The Best Dishwasher
After putting in 50 hours of research and interviewing numerous experts, we have learned that you don’t need to pay more than $600 for a dishwasher that will simply get your plates clean—as long as it’s loaded correctly. But it’s worth paying just a bit more for a machine that’s practically inaudible and easy to load. That’s why the Bosch 500 Series ($810) is the best dishwasher for most people. It has as much rack space and loading flexibility as dishwashers that cost $1,000 or more and is quieter than models in its own price range. Expert reviewers and owners alike praise its cleaning prowess and hushed performance, and it’s conservative enough with water and energy to pay for itself over its lifespan. What’s more, the brand is reliable, the warranty is strong, and it has a great service network.
That alone is reason enough to buy it over any other $700 or $800 model. Bonus points: At 44 decibels, it’s as quiet as a library and less noisy than most $1,000 dishwashers, too.
Unlike the traditionally American style of dishwashers, the Bosch 500 does not have a heated-dry cycle or built-in food disposal. This might be off-putting if you’re used to those features. But it doesn’t impact performance at all—if anything, we think that the Bosch’s European-style design is an upside. The condenser drying system uses no additional energy, and the mesh food filter won’t break down over time.
The 500 Series comes in at least a half-dozen configurations, but aside from a couple of nitpicky exceptions, the differences are purely aesthetic. The most widely available and widely reviewed model seems to be the SHP65T55UC ($810), which has a stainless steel exterior, a pocket handle, and a hidden control panel. Still, any SKU that suits your style is a solid pick.
Consumer Reports and Reviewed.com have both given Ascenta dishwashers excellent marks for cleaning performance, and CR even awards the line its Best Buy status. Bosch just updated the series in summer 2015; they’re even quieter now, down to about 46 decibels, but that’s the only major change as far as we can tell. Nobody has reviewed the new models, but we’re pretty confident that they’ll perform just like their predecessors—the design just hasn’t changed much, and Bosch has an excellent reputation these days.
If we had to pick a specific Ascenta SKU, we like the look of the SHX5AV52UC ($539), which has hidden controls and a white finish. But all the new models have the same basic specs—some put the controls on the front, some are black, some are stainless (those cost more). Pick whichever you like. And if you’re uncomfortable buying a new dishwasher that hasn’t officially been reviewed yet, the older Ascenta models are still available. They’re louder and aren’t any cheaper than the new ones, but they do have a proven track record.
In order to come to these conclusions, we talked with a half-dozen experts from across the industry, and their collective wisdom paints a surprising picture about the state of modern dishwashers. A few years ago, environmental regulations led to fundamental changes in the way dishwashers work. But nobody passed that memo along to the folks who use them at home.
As a result, people often use their dishwashers incorrectly. (Did you know you should NOT be pre-rinsing? Or that a rinse aid may be all you need to get your dishes dry?) Even if you’re not buying a dishwasher right now, you can probably learn to better use the one you already have. If you are buying, all the better—the newest machines are more efficient and effective, and easier to use than models from even just a few years ago.
Table of Contents
- Who should buy a dishwasher?
- Should I upgrade?
- How we picked
- Our pick
- Flaws but not dealbreakers
- The (cheaper) runner-up
- A great 18-inch dishwasher for smaller kitchens
Who should buy a dishwasher?
If you own your home, a dishwasher is a phenomenal investment. 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, while hand-washing guzzles about 27 gallons, and burns about 2.7 kWh to heat all of that water. If you run a full dishwasher every other day, you’re looking at saving about 4,200 gallons of water and 310 kWh per year, which adds up to about $50 worth, according to national averages.
Soap doesn’t kill germs—hot water does. Most dishwashers reach 160°F or hotter. 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 super convenient, especially now that prerinsing by hand is supposed to be a thing of the past (read What makes a good dishwasher and how to use it). Even if a dishwasher saves you only an hour per week—and that’s a low estimate—that’s more than two extra days per year you can spend doing anything else. Also, your dry hands and aching back will thank you.
But in 2012, Businessweek reported that the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers says 22% of owner-occupied homes in the US still don’t have an automatic dishwasher. Who are the holdouts? Money can certainly be an issue, and they aren’t cheap—$600 or $700 is the baseline for a really good model, according to experts we interviewed.
If you live alone, eat out for most meals, or otherwise just don’t have many dishes to clean, a dishwasher might not be necessary.
Then there are the folks who believe that dishwashers are pointless, wasteful, unnecessary luxury gadgets for lazy people. Hand-washing dishes is really not that difficult, so why spend hundreds on a box that sprays hot water? Cultural tradition can play a part in this attitude, as noted in a Washington Post article from 2005: “Some joke that not using the [dishwasher] is one of the truest signs of immigrant heritage.” Also, rental properties tend to have crappy dishwashers, and I know my experience with old and poorly maintained hardware led me to discount the value of these appliances for a few years.
