After putting in 95 hours of research over three years, we’ve learned that pretty much any new dishwasher can get your dishes clean when you use the appliance properly. But we also think it’s worth paying a bit more for a machine that’s practically silent and easy to load. That’s why we think the new Bosch 300 Series M is the best dishwasher for most people.
The 300 Series M is a brand-new model, without many reviews yet, but we’re comfortable recommending it already because it’s essentially a newer, cheaper version of our previous pick, the older Bosch 500 Series. This is one of the most affordable dishwashers with a third rack, and it has the largest capacity and most loading flexibility for the money—more than most dishwashers at any price, for that matter. Expert reviewers and owners alike praised its predecessor’s cleaning prowess and quiet performance, and this new version looks like more of the same. Bosch dishwashers also have one of the better warranties in the industry, along with a wide service network and a reputation for reliability.
The KitchenAid KDTM354ESS is another quiet, efficient, and overall excellent dishwasher made in a different style than our top pick. The main differences include a heat-dry option, a self-cleaning filter, and a power-washing zone that’s handy for loading large pans and casserole trays. In some situations, this model might be better at cleaning sticky, starchy food deposits, too. The drawbacks? This KitchenAid dishwasher costs more than our pick and lacks a third rack, so it fits fewer dishes.
If you’re on a tighter budget, or if you prefer a more traditional American-style dishwasher with a heat-dry cycle and a food grinder, the Maytag MDB4949SDx is the way to go. It’s one of the few dishwashers at such a low price with a stainless steel tub, which helps the machine keep the volume down and dry dishes more efficiently than dishwashers with plastic tubs. It has some of the best owner ratings of any dishwasher at any price, including positive notes about reliability. Compared with our main pick, this Maytag holds fewer dishes, uses more energy, runs louder, and takes longer to finish its cycles. But it’s an excellent choice for the money.
If your kitchen can’t fit a standard 24-incher, but you still want a built-in dishwasher, check out the Bosch 800 Series SPE68U55SS, essentially an 18-inch version of our main pick. Obviously it can’t hold as many dishes as its larger cousin, and it has no third rack. But the racking system is as flexible as you’ll find in this category, and it cleans well and runs quietly.
Going into this guide, we knew we wouldn’t be able to test any dishwashers firsthand, because we don’t have a testing facility. So instead we relied on reporting.
First we got in touch with a handful of experts from different parts of the industry, namely Keith Barry, the editor in chief of Reviewed.com’s appliance sites, who has overseen more than 100 dishwasher reviews during his tenure; Julie Warner, marketing manager at Warners’ Stellian, an appliance-sales powerhouse in the Twin Cities region of Minnesota; and Chris Zeisler, an expert at RepairClinic.com with a few decades of field experience repairing machines. We had some informal and semiformal chats with representatives of most of the major dishwasher brands, too.
Owner reviews and comments were a big part of our research, as well. At first our goal was to detect patterns in what people find frustrating about their dishwashers in general. When we narrowed down the list to some finalists, we looked for quirks particular to those models, as well as for any insights about reliability. Emails and comments from our own readers played a big part in this, as did reviews on major retailers’ websites. Also, a few Sweethome and Wirecutter staff members bought our picks (or similar models) based on our research, and they contributed long-term usage notes when the information was relevant.
Since we couldn’t test the dishwashers ourselves, we got some hands-on time with a few models at appliance showrooms in the Boston metro area, going to Home Depot, Lowe’s, Sears, and Yale Appliance + Lighting. This process helped us get a feel for each machine’s loading flexibility.
A dishwasher is a phenomenal investment. It saves you time, does its job better than any person could hope to, shrinks your utility bill, and conserves energy and water. It’s a win on so many fronts. If you own your home and have the means, buy a dishwasher.
Today’s machines are so, so much more efficient than washing dishes by hand. A normal wash cycle uses about 4 gallons of water and 1 kilowatt-hour of energy. Hand-washing the same number of dishes guzzles about 27 gallons and burns the equivalent of 2.7 kWh to heat all that water. If you run a full dishwasher every other day, you’re looking at saving about 4,200 gallons of water and the equivalent of 310 kWh of energy per year, which keeps about $50 in your pocket, based on national averages.
Dishwashers are better at sanitizing your dishes, too, because they use much hotter water than any person can tolerate through hand-washing. Remember, soap doesn’t kill germs—hot water does. Most dishwashers can reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter temperatures during their strongest cycles and can easily pass 130 °F in a normal cycle. Water from the tap is more like 120 °F, and most people’s pain threshold is around 106 °F. So if you’re concerned about hygiene and sanitation, a dishwasher is the way to go.
Of course, a dishwasher is also convenient, especially now that pre-rinsing by hand is supposed to be a thing of the past. Even if a dishwasher saves you only an hour per week—and that’s a bare-minimum estimate—you get back two extra days per year to do anything else with your life. Plus, your dry, pruny hands and sore lower back will thank you.
After spending 95 hours on research, including conducting interviews with experts from across the industry and reading hundreds of editorial and customer reviews, we learned that almost any dishwasher will get your dishes clean if you use it properly. So we sought out models with the most flexible and intuitive racking options, as well as whisper-quiet operation and a reputation for reliability.
The sweet spot for price is around $700 to $900. DIshwashers in this range are quiet, efficient, effective, and easy to load with lots of dishes of all shapes and sizes.
If you spend less, the dishwasher will be louder and use more water and energy. Its racks won’t be as accommodating to as many shapes and sizes of dishes. And with heavily soiled loads, it may not get every dish entirely clean. Such a model can still be totally adequate, though, and any new dishwasher is better than none.
