If you still hand wash your dishes, an ENERGY STAR®-qualified dishwasher can save you 230 hours, 5,000 gallons of water and $40 off your electric bill in a year. When you go appliance shopping, keep in mind the quality of your water supply—soft, hard or softened—the kinds of dishes and cooking utensils you use, and your preferences for prerinsing or loading straight from the table.
Most dishwasher designs use either a stainless steel or a plastic tub. Among plastic tubs, newer products implement gray-speckled material that offers greater resistance to stains than white or other single colors. Stainless steel enables the manufacturer to hide lower heating elements, making the bottom rack available for cleaning plastic items. It boasts greater stain resistance than plastic but boosts appliance price. As you step up through dishwasher product lines from relatively inexpensive entry-level models.
Cycles and Controls
The greater the number of wash-cycle options, the higher the dishwasher price. Basic models offer at least three cycles. Deluxe models include special options to scrub pots, add extra-hot water for advanced sanitizing, clean china or glassware, and steam or soak your dishes. Check how these features work before you assume they represent must-haves. For example, sanitizer cycles boost germ-killing water heat to 140 degrees F, but they may not produce shinier or more spot-free dishes.
Examine the location of dishwasher controls, too. Basic models place them on the front of the door, giving you at-a-glance confirmation of cycles and progress. High-style models locate controls on the top edge of the door, leaving them hidden while washing progresses. Some appliances strike a balance between the two design concepts, positioning a progress indicator on the front and control buttons on the top edge.
Filters and Sound Levels
A dishwasher is often the kitchen's noisiest occupant. Heavy insulation and quiet wash mechanisms can damp the sound levels down around or below 50 decibels, which is 10 decibels quieter than normal conversation. One of the noisiest elements of dishwasher operation comes when models with powered filters kick into action, grinding up food particles and flushing them down the drain. Manual filters require periodic attendance to keep them clean, but they pose less of an interruption than self-cleaning models do.
Capacity and Load Flexibility
Load layout and rack capacity determine how much of your family's pots, pans, plates and flatware you can fit into an individual dishwasher model. Some models offer rack-height adjustability to accommodate Dutch ovens, pitchers and other tall items. Flatware containers with slots keep spoons and spatulas aligned and separated for cleaning that is more thorough than they receive in baskets that don't keep items apart. Look for fold-down tines that enable you to customize rack configurations for greater loading flexibility.
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