Should I upgrade?
Dishwashers work differently than they did even four years ago. This is in part because of mandatory changes in dishwasher detergent formulas, which also prompted major changes in dishwasher technology (you can read more about this in What makes a good dishwasher).
But as long as yours runs well and gets the dishes clean, you should keep it. Duh! If it ain’t broke, it (probably) don’t need fixing, no matter how inefficient. (Caveat: Dishwashers before the 1990s used 20 or more gallons of water per cycle, which is pretty dang inefficient, but it’s unlikely that many of those are around anymore.) For the most part, it could take years for any incremental energy savings to offset the cost of buying a new machine.
But what if you’re unhappy with your current dishwasher? The answer depends on its age. Let’s leave it to a flowchart.
Basically, if you have a dishwasher that’s too old to work well with modern detergents, or too cheap to work well at all, you should consider an upgrade when it breaks down. In the meantime, if your dishwasher is running but not cleaning your dishes well, maybe your machine needs a bit of DIY maintenance.
Obviously there are exceptions, and our flowchart isn’t gospel—it’s there to help you start making a decision. If your 5-year-old dishwasher worked fine until its $80 pump broke, then just replace the pump. But if the cost of a repair makes up a big chunk of what you originally paid, you’re better off trading up. The good news is that modern machines work better with today’s enzyme-based detergents than older models do, so you should notice a performance boost right off the bat.
How we picked
Dishwashers range from small portable models for use in an RV, to huge power washers used in restaurant kitchens. In this article, we’re focusing on 24-inch, tall-tub models designed to be installed under a kitchen counter in a permanent residence, with enough room to hold at least 10 full sets of plates, bowls, glasses, cups, cutlery, and more.
Going into this guide, we knew we wouldn’t be able to test the dishwashers firsthand. Luckily, Consumer Reports and Reviewed.com already publish tons of great short-term performance results, and we can build upon what they’ve already found.
But there’s always more to the story than test scores, so we dug for details that the heavy hitters don’t cover: individual components, long-term expectations, and all the little differences between how you’d use a dishwasher at home and how they’re tested at CR or Reviewed. We weren’t sure what we’d find, but we hoped that we’d be able to supplement the conventional wisdom with better context for how these appliances will work in actual homes over several years. Worst case, we’d find that the testing houses do a near-perfect job, and then just make a meta-pick based on editorial reviews and user ratings.
We got in touch with a handful of experts from different parts of the industry: 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; and Chris Zeisler, an expert at RepairClinic.com with a few decades of field experience repairing machines. We also had some informal chats with product managers from a few dishwasher manufacturers.
So why do some buyers still complain that their new dishwashers don’t work very well? A dishwasher only works well when water can reach all the dirty surfaces, so that the detergent can activate and work its magic.
“If it isn’t getting the majority of your dishes clean, you’re doing something wrong, “ according to Barry. Along the same lines, Warner added, “It’s hard to say, ‘Your dishwasher’s not broken, your process is,’” but that’s often the case.
But don’t blame yourself—blame bad design. If most dishwashers work best when they’re loaded correctly, then loading a dishwasher should be an intuitive task, and the machine’s layout should offer many ways to arrange all kinds of dishes in all kinds of combinations. There should be some way to point every dirty surface toward a water jet, with enough space so that dishes and utensils aren’t cradled together. When there’s plenty of room for a casserole tray in the same load as plates, forks, wine glasses, and water bottles, a dishwasher will clean most dishes most of the time. This will ultimately save you time, frustration, and energy.
To start, the racks should make it obvious where certain dishes go, or even have multiple areas where each type of dish can fit. Adjustable racks, foldable tines, and removable silverware baskets add a lot of loading flexibility. A third rack for silverware and other cutlery, tucked away above the glasses rack, opens up a bunch of usable space for larger items down on the bottom rack—and Barry said that they’re starting to show up on more mid-range models.
Certain power-washing zones, particularly for big, grimy dishes, can also be very helpful. Warner said that some of her customers bring along their roasting pans or casserole trays when they’re shopping—those zones can be a big selling point. And since nobody really wants to dig through an instruction manual just to figure out how to load a dinner party’s worth of dishware, the loading directions should be easy to parse—even better if there are how-to videos available.
Though we think “loadability” is really important, it’s hard to measure without seeing a machine. Rather than poring over 100 dishwasher schematics, we first cut the field down to size based on some hard numbers.
Noise, or the absence of it, is crucial. Warner says quietness is the number-one quality that her customers look for in a new dishwasher. Some models advertise a certain decibel rating on the spec sheet, and Consumer Reports’ tests typically back up those figures. Barry said that the cheaper models can register in the high-50s decibel range, which is about as loud as a window air conditioner.