Higher-end models don’t have many practical advantages over midrange dishwashers. Yes, expensive models are quieter, but midrange models are barely audible anyway. Higher-end dishwashers might cram in some handy loading features, like a third rack, specialty zones with extra water jets, or additional sets of folding tines. Such things can be helpful, for sure, but the most useful of those kinds of features are already available in some models that cost less than $1,000.
And although the premium brands are built to last, they can also be prohibitively expensive to repair once they’re out of warranty. So we don’t see a compelling, practical reason to spend more.
The most important conclusion we drew from our research was that most of today’s dishwashers do a hell of a job when people use them correctly. At Reviewed.com, almost all of the tested dishwashers have passed cleaning trials with flying colors. “We load the dishwashers properly, and we load them with filthy, filthy dishes—filthier than you would ever see in your own home. And 90 percent of the dishes come out 100 percent clean, probably even more than that,” editor in chief Keith Barry told us. At Consumer Reports, all but seven of the 169 dishwashers that the testing house has reviewed own an Excellent or Very Good mark in washing performance.
So why do some buyers still complain that their new dishwashers don’t work well? About five years ago, efficiency and environmental regulations led to fundamental changes in the way dishwashers work—but nobody passed that memo along to the folks who use these machines at home. As a result, people often get subpar results from their dishwasher, when all they need to do is tweak a few habits. (Did you know you should not pre-rinse? Or that a rinse aid may be all you need to get your dishes spotless and dry?)
In other words, the machine is rarely the problem. “If it isn’t getting the majority of your dishes clean, you’re doing something wrong,“ Barry said. Along the same lines, Julie Warner, the marketing manager at Warners’ Stellian, told us, “It’s hard to say, ‘Your dishwasher’s not broken, your process is.’” But that’s often the case. We have some tips to help you make the most of your dishwasher, no matter which one you buy.
Considering that a properly loaded dishwasher should get all your dishes clean, we think the top distinguishing factor for a great dishwasher is intuitive and flexible loading. Ideally, in such a machine the racks let you fit as many dishes as possible, with every dirty surface exposed to the water jets, and with obvious cues for where different kinds of dishes are supposed to fit. But some cheap racks, like the one pictured below, don’t offer much guidance, as the bottom rack consists entirely of straight, nonfolding, evenly spaced tines—no hints about where you should put a big pot, or which direction to angle the plates.
Other loading features that add flexibility include a third rack, height-adjustable racks, folding tines, and removable silverware baskets. Power-washing zones for big, grimy dishes such as casserole trays or roasting pans can be particularly helpful.
Noise, or more accurately the absence of it, is another major differentiating factor. Warner told us that quietness is the number-one quality that her customers look for in a new dishwasher. Most models list their operating volume in decibels, and as far as we can tell, the numbers are basically accurate.
The sweet spot is around 44 dB. That’s roughly the volume of the background noise of a typical suburb at night, so any dishwasher that runs at or below that threshold probably won’t register in your consciousness. Anything quieter is great but probably not worth paying extra for. As Barry put it, “The difference between a really low number and a really lower number isn’t going to make a difference in your kitchen unless you sleep next to your dishwasher.” Volume starts to get moderately annoying around 50 dB, while some of the cheapest models register in the low-50s, which is about as loud and unpleasant as a window air conditioner.
A soil sensor (or turbidity sensor) is another must-have feature, as it lets your dishwasher “see” whether your dishes are still dirty and adjusts the cleaning times accordingly. It’s a key component in the feedback loop that makes modern dishwashers so effective. At regular intervals, the sensor shoots an infrared beam into the water stream, and if it’s turbid (a fancy word for dirty, in this context), the dishwasher will keep running. But once the water is clean, the cycle begins to end. Without that sensor, your dishwasher blindly fires jets of hot, soapy water for a predetermined amount of time. For years, that’s how every dishwasher worked—the machines power-washed until their settings indicated no chance of any residue remaining, even if some bits of food actually did get left behind. These days, a soil sensor adds a layer of intelligence to the machine that not only saves water and electricity but also helps ensure that your dishes come out fully washed. On top of that, this system works a little better with new-style detergents, which use a different active ingredient than older detergents.
Our experts told us to look for two other features that are a sign of a good dishwasher: nylon-coated racks and a stainless steel tub. Compared with vinyl or PVC, nylon is less likely to crack over time and expose the wire frame underneath. (Non-nylon racks are rare these days, but we made sure to double-check our picks.) A stainless steel tub is better than a plastic one because it dampens the running volume; it also helps to dry dishes faster at the end of a cycle because it holds more heat and speeds up condensation. And while plastic tubs can crack on occasion, metal tubs almost never do. This distinction helped us focus on the best budget-friendly dishwashers—we didn’t seriously consider any models with all-plastic tubs.
An important decision for many is the choice between a heat dryer versus a condenser dryer. Heat drying uses a heating element to raise the air temperature inside the tub, baking moisture off the dishes. A condenser dryer, on the other hand, does not add any extra heat after the final rinse is complete. Once water stops spraying around, the walls of the stainless steel tub cool faster than the metal or ceramic dishes inside; moisture evaporates off the warm dishes, condenses on the walls of the tub, and then trickles down toward the drain.
Condenser drying has some downsides compared with heat drying. The big one is that it doesn’t dry plastic very well. Plastic cools off much faster than stainless steel, so the moisture isn’t drawn away from plastic dishes toward the walls of the tub—instead, plastic just stays wet. If you don’t use rinse aid, even your ceramic and metal dishes may not dry thoroughly. You’ll also need to time your cycles so that you’ll be able to open the dishwasher within a few hours of the end of the cycle. Otherwise, residual condensation can drip back onto the dishes. In extreme cases, if you don’t open and unload the dishwasher within a couple of days, lower-quality metal can start to rust in this environment.
