How to Buy a Dishwasher

Dishwasher Buying Guide Tips For Buying Dishwasher
Image: Whirlpool

When you buy a dishwasher, hone in on the model that’s got the right combination of size, features, performance, and price.

Today’s dishwashers are loaded with advanced technologies that get dishes sparkling clean while using less than half the water and electricity than machines sold two decades ago. 

Here’s what you need to know to select the best dishwasher for your home based on your household’s needs and budget.

First Things First: Dishwasher Types and Cost

Built-in dishwashers that are hooked up to your home’s water and plumbing system fall into four categories.

1.  Budget under-the-counter dishwashers: These practical workhorses are more about utility than fancy features.

  • Energy Star-qualified models in this price range maximize cleaning and energy efficiency with soil sensors and smart dish rack design.
  • Budget machines, like the Amana ADB1100AWW or Frigidaire Gallery FGBD2434PF that were reviewed by “Consumer Reports,” clean nearly as well as some of their more expensive and quieter-to-operate counterparts.
  • Cost: $300 to $500.

2.  Premium under-the-counter dishwashers: These machines put homeowner comfort and convenience first with features like hidden control panels, additional wash cycles, and enhanced noise reduction. They often include a bonus third rack that increases capacity by accommodating small items.

  • The more bells and whistles a dishwasher has, the higher the price tag. Expect to pay $950 for a dishwasher that’s Wi-Fi enabled for remote access, and up to $1,600 for a machine tricked out with additional cleaning features, like wall jets for enhanced water coverage, a dedicated bottle-wash option, and specialized wash zones that tackle heavily soiled cookware.
  • Prices start around $800.

3.  Under-sink dishwashers: These compact machines maximize kitchen space; they’re designed to fit around a sink’s plumbing pipes. Most have the same features found on budget dishwashers except these come with a premium price tag.

  • Energy Star-qualified models are available.
  • Prices start around $800.

4.  Drawer dishwashers: The new kid on the block. They fit in lower cabinets and pull out like cabinet drawers, making them easier to load than standard dishwashers. There are two styles available: single-drawer and double-drawer, and they’re only available in three standard colors (black, white, and stainless steel).

  • On a double-drawer machine, the dishwasher drawers can be operated individually or simultaneously.
  • The pullout drawers make them easy to load, but they fit fewer dishes than standard dishwashers.
  • A single-drawer dishwasher can wash up to 12 dishes. However, dishes must be under 11.5 inches.
  • A double-drawer can clean as much a compact machine, but it can’t accommodate oversized items. A tall double-drawer can fit as much as a standard machine including 12-inch dishes.
  • Because drawers aren’t very tall, they can’t clean oversized items like cookware and platters.
  • Double-drawer models are Energy Star-qualified. But because they fit fewer dishes per load, they’re less efficient than standard machines.
  • There’s only a small selection of drawer dishwashers, because only one manufacturer (Fisher Paykel) produces them.
  • Single-drawer prices start at $650; double-drawers start around $1,000.

Energy Efficiency

The newest dishwasher standards reduce energy use by 14% and water use by 23% compared with the previous generation of dishwashers. That equates to about $8 in savings per year, according to the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, which champions efficiency standards for appliances.

Size Does Matter

Dishwashers fall into two conventional widths:

  • Standard machines are about 24 inches wide.
  • Compact models are around 18 inches wide.

The height of a dishwasher is standard and designed to fit under a typical kitchen countertop. However, it’s not uncommon for a kitchen remodeling project to cover old flooring with new, raising the floor height. Most dishwashers have adjustable feet. Be sure to take careful measurements of the available space under your countertop, and ask your dealer for the full range of adjustability of the machine you’re considering before buying. 