But plenty of mid-range models are in the mid- or low-40s, which is quieter than the background noise of a typical suburb at night. Barry said that although decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale, below a certain point there’s no need to stress about an extra decibel or two. “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,” he said.
Our experts recommended a handful of other baseline specs to look for. A stainless steel tub is a must-have. Compared with plastic, it dampens the volume of the dishwasher and lasts much, much longer. Warner said that a plastic tub is the surest sign of a cheap dishwasher, so we summarily dismissed any models without a stainless interior.
Nylon-coated racks outperform vinyl- and especially PVC-coated racks, because the coating doesn’t crack or leech over time, and nylon cushions dishes as they bump around during the wash cycle. Again, Warner says that all decent dishwashers have nylon-coated racks, and this made hacking away all the substandard models quite easy.
The sensor is the rug that really ties the room together, a key component in the feedback loop that makes modern dishwashers so effective. At regular intervals, the sensor shoots a infrared beam into the water stream, and if it’s turbid (a fancy word for dirty, in this context), it signals the dishwasher to keep working. Once the water is clean, the cycle begins to come to an end.
“We’ve tested a lot of dishwashers that are $700 and do as well as, if not better, than a $1,400 dishwasher,” Barry said. These machines are quiet, efficient, effective, and often smart enough to forgive some of your loading mistakes. They generally come in a stainless steel finish, which is considered an aesthetic step-up, though you may get to choose between a black, white, or custom finish (in this context, custom means that it accepts a panel to match the rest of your cabinetry, and it’s considered even higher end than a stainless finish).
If that seems like a steep price, remember that you can expect to have a good dishwasher for 12 to 15 years. It can easily pay for itself in water and electricity savings in that time span, and it will save you a month of labor, if not more. Worth it? Probably.
Once we had compiled a list of dishwashers that met our specs and pricing criteria, we cross-checked with expert reviews at Reviewed.com and Consumer Reports (subscription required). Their scores are often polar opposites—Reviewed.com’s top dishwasher, an Electrolux, got a middling score at CR, and one of CR’s favorite Kenmore Elite models got a mediocre rating from Reviewed. We did manage to find a few models that they could agree on. (Good Housekeeping does some appliance reviews, but their dishwasher section is wildly out of date, and they don’t have reviews for any current models that we considered.)
We also read as many user reviews as possible, looking for clues about loadability and any long-term quirks or frustrations. Google Shopping has the best data because it gathers user reviews from all the major online retailers into one place and plucks out the most common phrases and sentiments.
Once we got down to a shortlist of about five finalists, we headed to a few showrooms—Home Depot, Lowes, and Sears—to check out the dishwashers in person and get a better feel for what it’s like to shop for an appliance IRL.
For starters, the Bosch 500 Series has all the basic components you should look for in a decent dishwasher: a stainless steel tub for quiet operation and a long life; nylon-coated racks for a lighter touch on the dishes; and a soil sensor that can judge when the cycle should stop running.
At 44 decibels, the 500 Series will likely be nice and quiet unless you’re standing next to it. User reviewer Kimpin wrote at Abt, “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.” At Best Buy, Alulugbug wrote, “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 they can be so hard to hear,500 Series models with hidden control panels also project a red dot on the ground during a cleaning cycle, as a visual cue.
The flexibility and forgiving nature of the loading scheme really makes the Bosch 500 Series stand apart from other models in its price range. It’s the most affordable dishwasher with a dedicated cutlery rack (the mystical “third rack” you may have seen in advertisements). The extra rack sits a few inches from the top of the tub and has lots of little notches to lay out utensils on their sides. Cooking tools and small dishes such as ramekins can fit there, too.
One reviewer wrote at Best Buy, “It’s wonderful for spatulas, whisks and all those other large utensils that used to take up half the top rack including sippy cup lids,” and tons of other owners like her have called out the third rack as a favorite feature. Since all the littlest items have their own space, you can take the regular silverware basket out of the bottom rack to make room for more plates and bowls, and still load wine glasses along the sides of the middle rack.
Bosch says that the third rack adds about 30% more loading capacity to the 500 Series, at least compared with one of their two-rack models, like the Ascenta. In practical terms, it’s probably more like 15% when you consider that you can’t put plates or bowls in the cutlery rack. It’s rated for 16 place settings,2 which is the most we’ve seen at the price. But the Ascenta still fits 14 place settings, so go ahead and do the math. If you’re really into mini-soufflés, you’ll appreciate that you can wash a half-dozen ramekins and still have room for a dinner party’s worth of dishes, but the third rack will not be packed full every time you use it. And of course, it’s worth remembering that you can always just load your silverware into the regular basket on the bottom shelf, like you would with most other dishwashers.
