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When your dishwasher is running, does it sound like a 747 taking off? Does your china pattern resemble soap film and spotting? If so, it may be time to trade in ol' faithful and shop for a new unit. You'll be pleasantly surprised by what you find. Today's smart machines boast such features as favorite cycle (which lets you preprogram your machine to automatically select options you use most), greater loading flexibility, quieter operation, and greater energy efficiency than units made only a few years ago. Thanks to the U.S. Dept. of Energy's Energy Star ratings, dishwashers that sport the symbol are actually helping you shave up to $16 off your annual electric bill. Multiply that figure by 15 (the number of years consumers typically keep their dishwashers), and the $240 you've saved can more than cover the cost of such upgrades as spiffy electronic controls or a slick stainless-steel interior. Below is a series of questions and answers compiled by the experts at brandwise and the Good Housekeeping Institute to help you choose the right product for you.
Questions and Answers
- What size dishwashers are available?
- How do they differ in price?
- What are the most important factors when choosing a dishwasher?
- Are some dishwashers quieter than others are?
- Do some dishwashers conserve more energy and water than others?
- What are some other innovations worth considering?
- Are there any features that a small family may want to consider?
- What are the pros and cons of knobs, push buttons, electronic touchpads?
- Do different dishwashers have different rack configurations?
- What must shoppers know about delivery & installation?
- What type of warranty do dishwasher manufacturers typically offer?
Q: What size dishwashers are available?
A:The majority of dishwashers are 24-inch built-in, under-the-counter models. But if you have a tiny kitchen and lack the space needed for a full-size model, select an 18-inch version. If kitchen space is at a real premium, consider a portable. These units-on-wheels have finished sides, usually feature butcher-block tops, and come with water hookups to attach to your sink faucet. Best of all, portable units can be rolled into a closet or under a stairwell so they are out of sight when not in use.
At the low end of the price spectrum are the $200 to $300 American-made models. Don't expect super-quiet operation (though they're better than units made a decade ago), much rack flexibility, or a stainless-steel tub. On the other hand, you may find a food disposer included, which eliminates the need to pre-rinse dishes by hand, thus cutting down on water usage.
More and more manufacturers of $400 to $600 models are offering stainless-steel interiors, which they claim won't chip or discolor. And some dishwashers include electronic sensors that measure the soil level of the dish load and adjust water usage and cycle time accordingly.
Some of the high-end domestic and European units conserve water and save you money. European dishwashers use from one to four fewer gallons of water than domestic models. The downside: To conserve water, the food disposer, a deep trough that collects and grinds food particles in most domestic models, is sometimes eliminated in European dishwashers. In its place is a small filter that must be cleaned by hand occasionally.
Q: What are the most important factors when choosing a dishwasher?
A:Decide which features best fit your lifestyle. Do you have a large family or entertain a lot? Do you have a small family, eat out often, or only need to run the dishwasher on occasion?
How much space do you have? Is your counter cut to 18 inches or 24 inches? If you can't squeeze a new unit into your kitchen, check out a portable.
Think about how long you plan to own it. Are you buying it for a condo you will sell three years from now? In that case, you may not want to spend much on your machine. Or will this be the unit you're installing in your remodeled dream kitchen? If that's the case, you might want to invest in a high-end model with a sleek design.
What kind of power do you have?There are basically two versions-the 110/120 volt and the 220/240 volt. If you install a mismatched unit, you can damage a new appliance. In general, American-made dishwashers are 120 volt.
Q: Are some dishwashers quieter than others are?
A:Absolutely. On certain domestic-made models, the pumps and motors are mounted to the tub, a natural sound amplifier. Dishwashers where the motors are mounted to the base pan-a feature often found in European models-are quietest. The insulation materials used by manufacturers also vary. But no one insulation material is better than another. But how do shoppers compare the sound of one machine to another? Tough question. If sound is a major issue, start by shopping for a dishwasher that touts quiet operation. Also, check out our quietness ratings when you search for a dishwasher on the site.
Q: Do some dishwashers conserve more energy and water than others?
A:Yes. One way to tell if your dishwasher will save energy, conserve water, and cost less to operate is to look for the federal government's Energy Star label. An Energy Star-labeled dishwasher can shave up to $16 off your annual electricity bill. Appliances such as dishwashers, washers, refrigerators and more receive this rating from the U.S. Dept. of Energy if they're significantly more efficient than the minimum government standards.