To the credit of condenser drying, it saves a bunch of energy and works very well with ceramic and metal.
Finally, dishwashers use either a filter or masticator for dealing with large food particles. Masticators grind up food and rinse it away. Mesh filters catch food particles and need to be dumped out.
The new Bosch 300 Series M is the best dishwasher for most people because it has all the most important features for a better price than anything else, and it comes from a brand with one of the best reputations in the category. It has the most flexible, capacious, and easy-to-load racks for the money, and it runs so quietly that you’ll barely hear it. Bosch has a years-long track record for making reliable dishwashers and backs them with a better-than-average warranty and service network. The 300 Series M is also very water- and energy-efficient, and it cleans as well as any top-tier dishwasher.
The 300 Series M is brand-new, released in March 2017. It’s essentially a newer, cheaper version of our previous pick, the Bosch 500 Series. While hardly any editorial reviews are available at this writing, we’re comfortable recommending the 300 Series M for the same reasons we recommended the 500 Series: The new version offers all the same important specs and features, similar efficiency, and what we strongly expect to be the same cleaning performance. If anything, the drying performance on the new model could be an improvement. If we were spending our own money, we’d get the new model. We’ll keep an eye on new reviews as they come out, and we’ll update this guide as needed with relevant info.
The Bosch 300 Series M has more rack space than other dishwashers at this price, and that rack space is flexible enough to accommodate loads of combinations of diningware and cookware at the same time.
The capacity rating for the 300 Series M is 16 place settings,1 whereas the average model is rated for more like 13 or 14. Even if you don’t plan to load so many dishes most of the time, that extra space still gives you lots of wiggle room to load your dishes loosely so that you expose all the dirty surfaces to the wash water, helping your dishes get clean. It also gives you more flexibility to load your pots and pans along with all your plates and bowls and utensils, with enough room for everything.
Much of that extra space comes from the third rack, a feature that is not common at this price. The rack has lots of little notches for securely loading utensils, but you can also use it for kitchen tools like spatulas, whisks, pizza cutters, and the like, as well as very small bowls or ramekins. It frees up a bit of room on the other racks for a couple of extra cups or plates, when you need the space. The third rack is also removable, if you occasionally need to load tall beer glasses on the middle rack. We’ve read dozens of owner reviews that cite the third rack as the best feature in a dishwasher. One reviewer writes on Best Buy’s website about the older Bosch 500 Series: “It’s wonderful for spatulas, wisks and all those other large utensils that used to take up half the top rack including sippy cup lids.” Another sign of its usefulness: Most brands now sell midrange dishwashers with a third rack, whereas a few years ago, only a few models from a few brands (including Bosch) had one.
The adjustable middle rack adds another layer of flexibility. Levers on the sides of the rack let it notch into three different positions—up a couple of inches when you need to make room for a pot or casserole dish on the bottom rack, or down a bit if you need room for tall glasses. Most others at this price have a two-position adjustment, with wonkier levers, and some don’t have any height adjustment at all. The 300 Series M’s middle rack also has a flip-down shelf, useful for making extra room for teacups or flat kitchen tools; it’s not a common feature at this price, though some other models do have it. And the middle and lower racks each have a row of flip-down tines to make room for large items—many other dishwashers at this price have that feature only on the bottom rack.
Running at a volume of just 44 dBA, the 300 Series M is as quiet as a dishwasher reasonably needs to be. That’s quieter than most people speak indoors. It’s one of the most affordable models under that threshold. On the Abt website, customer reviewer kimpin writes about the older 500 Series, which runs at the same volume, “The first night my wife and I ran it, we sat in the living room and just tried to listen for it. We couldn’t hear a thing.” On Best Buy’s site, customer Alulugbug writes, “I had to stand next to the dishwasher on my first try to make sure I had pressed the correct buttons to begin the wash.” Since the 300 Series M can be so hard to hear, most of the models with integrated (hidden) controls project a red dot on the floor nearby to indicate that they’re running. In this price tier, most dishwashers are in the high-40s decibel range, which is still pretty soft but just loud enough to hear from the next room over.
Bosch makes some of the most reliable dishwashers, at least in the short and medium term. The 300 Series M is brand-new, and we don’t have any reliability data for it. But the data for the Bosch dishwasher brand as a whole is very favorable. Currently Consumer Reports (subscription required) ranks Bosch as the most reliable dishwasher brand, estimating based on a reader survey that the company’s machines have only a 10 percent service rate within the first two years of ownership. J.D. Power, in its 2016 satisfaction study, gave Bosch dishwashers a score of five out of five in the Performance and Reliability category, the best of any brand. Our previous pick, the older Bosch 500 Series, also had excellent owner reviews throughout its years-long lifespan, which is a good sign of a reliable machine. The most popular version of the 500 Series (the pocket-handle, stainless steel SHP65T55UC) averages about 4.6 out of five stars across more than 10,000 reviews posted on several retailers’ websites. Other variants have similar ratings.
Among dishwasher brands, Bosch offers a better warranty than most. Parts and labor are covered for a year. From the second through the fifth year, the microprocessor or printed circuit board and racks (though not the cost of labor) are covered. And you get a lifetime warranty for rust-through on the tub liner. All of that adds up to stronger coverage than what you get from most brands, whose warranties top out at one or two years, though it’s similar to KitchenAid’s warranty and a step behind Maytag’s.