The adjustable middle rack is another helpful loading feature on the 500 Series. It can move up a few inches when you need to make room for a casserole tray or baking pan on the bottom rack. A lever system controls the height, so you don’t have to pull the rack all the way out of the machine when you need to make an adjustment—it works even when the rack is already loaded. It’s not the smoothest adjustment system out there—Kenmore Elite and KitchenAid have slicker ones—but it gets the job done. The middle rack also has two rows of flip-down tines to help fit bigger bowls and a flip-down shelf for tea cups or other small items. Other dishwashers have more moving parts and extra baskets, but the basic geometry of the Bosch racks is obvious and unintimidating.
Cleaning performance from the 500 Series is as good as you’ll need in a dishwasher. Consumer Reports scores washing as Excellent. Reviewed.com says that while the normal cycle is on par with a solid $600 machine, the heavy cycle is about as excellent as they’ve seen from any machine at any price. Even the Express cycle is effective. Auto mode seems like the best bet most of the time. According to Reviewed.com, it can handle a mixture of “everyday soil levels” and “dried and baked-on stains usually found on bakeware,” generally without as much water as a heavy cycle would require (though about a gallon more than the normal setting). That’s thanks to the soil sensor, which tells the machine either to keep running or stop based on the turbidity of the water. And remember: You should not prewash your dishes. Scrape them, but do not soak or rinse them. Modern dishwashers work better with dirty dishes. As Brian C. points out in a user review of the 500 Series, “The dirtier the dishes, the better the result.”
The 500 Series’ control panel is pretty easy to grok, and Consumer Reports gives a rating of Very Good for overall ease of use. Pick one of the five main cycles, then add extra options as needed, like Delicates if you’re washing crystal; Delay if you want to run the machine in the middle of the night; or Sanitize, which heats the water to 162°F. The Normal, Heavy, and Auto cycles each take about two hours, which is typical for modern dishwashers.
Energy Guide and Energy Star peg the 500 Series among the most efficient dishwashers out there. It uses about 2.9 gallons of water per load in a normal cycle, which beats the Energy Star standard of 4.25 gallons per load. (Dishwashers made before 1994 used about 10 gallons per load, and hand-washing uses 27 gallons if you leave the faucet open.) Energy Guide (the yellow sticker) predicts that it’ll use about 259 kWh of energy, which costs an average of $27 per year. Some high-end models are even more conservative than this Bosch, but it’s great by mid-tier standards.
The 500 Series uses a condenser drying system, which contributes to energy savings. Rather than “baking” the dishes dry with a ceramic heating element, like American-style dishwashers do,1 Bosch lets the natural process of condensation do the work. The last rinse in a cycle uses especially hot water. When the cycle ends, the stainless steel tub in the dishwasher cools faster than most of the dishes, which are usually ceramic. As a result, the moisture evaporates off of the hot dishes onto the sides and ceiling of the cooler tub. (It’s the same reason that your bathroom mirror gets foggy when you get out of the shower.) Rinse aid (which is mostly ethanol) speeds up the drying process. It reduces surface tension in water droplets, which helps moisture evaporate more readily. Our experts all said that rinse aid is a must-use with condenser-dry dishwashers.
For what it’s worth, Consumer Reports ranks Bosch as the most reliable dishwasher brand. Among surveyed CR readers, only 7 percent needed repairs on Bosch dishwashers that they had bought since 2009. Of course, brands aren’t static, and reputations change. Less than 10 years ago, Bosch dishwashers were known for having circuit boards that crapped out real fast. But based on the information that we have right now, Bosch seems like a good bet.
When we take all the reviews and feedback about the Bosch 500 Series as a whole, it’s an overwhelmingly positive picture. It has Recommended status at CR, with an overall score of 80 (the best in the category is 85). Reviewed.com gives it an Editors’ Choice blessing, and its score at the time of writing is an 8.0 out of 10. And based on the scores at Google Shopping, it has an average user rating of about 4.6 out of 5, based on more than 846 reviews gathered up from the websites of several retailers. Owners praise it for good looks and quiet operation, easy installation (if you choose to handle that on your own), and great cleaning.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
If there’s one more feature we’d like to see in the Bosch 500 Series, it’s a pan-washing zone with fold-down tines. Reviewed.com’s tests tell us that the heavy cycle already does an amazing job of cleaning super-tough stains. But some Kenmore Elite and KitchenAid models, as well as those in the Bosch 800 Plus Series, have an area at the back of the bottom rack with fold-down tines to make it easier to load big items. Dozens of reviewers noted the lack of folding tines as a frustration. It’d be icing on the cake, but since the 500 Series is flexible, you shouldn’t have too much trouble loading a couple of oversize items per cycle.