Here are a few other points to keep in mind when it comes to dishwasher size and capacity:

  • Compact machines can clean up to eight, five-piece place settings and six serving pieces.
  • Standard machines clean 10 to 12 five-piece place settings and six serving pieces.
  • Dishwashers with tall tubs can clean up to 14 five-piece place settings and six serving pieces. Many of these dishwashers include flexible racks that can accommodate oversized kitchen items.
  • Compact machines cost less initially but may need to be run more frequently because of their limited capacity. That can end up using more electricity and water annually than a standard 24-inch dishwasher.
  • Compact machines currently don’t qualify for an Energy Star certification. But that doesn’t mean they’re energy hogs. In 2013, Energy Star temporarily suspended efficiency standards for machines like these until a new set of requirements is established that differentiates them from standard-size machines. The new specifications are currently under review.
  • And just so you know, standard machines that are Energy Star-certified use on average 5% less electricity and 15% less water than non-certified standard machines.

Want to Color Your World?

Unlike refrigerators and clothes washers that are available in fashion-forward shades like ruby red or apple green, dishwashers typically are available in austere shades of black, white, and stainless. (Stainless adds about $100 to the cost.)

If you’d like your dishwasher to disappear from sight, custom cabinet panels help your machine blend in with surrounding cabinetry. Many cabinet manufacturers offer custom dishwasher panels, or you can consult with a local cabinetmaker.

Features and Functions You Should Have

We think the features that pack the most value for homeowners should enhance performance and convenience without running up your energy bills. Here’s a list of best bets:

Soil sensors are energy-saving features you’ll find on all Energy Star-certified dishwashers. They boost a dishwasher’s efficiency by automatically adjusting each cleaning cycle based on how dirty the dishes are throughout each wash.

Advanced water filtration systems optimize cleaning by removing food particles from the water. Machines with self-cleaning filters typically cost more than machines with manual filters you have to clean periodically.

Energy-saving short-wash cycles (also known as eco-wash) reduce the amount of time and energy used to clean dishes. Cycles like these are recommended for full loads that are lightly soiled.

Smart, flexible dish and utensil racks, like silverware baskets with individual slats, make it easier to get smaller items clean. Adjustable racks can accommodate pots and pans.

High-efficiency water jets use strategically placed, high-power spray nozzles to boost a dishwasher’s cleaning power without increasing water use.

Quiet technologies put a damper on noise and make dishwasher cycles more tolerable for sensitive ears. Whisper-quiet machines run between 40 and 46 decibels and typically cost more than $1,000.

A third rack allows you to wash additional small items. This feature can be found on many premium dishwashers that cost $800 or more.

Special wash zones located in the dishwasher tackle heavily soiled cookware and dishes without increasing the energy needed to wash items outside of the “zone.” 

Features and Functions You Shouldn’t Pay More For

Skip these functions and features that increase a dishwasher’s retail price without enhancing performance or durability. Some of these features also increase operating and maintenance costs.

Automatic detergent dispensers may eliminate product waste by taking the guesswork out of how much detergent different wash cycles need. However, they can easily break and are expensive to repair. 

Smart technology allows homeowners to operate their dishwashers remotely using an app on the their personal device or computer. Wi-Fi enabled dishwashers cost up to $200 more than their offline counterparts. 

Stainless steel dishwasher tubs may look pretty and resist staining, but plastic tubs are just as durable and typically outlive the amount of time a dishwasher stays in your home. 

The sanitation cycle on a dishwasher certified by the NSF (formerly the National Sanitation Foundation) extends cleaning time by 5 to 18 minutes while heating water to a minimum of 150 degrees.  While it’s a no-brainer that this increases energy costs, you should also know that most new dishwashers -- including all Energy Star-certified machines -- heat water to at least 140 degrees without increasing wash time.

A touch pad may save your dishwasher preferences, but it doesn’t enhance washing performance.

Heated dryer settings add to the cost of premium dishwashers while using more electricity to dry dishes. 

Rinse/hold cycles will allow you to rinse dishes before you’re ready to run a wash cycle. While this may reduce stinky odors and the amount of food stuck to dishes, it increases water use. The Environmental Protection Agency says it’s better to scrape than rinse. 

Related: Which Homemade Dishwasher Soap Recipe is Best?

Deirdre Sullivan bio photo
Deirdre Sullivan

Deirdre Sullivan is an NYC-based writer who's obsessed with maximizing every inch of her urban dwelling. She's a former fashionista who has worked for Lucky Magazine and InStyle. She recently traded her high heels and Fashion Week pass for a drill and bandsaw. Follow Deirdre on Twitter, and Pinterest.