Cost range: $250-$1,000 and up
Likely additional costs: Delivery, installation, and haul away
Average life span: 10-13 years
Size and fit: Because there are so many dishwashers on the market, pare down choices according to specific criteria. Size and fit is a great place to start. Common dishwasher widths include 18” and 24”, so measure your current appliance to see what size to shop for. Also, dishwasher heights can range from 32 to 34.5 inches, so make sure the new one doesn’t exceed the height of the cabinet opening. Kitchen floors that have been updated with tile, laminate wood, and even vinyl can affect the fit of the new machine.
Most dishwashers are mounted to the underside of countertops, making those models a poor choice for solid surfaces like granite, quartz, and concrete. In those cases, choose an appliance that gets anchored to side cabinets.
Noise: New dishwashers are considerably less noisy than those made just five years ago, thanks to improved insulation. But for the quietest appliances on the market, expect to pay a premium of $500 and up. A far less expensive alternative is the delay wash setting, which can start the machine after your family has gone to bed. This feature is on all but the most inexpensive models.
Appearance: Will you be matching existing appliances or making a change to something new? It’s easy enough to match “appliance white,” a standard color, but few stainless steel finishes are identical, says Cochran. To do so may require sticking with a particular brand. You can expect to pay a premium of $150 for a stainless dishwasher.
You’ll also pay about $150 more for a stainless tub, the interior liner of the machine. The upgrade is a purely cosmetic one, notes Cochran, as a plastic tub may discolor over time but it will rarely fail.
Completely hidden controls are another popular aesthetic upgrade. The control panels sit on a portion of the door that’s invisible when closed. Expect to pay at least $600 for models with this design.
Features and performance
Energy efficiency: Energy Star-qualified models use 31% less energy and 33% less water than conventional machines. Energy Star-qualified dishwashers today are required to use 5.8 gallons of water per cycle or fewer, down from the 6 to 10 gallons per cycle in 2000. The good news is that most dishwashers on the market now bear the Energy Star stamp of approval, and you need not pay a premium to purchase one.
Racks: Although unnecessary, adjustable racks, tines, and silverware storage can be useful when washing oversize or unusually shaped items. Adjustable racks are on all but the most basic models, but for truly customizable interiors, you’ll have to spring for pricier machines.
Cycles: Even the most basic dishwashers come with multiple wash cycles. Shorter cycles can save water and energy when washing average loads, while longer settings can be reserved for more heavily soiled ones. Beyond that, there seems to be no end to available cycle options. Sanitary wash cycles raise the heat, killing more than 99% of bacteria. Glass cycles can speedily clean a rack of dirty glasses. Some models even have a variable-speed motor that increases pressure for pots and pans and decreases it for delicate china. Consider your need; these additional features raise the price and are rarely used.
Sensors: Soil, or “turbidity,” sensors are becoming more common on midrange dishwashers. They measure the clarity of the water and then shorten or lengthen all cycles accordingly. Models boasting this technology are available for as little as $350 to $400 (though the folks at Consumer Reports say you’ll need to go higher to get units that also offer better noise reduction and other features.)
Drying: Almost every dishwasher comes with a heated dry option, which speeds along the dish-drying process. If you’re energy conscious, look for machines that allow you to disable (or simply not activate) that feature. Doing so can reduce the machine’s electricity consumption by 15% to 50%, according to the California Energy Commission.
Expected maintenance: In some models, filters need to be cleaned periodically. A hose may leak and door hinges can loosen or fail, all of which require tightening or replacement. A broken door latch will cause the machine to stop working. The part may need to be replaced.
Where and when to shop: Babin Building Solution’s Cochran says to only shop at a retail appliance store where the staff understands the product. A conscientious salesperson will guide you to a model that doesn’t exceed your needs and thus saves money. Also opt for a store that offers delivery, installation, and haul away—you may be able to negotiate transport and install into the cost of the appliance.
Because appliances don’t adhere to a model year like automobiles, there’s no “best time” to buy them. Always keep a look out for sales, specials, and tax rebates (especially for energy-efficient models). And use sites like BizRate, PriceGrabber, Shopping.com, and Shopzilla to compare prices.
Finally, some appraisers say new appliances are money well spent. In his market, Mike Neimeier, a residential appraiser in Cleveland, Ohio, says a homeowner is likely to recoup between 75%-90% of the cost of new appliances when reselling the home within a couple of years.