It’s not exactly a downside, but the Bosch is a European-style dishwasher. That means the drying and food-disposal methods are different than those in dishwashers that many Americans are used to living with.
Also, the Bosch and other Euro-style washers use a mesh filter to catch big chunks of food before they clog your drain pipe. You’ll need to remember to clean the filter once a month, though that’s as easy as shaking it out over the garbage and running it under the faucet for a few seconds. Some American-style dishwashers instead use masticators (essentially a garbage disposal) to pulverize any food before it leaves the wash tub. Though masticators are more hands-off, Warner noted that they are “a bit noisier.”
It’s not a problem for most folks, but some owners have pointed out that Bosch racks make it tough to efficiently load super-deep bowls or large-diameter plates. This is another nod to the dishwasher’s European roots, where dishes are smaller and shallower. You shouldn’t have to replace your dishes when you buy a new dishwasher, so if you’re worried that your dishes might not fit, take a few to a showroom and see for yourself.
A legit flaw with the Bosch 500 Series is that, without the weight of the dishes to keep them secure, the racks tend to fall off their tracks when they’re empty. The height-adjustment system isn’t as intuitive as it could be, either. When we played around with it at Sears, we managed to raise the right side of the middle rack to its top setting, while the left side was still at the lowest notch. You’ll get the hang of it after a few loads, but it’s a good idea to glance at the instruction manual.
The (cheaper) runner-up
The Ascenta is a bare-bones dishwasher, but it cleans stubborn stains better than most other lower- or middle-tier models. Consumer Reports rated the last generation of Ascenta models as a Best Buy overall, with excellent washing, and very good noise levels and ease of use. Reviewed.com calls one of the models in the line “thin on features, but strong on cleaning.” The model they tested had some trouble with crusty milk and oatmeal stains, particularly on dishes placed on the edges of the top rack. User ratings tend to back up those strong marks for wash performance.
If you’re going to go this route, we think you should buy one of the new Ascenta models, released in summer 2015. Since they’re so new, they have not yet been tested by any major review sites. But we’re confident that these are basically the same appliances as their predecessors, with a few added improvements. We’re comfortable recommending them ahead of official reviews.
The new Ascenta models runs at 46 dB, which is quieter than an indoor speaking voice, and soft enough that it shines a red dot on the floor while it’s running, in case you can’t hear it while it’s on. Most user reviewers wrote that the older Ascenta models were very quiet, and those were 4 decibels louder than the new models. Other $600 dishwashers tend to creep up closer to 54 dB or louder (and remember that the decibel scale is not linear—60 dB is twice as loud as 50 dB, and four times louder than 40 dB), so the Ascenta is whisper-soft.
It’s a regular two-rack setup, with an adjustable top rack and a row of folding tines to accommodate large items. If you live alone or with one partner and generally don’t plow through too many dishes, the capacity is fine. The wash options are standard, nothing important missing but nothing fancy either. In other words, it’s a totally decent set of features. When owners point out a weakness, it tends to be that the build quality isn’t as solid as other dishwashers. But based on our (brief) in-store research, it’s on par with other models in the price range.
The 500 Series (our main pick) is totally worth the money, but if you’re looking to save a few hundred bucks, signs point toward the Ascenta as being the best you can do for the money, especially you opt for a non-stainless finish. Dip any cheaper than this, and you’re in real crapshoot territory.
A great 18-inch dishwasher for smaller kitchens
Our pick for an 18-inch, built-in dishwasher is the Bosch SPE5ES55UC ($810). It’s a smaller version of our main pick, the 500 Series. That alone is enough of a reason to recommend it. But we also looked at 19 other compact dishwashers, and this Bosch is the only reliable, full-featured model that performs like the best standard-sized machines, without veering into the luxury price range.
User ratings are stellar, averaging 4.6 stars across 42 reviews (when we count reviews for the SPX5ES55UC, which has a hidden control panel and costs $90 extra). It cleans like a champ and runs at a quiet 46 decibels, and has all the trappings of a typical Euro-style machine—condenser dryer, mesh filter, super-efficient water and electricity use. The upper rack has a set of folding tines, and uses the same RackMatic height-adjustment system as the 500 Series. Bosch even threw in a water softener dispenser, which helps iron out performance problems in areas with hard water. The warranty covers parts and labor for 1 year (standard in the category), plus the processor and racks through 5 years (a bonus, compared to other models). It’s missing a couple of wash cycles compared to the larger 500 series—no quick wash or delicates settings. But it’s almost everything we’d expect out of a standard-sized dishwasher.