As far as long-term reliability, nobody can predict that, and we just don’t know if a Bosch dishwasher will last for more years than a KitchenAid or LG or whatever. If you had an old Whirlpool dishwasher that lasted for 15 years, that doesn’t mean a new Whirlpool will last that long—designs have changed so much since then. What we are willing to guess at, however, is that you should be able to find parts for your Bosch for the next 10 years, no problem. The conventional wisdom is that it’s easier to buy parts from domestic brands, and while Bosch is headquartered in Germany, the company has a factory in North Carolina where it makes most of the dishwashers that it sells in North America. So replacement parts don’t have to travel from overseas.
Because the 300 Series M is still new, we haven’t seen many reports on its cleaning performance yet. But as we’ve mentioned, all new dishwashers are good cleaners when you load them properly, with the right detergent. And the older 500 Series was about as effective as a dishwasher could get. Consumer Reports (subscription required) scored its washing as Excellent, awarding it an overall Recommended status. Reviewed.com’s testers rated the 500 Series a 9.9 out of 10 (up from an 8 out of 10 in an earlier version of the review) and gave it an Editors’ Choice award. And in an early review of a preproduction variant of the 300 Series M, Reviewed.com writes that “once again, Bosch gets the closest we’ve come to a perfect clean.”
All dishwashers are very efficient, and the 300 Series M slides right into the middle of the pack. It uses about 2.9 gallons of water per load in a normal cycle, beating the Energy Star standard of 3.5 gallons per load. (Dishwashers made before 1994 used about 10 gallons per load, and hand-washing consumes 27 gallons if you leave the faucet on.) Energy Guide (the yellow sticker) indicates that this model uses about 269 kWh of electricity annually, which is typical for midrange dishwashers, and just slips in under the 270 kWh limit for Energy Star certification. That’s actually slightly more energy than the older Bosch models used, likely as a result of the new drying option, which uses a little extra heat to speed up evaporation. A few midrange machines, and several very high-end washers, use even less energy (the lowest estimate we’ve seen is about 220 kWh per year), but very few use less water.
The 300 Series M comes in nine variants. Most of the differences are aesthetic. Throughout this guide, we’ve been linking to the variant with a stainless steel finish and a scoop handle with integrated controls (a panel on the top of the door, hidden from view when the dishwasher is closed). But black, white, and panel-ready finishes are available, as are bar-handle (integrated controls) and recessed-handle (nonintegrated) versions. If your water supply is hard (or mineral-rich, usually an issue limited to people living in rural areas or who get their water from a well), consider the SHXM63WS5N variant, which includes a tray for water-softening salts.
The Bosch 300 Series M hasn’t been available long enough for a pattern of complaints to start popping up in customer reviews. However, based on the known issues with the older Bosch 500 Series, and modern dishwashers in general, we can make a few educated guesses about the flaws that might bother owners the most.
Ineffective drying is the most common complaint about modern dishwashers, including the older Bosch 500 Series. Some background: Most modern dishwashers (including the Bosch 300 Series M) use a condenser-drying system, which can sometimes leave droplets of water, particularly on plasticware.
And all that said, the Bosch 300 Series M does have an extra-dry option. It’s still a condenser-dry system, but it boosts the water temperature of the final rinse cycle even higher than usual, forcing faster evaporation. Nobody has reported test results for this option yet, and we’re not sure if it fixes the plastics problem. But we will investigate it and update this guide when we know more.
Some owners have pointed out that Bosch racks make it tough to efficiently load deep, American-style cereal bowls. That’s a nod to the company’s roots in Europe, where bowls tend to be shallower. It isn’t that Bosch dishwashers have less space, it’s just that the tines are laid out for bowls with much less space in them. I have this problem with some bowls, and I skip tines to make them fit. It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s tolerable. If you think this issue will be a huge annoyance, our budget and upgrade picks might be a better fit.
Like the vast majority of new dishwashers sold today, the Bosch 300 Series M has a mesh filter to catch big chunks of food so that they don’t redeposit on your dishes or clog up the pumps or jets in your dishwasher. You’ll need to remember to rinse the filter about once a month, which takes about one minute. If you absolutely don’t want to deal with cleaning a filter, you can get a dishwasher with a built-in masticator (essentially a garbage disposal) like our budget pick, or with a self-cleaning filter like our runner-up.
For tips on how to resolve these common problems, read our section on how to use your dishwasher the modern way.
The KitchenAid KDTM354ESS is another excellent dishwasher, just made in a different style than our main pick. Like the Bosch, it’s quiet enough that you’ll barely hear it even when you’re standing in the same room, and it’s among the most efficient dishwashers available now. But the KDTM354ESS has an American-style heat-dry option if you insist on having warm, bone-dry dishes at the end of every cycle. It also has a self-cleaning filter, so you’ll rarely have to get your hands dirty or even think about maintenance. That filtration system also gives it an edge in cleaning stubborn, starchy food deposits. Though it has no third rack, as our main pick does, the KDTM354ESS boasts a power-washing zone that makes properly loading big pots, pans, and cooking trays easier. We stopped short of making it our main pick because, next to the Bosch, it costs $100 to $200 more on any given day, it has a smaller capacity, and it comes with a track record that isn’t as spotless.
The most likely reason that someone would want the KitchenAid KDTM354ESS instead of our main pick is that it has a heat-dry option. If you select the Pro Dry option, at the end of a wash cycle the dishwasher turns on a ceramic heating element and a convection fan to bake the dishes dry, sending all the evaporated moisture out through its vent. The function is handy if you’re particular about having totally moisture-free, warm dishes at the end of a cycle. Some readers pointed out to us that it’s useful for canning or bottling projects, too. Condenser-dry dishwashers such as the Bosch 300 Series M, however, still manage to get most dishes dry for most people and use less energy in the process. And KitchenAid still recommends adding a rinse aid to ensure clean, dry dishes, just as Bosch does.
