It may be hard to believe when you hear that heat-generating, water-guzzling, electricity-sapping appliance start up every night, but dishwashers are going green.
That’s right—while you’ve been busy trying to fit the roasting pan alongside your dinner dishes in the bottom rack, the government has been developing new standards intended to cut the amount of energy and water you use each time you do a load. And appliance manufacturers have been able to meet these new, more stringent standards because dishwasher technology has improved dramatically in the last few years.
Today’s top dishwashers have advanced sensors that “read” soil levels in the water to measure just how dirty your dishes are. They then electronically adjust water levels and water temperature to deliver the right amount of cleaning power. The fanciest dishwashers will take soil measurements several times during a cycle and continually make adjustments. Some dishwashers also add or subtract time to the wash cycle depending on dirt levels—and some further tweak the settings based on whether you have a lot of dishes in the load, or just a few.
Some dishwashers even ration your detergent output, holding as much as a bottle’s worth of detergent but doling out exactly what each load requires and not a drop more. And some machines monitor dish dryness to ensure that you don’t use more heat than is absolutely necessary.
Taking a bite out of your utility bill is only part of the latest innovation story; dishwasher manufacturers have poured their old one-type-fits-all philosophy “down the drain” in favor of a broad array of products with various options. Cook foods that tend to stick to dishes—like oatmeal, rice, or macaroni and cheese? Opt for a model that offers steam cleaning, an effective tool for blasting off baked-on foods. Got a big family that goes through lots of dishes each day? Look for a “tall tub” model that can pack in more plates and bowls. Throw fancy parties? You’ll want a model with a crystal or stemware cycle, so you won’t need to hand-wash the Champagne flutes after your guests have gone home.
And if your needs change from day to day, you can seek out models with three top-rack positions as well as multiple ways to fold down tines. You can customize the machine’s internal space each time you load up. Some upscale models have even eliminated the bulky silverware basket, adding a thin tray above the upper rack instead, which can accommodate cutlery and small gadgets.
If you haven’t bought a dishwasher in a long time, you’ll be surprised at how quiet they’ve become. And many premium models have their control pads located on the top of the door, so that the controls disappear when the door is closed; all you see is a clean, unobtrusive front panel.
With their reduced noise level, hidden controls, “smart” functions, and greener technology, dishwashers today will not only clean your dishes but brighten your outlook as well!
Dishing the Dirt
Dishwashers—with a summary of top features and cost estimates.
Here’s how we break down the newest generation of dirt-busting
|What it is||BASIC CLEAN Budget-priced dishwashers with good performance but limited features. Whirlpool is big in this price range, and you’ll also find Maytag, GE, and Kenmore models.||BRIGHT OUTCOMES High-quality dishwashers with more reasonable price tags. You’ll find some Electrolux and KitchenAid models in this price range, along with Bosch, Kenmore, GE, and the upper end of Whirlpool and Maytag.||GLEAM OF THE CROP The best class of dishwashers available today. Among the upscale brands that offer all the bells and whistles are Asko, Miele, KitchenAid, and Electrolux.|
|How much you’ll spend||$250 to $700||$700 to $1,4000||Upwards of $1,400|
|What makes them shine||At the low end of this price range, you’ll get a normal wash cycle, and possibly an additional, light cycle, while you can count on another cycle or two as you move up in price. Models at the top of this price range should also offer some degree of energy-reducing sensor technology.||In this price range, you can still find soil sensors, although the models may not make as many fine adjustments in water and energy usage as pricier machines do. You generally can count on four to six wash cycles, including heavy-duty cycles, quick, normal, and rinse-only cycles. At the higher end of this range, you can find a fully integrated control panel and a 14-place-setting capacity. You also can find models that meet 2011 Energy Star criteria.||Premium dishwashers have sensors that continually adjust such variables as water temperature, water usage, and cycle length. They offer at least five—and as many as nine—cycles, including heavy-duty, quick wash, and delicate; some even have a separate stemware cycle. Dishwashers in this class have extra-large cavities that can accommodate up to 15 place settings (the industry’s standard measure of capacity) and are barely audible when operating. To take advantage of the latest technology, look for a steam or power-scrub option that targets baked-on foods. You also can count on a fully integrated control panel (meaning you don’t see it when the door is closed), and great flexibility in how the racks, tines, and cutlery basket or tray can be positioned.|
|What you’ll give up||Several premium features, such as a fully integrated control panel, more specialized cycles, an advanced sensor system, and the premium insulation required for minimum noise levels.||Probably the specialty option for cleaning baked-on foods. You may also have to forego the delicate or stemware cycle, and the rack system may be a little less versatile than those in upscale machines.||Nothing; at this price level, you should be able to find a machine with all the features you need.|
|And keep in mind…||If price is your main consideration, you will shave at least $50 off a dishwasher’s price tag by foregoing stainless steel and opting for black or white instead.||It pays to decide which features you can’t live without and which you’re willing to give up before you shop. Machines at this price range will be noisier than more expensive models, so if noise is an issue for you, check out the product spec sheets among brands to compare decibel ratings.||As long as you’re going for an upscale machine, make sure that the model you choose meets 2011 Energy Star criteria, which will give you energy-efficient performance above and beyond that required by the basic federal standards.|
Barbara Solomon Josselsohn is a freelance writer in Scarsdale specializing in home-furnishings and family topics.