Obviously, the compact Bosch can’t fit as many dishes as its 24-inch cousin. There’s no third rack, and it’s only rated to hold 9 place settings, compared to the usual 14 to 16 place settings. There’s no price break for the diminished capacity, either—18-inch models are treated like specialty products across the board. But it’s the best-designed, most-effective dishwasher at this size.
Let’s look at the other options: There are the luxury dishwashers from Smeg, Miele, and the GE Profile line, all of which cost at least $1,100, with no discernable performance or usability upside. No thanks.
Other small European brands, including Asko, Blomberg, and Fagor, make decent-looking machines. But not many people buy them so we don’t have good info on their real-world performance or reliability. They haven’t been lab-tested at Consumer Reports or Reviewed.com, either. And all of these brands are new to the US, which means that service can be hit-or-miss. (A few owners have had nasty words about Blomberg in particular.)
On the low-end, a few models look OK. There’s a built-in version of the Danby portable that we like, though the wheelie cousin gets better user reviews. Best Buy sells an Avanti-brand dishwasher, but we can’t dig up much info on it, and it just looks like a small version of a lower-middle-tier standard dishwasher. Ditto for the Edgestar, Summit, and Arctic King machines, all of which have extremely limited distribution.
So what’s left? The Whirlpool WDF518SAAW has decent specs, but it’s nothing we’d consider seriously if it were a full-size machine. The user ratings are middling, too. Same deal with the Frigidaire FFBD1821MW, Kenmore 14662, and GE GSM1800FWW. The Kenmore Elite 14683 has a bigger price tag, with no extra specs to back it up. The Electrolux EIDW1805KS has all the right features, but most user reviewers complained about poor reliability and iffy service. Then there’s the GE Profile PDW1860NSS, which looks solid. But it’s louder than the Bosch, with fewer racking options.
A good portable dishwasher
Portable dishwashers are an alternative to built-in units. They’re on wheels, so they can roll in and out of storage as needed, and rather than using a dedicated water line, they hook up to a faucet and drain into the sink below. Most models are 18 inches wide, though there are a few standard 24-inch models out there.
If you can install a dishwasher, do it. Over time, it’s less effort than rolling around a 120-pound machine before every wash cycle.
But a portable dishwasher is still better than no dishwasher, and the 18-inch Danby DDW1899WP-1 is the portable dishwasher you should buy.
By all accounts, this Danby is the best portable dishwasher available in the US, and a much better appliance than you’d expect for $350. We’d recommend it even if it wasn’t also the cheapest washer on wheels. It has all the specs you’d find in a decent $550 built-in dishwasher, including a stainless-steel tub and nylon-coated racks, and it runs at a reasonable 55 dB. It has a heated drying cycle and a mesh filter, and meets Energy Star standards.
User reviews are overwhelmingly positive—4.5 out of 5 stars based on 117 reviews, collected from several retailers’ websites. Sweethome editor Ganda Suthivarakom owned an older version of this dishwasher, and said that “a full load of dinner party dishes would come out sparkling clean.” This review from Rin76 at HomeDepot.com sums up the sentiments: “It’s a great little dishwasher for 2 people! It cleans everything really thoroughly, even stuck-on dishes. It is perfect for our situation (couple in an apartment). It’s counter height, so it adds valuable counter space in our small kitchen. It is also really easy to use and hook up! “
The DDW1899WP-1 hasn’t been lab tested at Consumer Reports or Reviewed.com, so we’re not sure why it works so well. The racks are fine, but nothing special—there’s a cup shelf and cutlery basket, but no folding tines, no height adjustments. It has a water-softener tray, which can really smooth out any performance problems in areas with hard water. (That also makes the Danby a solid choice to keep in a vacation home, which we learned from user reviews is a common reason to buy a small, cheap, portable dishwasher.) But hey, it works.
Admittedly, there just aren’t many portable dishwashers, period—we counted seven, a few of which look like rebadged versions of the same machine. With such slim pickings, you’ll have to put up with a couple of quirks from the Danby. The normal cycle takes about 3 hours from a cold start—that’s 3 hours that you can’t use your kitchen sink. But here’s a trick: Run the faucet until the water comes out hot, then hook up the hose and start the cycle. That’ll cut the cycle time by a half-hour or so.
A few owners pointed out that the Danby’s hose is pretty short—just 3 feet, so you need to put the dishwasher right in front of the sink whenever you run a cycle. Sure, it could stand to be longer, though draining it between uses would be more awkward. The real issue, though, is that the power cord is only 5 feet long. If you don’t have an outlet within 7 feet of your faucet, you’ll probably need to buy an extension cord. And in almost every case, the dishwasher will be sitting awkwardly in the middle of your kitchen whenever it’s in use. But it’s the same story with other portable dishwashers, and at least you don’t have to hand-wash your dishes.