The exciting thing about the KDTM354ESS, at least from our dorky perspective, is the filtration system. KitchenAid calls it Clean Water Wash, and as far as we know, it’s the only one of its kind. It has a couple of practical advantages. One, it’s a self-cleaning filter, so you don’t have to wash it by hand (and the filter has no moving parts to break, as a dishwasher with a grinder does). Two, it does a great job of preventing redeposit, which is when debris gets cleaned away from its original surface but ends up stuck on another dish. In a 2014 review, Reviewed.com praises the older (and very similar) KDTM354DSS for its anti-redeposit performance, which applies to this model as well. Most dishwashers don’t really struggle with this problem during an average wash anyway, but if you frequently deal with sticky, starchy substances like oatmeal, rice, or mashed potato, the KDTM354ESS should have an edge on other dishwashers, all else being equal.
If you want to geek out about a filter for a few minutes, watch this video to get an idea of how Clean Water Wash works. The gist of it is that the mesh filter is extra-fine, so it captures more debris midcycle. That design keeps the wash water cleaner for longer, which means it doesn’t need draining, refilling, and reheating as often as it would in a typical dishwasher. To prevent the filter from clogging midcycle, an extra pump pulls debris off the mesh filter and sends it out through a drain. Pretty neat.
Like any top-tier dishwasher, the KDTM354ESS is quiet enough that you’ll barely hear it running even when you’re in the same room. The machine operates at 44 dB, exactly the same level as the Bosch 300 Series M. Its efficiency is about equal to that of our Bosch pick, according to the Energy Guide sticker, though the heat-dry and power-washing options will use extra energy. And for what it’s worth, currently this is the top model overall in Consumer Reports rankings.
The KDTM354ESS has no third rack, so it holds fewer dishes overall than our main pick and gives you less wiggle room for proper loading (facing dirty surfaces toward a jet). Some owners have written that very large plates sometimes have trouble standing up straight on the bottom rack, because the tines are too far apart. On the plus side, this model has a power-washing zone on the back wall by the bottom rack. It may or may not clean stubborn, burnt-on stains any better than a typical wash-arm, and it uses some extra energy. But thanks to this design, you can more easily load casserole trays and pans so that water has a direct path to the dirty surface, and that’s what really matters for cleaning performance.
Reliability shouldn’t be an issue with the KDTM354ESS, though we’ve seen enough conflicting data that we can’t be positive. It has an average owner rating of about 4.5 stars out of five, based on about 1,000 reviews. That’s a strong score, and we can’t find patterns of obvious problems—the issues seem to be isolated incidents, due to an installation error, results of a misunderstanding of how the machine works, or just the effects of getting a factory lemon. (Customer ratings are a pretty good proxy for short- and medium-term reliability data, we’ve found.) The warranty covers parts and labor for two years and covers the racks through five years; both are above-average policies.
That said, Consumer Reports currently cites the KitchenAid brand as just middle of the pack for reliability (though the testing house says nothing about this particular model), and J.D. Power’s 2016 study gave KitchenAid a rating of four out of five in the Performance and Reliability category, whereas Bosch earned the full five stars in that regard.
We would spend our own money on the Bosch 300 Series M. But if you’re not okay with some of the design choices in the Bosch machine, the KitchenAid KDTM354ESS is another excellent model to consider.
You can still find the older KDTM354DSS—KitchenAid still lists it as a current product. It has a few aesthetic differences, runs 1 dB quieter, and uses about 3 percent less energy per year according to Energy Guide. Pick whichever one you like, or whichever one you can get on sale.
As we’ve said, almost any dishwasher will get most of your dishes clean most of the time, so you don’t have to spend $800 just to get a functional machine. If you’re willing to give up some loading flexibility and to deal with three- or even four-hour wash cycles, check out the Maytag MDB4949SDx. (The x is a wild card representing different finishes; it comes in black, white, and stainless.)
Quieter than most dishwashers at this price, this model is blessed with a phenomenal owner rating and backed by Maytag’s industry-leading warranty. It’s also a true American-style dishwasher, with both a heated-dry cycle and a food grinder.
The MDB4949SDx runs at about 50 dB, so it’s loud enough to hear from one room over if you’re listening for it, but it should blend into the background of your consciousness the rest of the time. It’s several decibels quieter than the average dishwasher at this price, mostly because it’s one of the few with an all-stainless tub—plastic tubs are the norm in cheap dishwashers.
Built in the style of old-school American dishwashers, the MDB4949SDx offers both a heated drying cycle and a food grinder. Unlike a filter, a grinder doesn’t need removal and rinsing, so that saves you a few minutes of maintenance per year. However, the grinder is one more moving part than can break, whereas a filter has no moving parts and can’t break.
Maytag has arguably the best warranty in the dishwasher industry these days, covering parts and labor for the first year as well as the cost of parts for the racks, grinder, tub, and liner for 10 years. And as it’s a Whirlpool brand, Maytag parts are always easy to find in the US. Moreover, based on what we can gather from owner reviews, the MDB4949SDx seems to be a reliable dishwasher, at least in the short term. (Determining how long something will hold up in the long term is basically impossible, though dishwashers aren’t all that complicated.) Maytag currently sits in the middle of the pack in Consumer Reports dishwasher-reliability ratings, but we’ve learned to take such rankings with a grain of salt since they measure brands as a whole, not individual products.
People who own the Maytag MDB4949SDx tend to love it, so the tighter rack space and louder running volume don’t seem to be a huge turnoff. It has a staggering number of positive reviews, averaging almost 4.6 stars (out of five) across more than 11,000 ratings posted on the websites of major retailers—one of the best overall scores we’ve seen for any appliance. Reviews generally mention effective cleaning, relatively quiet operation, and reliable performance.
