have to rinse the dishes before loading them.

Deciding on Size

Base the size on how many dirty dishes you generate. If you want a dishwasher because the child assigned that chore just left for college, your household probably doesn't need as large a machine as a growing family does.

  • Full-sized dishwashers hold 10 to 16 place settings — about what a family of four goes through in a day.
  • Drawer dishwashers are great for singles or couples. They're the same width but half the height of a full-sized machine and generally hold five places settings. A drawer dishwasher can be installed directly below your counter for an easy reach. Their price is about twice as much as a basic built-in dishwasher.
  • Two-drawer dishwashers offer the best of both worlds. Each drawer holds five place settings and can be operated separately, making it the ideal for those who like to entertain or families on the go. They cost about three times as much as a basic built-in dishwasher.

Features to Look For

  • ENERGY STAR dishwashers use at least 41 percent less energy than the federal minimum standard, and they use much less hot water as well. They help the environment, preserve water supplies and save money.
  • Noise reduction makes it possible to simultaneously run the dishwasher and hold a conversation. Look for a dishwasher that gives out less than 60 decibels of sound.
  • A delay start timer allows you to run the dishwasher whenever you want.
  • Wash sensors adjust the number of fills, wash times and temperatures based on the number of food particles in the water. That means a short wash when dishes aren't terribly dirty and a thorough scrubbing when they need it.
  • A hard food disposer grinds up hard food particles and purges them from your machine before they can block your filter and cause damage. Most machines with this feature also have an automatic filter cleaning system.
  • A sterilizer raises the temperature inside the dishwasher above 150°F, to kill 99.9 percent of the germs.
  • Child locks keep the controls from being started accidentally or by little ones who like to press buttons.
  • Variable-position and fold-down tines on the dish racks hold small pieces snugly when needed, then let you move them out of the way for larger pieces.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Dishwasher

  • Prep the dishes. Scrape all dishes and empty all glasses before loading them in the dishwasher. You don’t have to rinse them.
  • Load. Your product manual has tips for loading dishes so they get clean and aren’t damaged. In general, arrange dishes so they do not touch and don't block the water jets. Put plates and very dirty dishes on the bottom rack, and glasses and less soiled dishes in the top rack.
  • Clean the machine. Clean the filter regularly so it can do its gunk-catching job. And damp wipe the door seals to remove unsightly bits of food and liquid that get stuck there, reducing the effectiveness of the seal.
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