The other conceivable downside is that, well, Danby isn’t as big of a brand as Kenmore or Whirlpool or Bosch, so it might not be as easy to get parts or service. But we don’t think that’ll be a problem. Danby is a Canadian company, and have had an office in the US since the early 1990s, so there’s at least some service infrastructure in place. They make all sorts of small appliances, most famously air conditioners. The DDW1899WP-1 has a 1-year warranty like most other cheap dishwashers, and for what it’s worth, we haven’t heard many complaints about reliability.
What other portables are out there? If you’d prefer a stainless steel finish, there’s the SPT SD-9241SS, which seems like a re-badged version of the Danby (exact same specs, same rack structure) for $50 extra. If that’s your thing, go wild—but remember, you’re going to have to wheel this thing around, which means touching the finish, which means fingerprints and smudges.
We thought about recommending the Kenmore 14659 ($530) instead of the Danby, because the cycle only takes 90 minutes. But it’s more expensive, it’s only available through Sears, and there’s no water softener, which means it’ll be harder to correct performance issues in certain areas. It would appear that this Kenmore is a re-badged version of the Frigidaire FFPD1821MW ($584)—but there is astoundingly little information available about that dishwasher, so we skipped it.
Then there are the 24-inch portables: The Kenmore 17159 ($620), the Whirlpool WDP350PAAW ($629), and the GE GSC3500D ($539). None of them are worth your money. They have plastic tubs, which is a sure-fire sign of poor quality. They all run in the 60-decibel range, which is louder than an air conditioner. The GE doesn’t even have a wash arm for the upper rack—to paraphrase a user reviewer, it’s a toy masquerading as a serious product. Even if you could use the extra space of a 24-inch portable, you’re better off getting the 18-inch Danby—it’s better at cleaning dishes, and will last longer, too.
Using the $810 Bosch 500 Series as a baseline, let’s take a look at what there is to gain or lose as the price shifts.
Spend more and the most useful thing you’ll gain is a specialized washing zone, like the pan-washing jets on the KitchenAid KDTE334DSS. Do targeted zones and fancy arms help get your dishes cleaner? Sometimes. But plenty of $700 or $800 models with the traditional design already clean as well as most people reasonably need.
The rest of the extra features may or may not be helpful. Pricier dishwashers usually have some additional racking options, like stemware clips or small-item baskets. They’re usually quieter. And most will have extra washing cycles or options. In most cases, it’s overkill. Come up around $1,100 and the extra features start to get a little silly.
After that, you’re either paying for feature bloat, or for a label. Miele, Sub-Zero, Viking, and others all make quiet, effective, sleek dishwashers, but they are seriously overpriced.
What about if we go the other direction? Cheaper dishwashers are louder. They don’t have as many racking options. As you spend less, the wash performance starts to drop off, and the machines break down sooner.
We looked at a few dozen dishwasher models for this guide. Rather than make dismissals, SKU by unmemorable SKU, we decided to look at most brands holistically, since most expensive dishwashers are just cheaper models with extra stuff added.
Kenmore Elite dishwashers are excellent machines, frequently ranked at or near the top of Consumer Reports’ ratings. Our previous pick for best dishwasher was the Kenmore Elite 12763, and we still think it’s a great appliance. But you have to go through Sears to get one. Sears is a decent-enough chain. The salesman at the Dedham, Massachusetts, location was patient and knowledgeable, and the store had a great appliance selection. They have some mega-sales from time to time—a $1,050 Kenmore Elite was on sale for $725 at the time of writing. But the company has its share of customer service complaints, and they charge about $100 more for installation than other chains. Competition is always a good thing for buyers, but with Kenmore products, buyers only have one option.
Electrolux as a brand isn’t known for dishwashers in the US, but it’s the parent company of Frigidaire, and in September 2014 it bought the GE Appliance division (pending regulatory approval). It seems like the company is making a new push for the Electrolux brand in the dishwasher category, adding upscale loading features to mid-range Frigidaire shells. Reviewed.com loves these dishwashers, and we considered making the bottom-end EI24ID30QS ($720) our runner-up pick because it has a neat spray-arm design and bottle-washing zones. But it’s a new model and there aren’t many user reports yet, and all things considered we’d probably just buy the cheaper Bosch Ascenta instead of this, if we couldn’t just get the 500 Series.
The Bosch 300 Series is awkwardly sandwiched between the Ascenta line and the 500 Series. It’s a quieter, more expensive version of an Ascenta, with none of the added loading flexibility of the 500. It looks like a good dishwasher, but its own linemates make it redundant.
Looking at the Bosch 800 Series, aside from an extra $100 and a large-item holder (which is basically an oversize tine to prop up a pot where the wash arm will spray it the most), there’s hardly a difference between it and the 500 Series. The 500 Series is totally capable of washing a pot or pan, so save your cash.