What’s the downside? Some owners have mentioned that the automatic sensor wash mode can take up to four hours to run—that’s a long, long time, even for a cheap dishwasher. A normal load without the sensor takes two and a half hours, which is still longer than average.
No surprise: You probably won’t be able to load as many dishes into the MDB4949SDx as with our main pick or runner-up. Its racks don’t have as much built-in flexibility, such as height adjustments or folding tines. But in the bigger picture of dishwashers, this model has a totally average, perfectly serviceable rack setup.
While owners find the MDB4949SDx to be acceptably quiet, it is about 6 dB louder than our main pick and runner-up, which is a noticeable difference. You’ll probably have to raise your voice a bit if you’re carrying on a conversation in the kitchen while this machine runs.
The testers at Reviewed.com found that, no matter which cycle they used, the MDB4949SDx left behind bits of baked-on food and tended to redeposit particles onto dishes. That isn’t a huge surprise, since this dishwasher uses a grinder instead of a fine-mesh filter to handle leftover food. On the other hand, Consumer Reports rated it as an excellent cleaner, and judging from customer ratings, most owners don’t run into redeposit problems.
Small kitchens in cozy urban apartments are sometimes designed for compact, 18-inch dishwashers instead of standard 24-inch models. That extra under-the-counter space frees up precious room for storage. And if you live alone, or with one roommate or a partner, you might not need all the capacity of a bigger machine anyway.
Our pick for an 18-inch, built-in dishwasher is the Bosch 800 Series SPE68U55SS. It’s essentially a narrower version of our main pick, complete with a third rack. Just about everything we said in regard to the 300 Series M applies here, except that this compact model can’t fit as many dishes (10 place settings versus 16). It’s a relatively new model, so few owner reviews are available, but an older version of this compact dishwasher had an average rating of 4.6 stars across 42 customer reviews at the time we checked. In this model, Bosch even throws in a water-softener dispenser, which helps iron out performance problems with hard water, as you might have at a vacation home with a compact kitchen, for instance. Bosch also makes an 18-inch 300 Series model without the third rack, which drops the capacity to nine place settings.
We scoped out about 20 other compact dishwashers from Arctic King, Asko, Avanti, Blomberg, Danby, Edgestar, Electrolux, Fagor, Frigidaire, GE, Kenmore, Miele, Smeg, Summit, and Whirlpool. In the end, we found that Bosch is the best bet for a full-featured compact model that performs like the best standard-size machines without veering into the luxury price range.
Bosch makes a few other dishwasher series in our target price range that are pretty similar to the 300 Series M, if you decide you want the extra features they offer. The 500 Series M sits flush with cabinetry, the racks are on ball bearings so they should glide more smoothly, and the third rack can adjust to fit slightly deeper items, like ladles. The 800 Series M comes in a few different configurations, but they’re all a couple of decibels quieter. We like the models with the MyWay rack, which is deep enough to fit some bowls—it adds a lot of extra usable capacity to the dishwasher.
Older Bosch models are still floating around for the time being, including our previous recommendation, the 500 Series. They do not have the letter M in their full product numbers—that’s the easiest way to tell that they’re older. And the older versions have fewer features than the corresponding new versions. For example, the old 300 Series has no third rack and runs at 46 dBA, whereas the new 300 Series M does have that third rack and runs quieter at 44 dBA. None of the older models have the extra-dry option, either, which may help improve drying plastics. If you can get one of the older Bosch models at a discount and you don’t mind the few missing features, go for it. They’ve been out for years, and we know that they’re reliable.
The Bosch Ascenta line, including the SHX5AV55UC among many other models, is a tempting way to save a couple hundred bucks and still nab a Bosch dishwasher. We even recommended an older Ascenta line as our budget pick in a previous version of this guide. But the newer models are a bit of a disappointment: They don’t seem to dry as effectively as their predecessors did, probably because their tubs are a mix of stainless and plastic. As it stands, the Ascenta line is in a no-man’s land—too expensive to be a budget pick, too feature-limited to be in the top tier.
KitchenAid makes a few other models that we considered for our runner-up spot. The similar KDTE204ESS and KDTE254ESS are heat-dry models with a third rack, though it’s a shallower tray than the Bosch’s and doesn’t free up as much usable loading space. And neither model has the Clean Water Wash system, so the cycles use about 15 percent more water and energy, take longer to finish, and don’t have that slight cleaning advantage. But they are fine machines, if the feature set seems appropriate for you. The main difference between the two is operating volume—the 254E runs at a nearly inaudible 39 dB, while the 204E works at a still-quiet 46 dB. Meanwhile, the KDTM384ESS is the same dishwasher as our runner-up except with a window in the door. If you want to pay extra for that privilege, knock yourself out. None of the other KitchenAid models caught our eye—just not enough bang for the buck.
Tons of other dishwashers in the $700 to $1,000 range are adequate, even great, if you decide to roll with one of them. We had our eye on a few models from Electrolux, Frigidaire, GE, LG, Samsung, and Whirlpool, but many of them had some significant shortcoming such as poor reliability, and none of them had standout features similar to our main pick’s third rack or our runner-up’s filtration system.
Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect from other brands:
Whirlpool and Maytag (same company) make adequate, middle-of-the-road dishwashers, but they don’t go the extra mile with extra racking flexibility or forward-thinking cleaning features. That said, these brands make plenty of great wallet-friendly models, including our budget pick, the Maytag MDB4949SDx. We also considered the Whirlpool Gold WDF760SADW and the Kenmore 13222 (which Whirlpool makes for Sears) as potential budget picks.