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Another way to measure energy use is to read the "EnergyGuide" label (incorporated into this site's rating system). This tells you the model's annual cost of operation at various utility rates. It will also give you a quick estimate of yearly energy costs compared to other models.
Some dishwashers have water-saving features. Check out models with such features as rinse and hold cycle and a hard food disposer, both of which save you from using excess water to rinse food particles off your dishes by hand. Also consider the upper/lower rack wash feature, which lets you limit the cycle to certain sections of a load, thus slashing your energy usage even further.
Q: What are some other innovations worth considering?
A:If you frequently entertain, you'll want a machine that can pack it in. Look for one that holds at least 12 place settings and 13-inch platters upright and offers adjustable racks to fit odd-shaped serving bowls. Also shop for a dishwasher that has fold-down shelves and tines, allowing greater room for long utensils and additional cups from guests. Be aware that larger interior dimensions will give you more flexibility.
If you keep your water heater at a low setting to conserve energy, a water heat option is a must. Since dishwasher detergents are designed to be used in hot water no lower than 120 degrees, this feature delays the wash cycle until the hottest water temperature is reached--usually 135 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
Depending on your needs, here are a few more features worth checking out:
Add-a-dish indicates when you can open the dishwasher to add a last-minute item. China/crystal, also known as light wash or water miser, offers a short wash cycle for china, crystal, and lightly soiled dishes. Delay start lets you start the wash cycle from 1 to 9 hours after you've loaded it. Stemware cup holders are small clips on racks that allow you to safely wash crystal. Plate warmer keeps serving dishes and plates warm while the meal is cooking. Pots and pans cycle provides longer, heated washes for cleaning heavily soiled cookware. Child lock stops someone from accidentally starting or changing the settings on the dishwasher.
Q: Are there any features that a small family may want to consider?
A:If you're single or have a two-person family, the upper/lower rack wash feature can be a godsend (this is also ideal for families with small children or babies that tend to quickly fill up the top rack with cups and bottles). Also, the rinse and hold feature removes excess soil from plates that may not get washed until a full load is accumulated.
Q: What are the pros and cons of knobs vs. push buttons vs. electronic touchpads?
A:No doubt, electronic touchpads give your kitchen a sleek look. It's also the type of control panel that's easiest to clean. Soil comes off with one swipe of a sponge. Knobs on a dishwasher, like those on a range, must be cleaned around. Push buttons also tend to collect soil and can be difficult to clean between. (A nice compromise is rubberized mechanical touchpads. They work like buttons but are flatter and easier to clean.) As you might expect, a dishwasher with mechanical controls will be less expensive than one with electronic controls. Still, the additional cost may be worth the dent to your wallet when you consider the time you save scrubbing appliance grime. What's more, electronic controls give you feedback: Some have words denoting the wash stage; others alert you to a blocked wash arm or power failure.
Q: Do different dishwashers have different rack configurations?
A: Low-end dishwashers usually don't offer height-adjustable upper and lower racks, though flip-down shelves for upper-rack items such as cups are available in certain models. Step up to the $400 to $600 price range and you'll get broader rack flexibility, such as stemware holders, adjustable upper racks to fit large items, and fold-down and removable tines to fit odd-shaped dishes. High-end models are the "piece de resistance." Instead of the typical silverware basket, certain units offer flat silverware trays that snuggle against the top of the machine to get your egg-stain breakfast forks whistle clean. Others come with additional or separate flatware baskets.
Q: What must shoppers know about delivery & installation?
A:Before selecting your dishwasher, consider the logistics. Do you need your old unit hauled away - or does your town allow curbside pickup of appliances? Do you need your water or electricity connected? To connect a built-in model, you might have to call a plumber to connect an adapter to your line. If you plan to remodel your kitchen and move appliances around, an electrician will be required as well. Also, will someone be home to accept delivery of your dishwasher - or are you only home on weekends?
Q: What type of warranty do dishwasher manufacturers typically offer?
A: Many offer, at minimum, one-year parts and labor. A few manufacturers provide a two-year or longer warranty on some of the components. .
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