Most GE dishwashers earn solid reviews relative to their prices, but none stand at the top of their class. The GE GDT580SSFSS, for example, looks like a decent midrange choice, with a strong review from Consumer Reports; a similar model scored decently on Reviewed.com, too. But it’s missing some loading options that make our Bosch top pick well worth the money. The best GE dishwashers seem to be in the over-$1,000 price range, which we think is more than you need to spend to get a great dishwasher.
Frigidaire makes a ton of decent midrange dishwashers, such as the Gallery FGID2474QF, that fall into the gap between budget-friendly picks and the top tier.
Electrolux is like a more upscale version of Frigidaire (the two brands belong to the same parent company). Reviewed.com loves the Electrolux EI24ID50QS, but we’ve read so many owner reviews criticizing its reliability—to the point where we can’t recommend any Electrolux models.
Samsung and LG are still relative newcomers to dishwashers. They each make a few particularly cheap models with good specs, and we briefly considered the Samsung DW80J3020US and the LG LDS5040ST (now discontinued) for our budget pick. Samsung also experiments with some interesting features at the high end of its lineup, such as WaterWall technology. But these machines don’t get terrific ratings from their owners (due to reliability issues, we think) or from expert reviewers. Both companies have made huge inroads into other appliance categories over the past 10 years by building great upper-midrange products with more features than competing models. So far, however, they haven’t yet found a way to change dishwashers as they have washers, dryers, refrigerators, or freestanding ranges.
Blomberg is a small brand that has been trying to gain a foothold in the US over the past few years. The dishwashers are apparently effective and pretty reliable, and the prices are fair. The downside, though, is that the company still doesn’t have a service network that we’re aware of, so if something breaks down, you’ll have a hard time getting it fixed. We know this is sort of a chicken-and-egg problem—it’s hard to build a repair network without a customer base, and it’s hard to build a customer base without a repair network. Here’s hoping Blomberg figures something out.
Then you have the truly upscale brands, such as Asko, Miele, and Thermador, as well as the Bosch 800 Plus and Benchmark lines. All of these models are good-looking, whisper-quiet, effective, efficient, and reliable dishwashers, just like our main pick and runner-up, but you’re really paying extra for the style and the label. It’s your call if you want to do that—fashion is outside the scope of this article.
If your new dishwasher isn’t working well or seems to be giving you trouble, try to tweak your habits before blaming the machine. Dishwashers and detergents don’t work like they used to, and old methods don’t always do the trick now. You need to stop pre-rinsing your dishes, and to start using rinse aid. If that doesn’t solve your problems, try switching detergent or using a different amount. You’ll need to do a bit of low-effort upkeep a few times a year to maintain the machine’s washing performance and prevent odors, too. The good news is that, once you get your new routine dialed in, you should be putting less effort into using your dishwasher than ever before.
Story time: Back in the day, dishwashers blasted the hell out of dishes. Tons of water, high pressure, very hot temperatures, strong detergent. Efficiency regulations kicked in during the 1990s, and over time dishwashers gradually became quieter, gentler, and thriftier with water and energy—and, some people would argue, less effective at cleaning dishes.
In 2010, the industry hit a choke point when regulations forced detergents to change. Phosphate salts used to be a major ingredient in dishwasher (and laundry) detergents. They’re fantastic cleaning agents, able to pick up organic residue and prevent it from redepositing on dishes. But scientists have argued since at least the early 1970s that phosphates in household detergents contribute to algae blooms in lakes and rivers, which can starve fish and other marine life of oxygen. Detergent companies continued to sell phosphate-based detergents wherever they were legal, but eventually enough states banned them that the industry ditched the ingredient altogether.
Everyone with a dishwasher noticed that the first phosphate-free detergents didn’t work well. But Cascade, Finish, and other detergent makers have improved their formulas, which are now based on enzymes, and dishwasher makers have figured out how to design their machines to work with enzyme-based detergents. To oversimplify: Enzymes, like those present in your digestive system, break food down into smaller molecules. They’re also biodegradable and easily removed from water.
It took a few years, but the industry has found an equilibrium. “Now it seems like the machines, the detergents, the energy ratings, the water-use ratings, the science is all in the same place,” Reviewed.com’s Keith Barry told us. “Today’s dishwashers are really cleaning better than anything out there and use less water. The key is that you have to use them properly, you need to load them properly, and use the right detergent.”
The biggest change is that new dishwashers work only when they have dirty dishes in them. This is great news! You don’t need to pre-rinse your dishes anymore. Seriously, you shouldn’t pre-rinse. Scrape solid gunk into the garbage, for sure, but leave some goop and crusty stuff on the plate. “If you put in dishes that look clean, your dishwasher is not going to run a full cycle,” noted Julie Warner of Warners’ Stellian.
Dirty dishes jump-start the feedback loop that drives modern dishwashers. Enzymes are basically inert until they come into contact with organic matter—that is, the dried marinara, globs of mustard, and bits of spinach stuck to your plates, bowls, and forks. So when your dishes are dirtier, more of the detergent activates faster, and the process of actually cleaning the dishes (rather than just getting them wet) begins sooner. But if your dishes are mostly clean at the start of a cycle, the detergent may not fully activate, and any residue may stay stuck on the dishes. The soil sensors will see clean water and register a false positive indicating that the cycle is finished.
If all this is news to you, know that you’re not alone. Pre-rinsing was part of the ritual, the Right Way to do things, up until about six or seven years ago. Now it’s completely unnecessary and actually detrimental to performance. Several Sweethome staff members were shocked to learn about this change, but they made the switch away from pre-rinsing and have not looked back. As owner brian c writes in a customer review of the Bosch 500 Series, “The dirtier the dishes, the better the result.”
Next, you need to load the dishes in the proper parts of the racks. If you position dirty surfaces away from the wash arms or nest them too closely together, they won’t get clean. “Every dishwasher comes with specific directions about how to load the dishwasher,” Chris Zeisler of RepairClinic.com told us. “If consumers would actually pay attention to that and follow that, they’d be much happier with how their dishwasher works.” You should aim the dirty surfaces toward the water source, which will usually be the wash arm in the center of the machine, though the design can vary if you have a high-end dishwasher with extra jets built into the tub or racks. Avoid nesting silverware and bowls too tightly, because water needs to be able to reach every dirty surface. When you’re loading big casserole dishes or pots, be mindful that they don’t block the water jets from reaching other nearby dishes. Beyond that, read the manual—directions differ from model to model.
Most important, experiment with the type, brand, and amount of detergent and rinse aid to find what works best for you. These cleaning options have a much greater effect on making your dishes sparkle than the dishwasher itself—a cheap dishwasher will clean well with the right detergent, but a great dishwasher will struggle with poor detergent. This topic is incredibly deep and deserving of its own article, and we have a lot to learn before we can claim to be experts. But we do have a few tips for now.
Always use rinse aid. Every new dishwasher has a rinse-aid dispenser, because rinse aid is essentially mandatory if you want your dishwasher to work well these days, according to every industry person we talked to. Rinse aid offsets the limitations resulting from gentler detergents and stricter efficiency standards—it’s just part of the deal now. Depending on the brand, rinse aids work by reducing the surface tension of water so that it slides off dishes more readily (preventing loose food from redepositing onto dishes in the middle of the cleaning cycle) and by binding with any minerals in your water supply, which tend to reduce the efficacy of detergent. As a result, with rinse aid your dishes are more likely to come out sparkling and dry, particularly if your dishwasher uses a condenser-drying system. If your dishwasher lives up to your expectations without rinse aid, that’s great. But if you feel like your dishwasher is struggling, your first step should be to add rinse aid.
If you’re having trouble getting a condenser dryer to dry your plasticware, Finish makes a souped-up rinse aid called Jet-Dry Turbo Dry, specifically meant to help dry plastic items in condenser-dry dishwashers. Or, if you’re near your dishwasher when the cycle finishes, you can open it right at the end of the cycle when the temperature in the tub is still pretty high. When it’s exposed to the room-temperature air, some of the moisture left on plastic dishes will evaporate.
Detergents are not all the same, so experiment to find one that works in your dishwasher with your water supply. In our interview, Reviewed.com’s Keith Barry suggested using whatever detergent the manufacturer recommends. Consumer Reports ranks dishwasher detergents, and (purely anecdotally) we’ve been happy with the testing house’s top picks. Powders, tablets, and gel packs have a wider array of ingredients than liquids and gels, and they tend to work more effectively as a result.
Hard (mineral-rich) water prevents detergents from working to their full potential. Most metro areas presoften their water, so this should be a nonissue for most people. But if you live in an area with a hard municipal water supply, or if your source is a well, you’ll need to find a workaround. The most foolproof solution is to install some kind of whole-home water-softening system, but that isn’t an option for everyone. Some dishwashers have a tray for adding water-softening salts. Rinse aid will also help offset water hardness, if you need another reason to use it. Failing that, most manufacturers provide guidelines for adding extra detergent to offset hard water.
Beyond the everyday techniques for proper use, a dishwasher needs a bit of upkeep. Without that, its cleaning performance will fade over the course of a few months, and it might start to develop odors.
If your dishwasher has a mesh food filter, clean it monthly, just as you should a washable vacuum filter. Some people hate the idea of dealing with a mesh filter, but it really takes only a minute of your time once a month. All you need to do is run it under the faucet, maybe scrub it with a sponge for a few seconds. If you put it off for too long, you’ll start to notice redeposited food on your dishes, and maybe even a musty smell. Give it a rinse, and it should be back in shape in no time. Some dishwashers have food grinders instead of filters, in which case no maintenance is necessary.
Warner and Zeisler both told us that they recommend running some kind of cleaner or citric acid through a dishwasher at least once every six months (more often if you have hard water). This procedure cleans out soap, mineral, and food deposits that can cause odors and water-flow problems. You can use a specialty cleaner such as Affresh, though Warner told us that sugar-free Crystal Light works fine, and you can even buy plain old powdered citric acid. When you use the cleaner, run it with a hot-water cycle. Zeisler added that it’s a decent idea to clean the rubber gaskets with diluted white vinegar and a rag at the same intervals, too.
Zeisler also suggested that it’s wise to inspect the sump area every year, if you’re handy. Random pieces of junk like bread ties and paper labels tend to pile up down there, and some odor-causing food bits and soap scum can remain as well. It’s one level below the filter, and RepairClinic.com has some helpful videos on how to clean it out (along with some how-to clips for basic repairs).
If your dishwasher really starts to suffer from performance problems, Zeisler suggests taking a look at the water inlet valve. “That’s the number one thing when we hear that a dishwasher’s not washing well,” he told us. “It’s very susceptible to being restricted by minerals and deposits. If it doesn’t let enough water into the dishwasher, the wash system suffers severely.”
Most brands have new dishwashers set for release sometime in 2017. Electrolux and Frigidaire (same company) claim that their new models, though still using the energy-saving condenser-dry method, will have ventilating fans to help improve the drying performance. Samsung will release some iterative updates to its line, too, and we’ve seen some new high-end models from LG and Whirlpool.
Originally published: March 22, 2017