The Bosch 800 Plus Series is 2 dB quieter than the regular 800 Series and 500 Series, and it has a built-in water softener. It also has alternating folding tines, which allow for more flexibility for large pots and pans. Otherwise, it cleans and loads just like the 500 Series, and the difference between 44 and 42 dB is hard to notice because they’re both so quiet. So we don’t see a reason to shell out an extra $300.
Hey, big spender, here’s a tip: If you can’t sleep with a 44-dB dishwasher running in the other room, we’re sorry to hear that. But it seems preeeetty inefficient to buy a $1,800 dishwasher in the Bosch Benchmark Series just to shave off an extra 5 or 6 dB—you’ll be able to notice a difference when you’re mindful of it, but it won’t matter.
Some solid mid-range dishwashers can be found in the Frigidaire lineup. We gave some consideration to the Gallery FGID2474QF ($600) as a step-down pick. It looks like a cheaper version of the lower-end, two-rack Electrolux we mentioned above, without as many bells and whistles—no targeted wash zones, inflexible racks, and a plainer design, to name a few. But once again, we decided to favor the Bosch Ascenta, which is quieter, and both CR and Reviewed can agree that it’s quite good, whereas opinions are split on the Frigidaire.
Most GE dishwashers earn solid reviews relative to their prices, but none are quite at the top of their class. The Cafe CDT725SSFSS comes the closest—Reviewed and CR give it great marks for cleaning performance, and it has some cool, useful features like a four-blade wash arm and bottle-cleaning jets built into the top rack. But the Bosch 500 Series is quieter, has more broadly useful racking options, and is $300 cheaper. The GE Cafe also doesn’t have a pan-washing zone, which is what makes the KitchenAid KDTE334DSS the best bet for a step-up pick.
Elsewhere in the GE lineup, the GDT580SSFSS ($720) looks like it could be a decent mid-range option, with a strong review at CR (and a similar model scored OK at Reviewed). But it’s missing some loading options that make the Bosch 500 well worth an extra $90, and doesn’t offer much over a Bosch Ascenta, which is $100 cheaper.
The high-end Profile series seems excellent, but some models cost $1,500, which is just too pricey for a dishwasher. Cheaper models sell well, but we didn’t find any ringing endorsements. Big changes could be coming to the GE Appliance division over the next few years with the Electrolux acquisition.
Under the Whirlpool name, there are cheaper dishwashers from the same folks that make KitchenAid and Maytag. The Whirlpool Gold WDT710PAYH ($600) looked OK at first glance, with a 9 out of 10 rating at Reviewed and a crazy-low one-time sale price of $360. But it has a plastic tub, which is an absolute no-no according to the experts we spoke with. And at an operating volume of 55 dB, it’s more than twice as loud as the Bosch 500.
The Maytag line, which is also made by Whirlpool Corp., is made of mid-range dishwashers between the Whirlpool and KitchenAid lines. Most earn decent scores at Reviewed.com and Consumer Reports, but they blend in with the glut of dozens of other good-but-not-great models. The Jetclean Plus MDB8959SBB (“transitioned” to the MDB8969SDM) shows the most promise, with solid scores at CR and Reviewed thanks to strong wash performance. But it’s a bit noisy, and with only two racks and no special zones, the loading options are a notch down from the Bosch 500.
As for Samsung—can you imagine your dishwasher running on a forked version of Android? Sounds like a nightmare. We joke, we joke—these are totally ordinary dishwashers. They make some high-end models that we dismissed on price, and everything else falls into the mid-range glut, with middling reviews. According to Consumer Reports, this is also the least-reliable dishwasher brand.
The LG lineup is the same deal as Samsung, only slightly less prone to breaking.
Miele makes some amazing products. They look great, run quietly, wash well, and last for years. But the Bosch 500 Series does all that too, and even the cheapest Miele costs $300 more than that Bosch. Consumer Reports’ favorite Miele, the Futura Dimension series, starts at a whopping $1,700, yet has the same overall score (80) and recommended status as the $810 Bosch 500. If you want to pay extra to be able to show your neighbors the Miele label, go for it—it has the third rack, flexible loading, all that good stuff. The only practical advantage is a built-in water softener, and that’s not worth $300, let alone $800.
Thermador is another upscale brand with an excellent reputation. The Topaz and Sapphire series both earn the same high score and recommended status on Consumer Reports as the Bosch 500, but they start at $1,500. Like the Miele models, the only practical advantage over the Bosch is a built-in water softener, which just isn’t worth that much money.
Blomberg is a tiny Turkish brand. Reviewed.com likes one of their models, but it doesn’t seem like anything special, and it’s hard to find anywhere to buy it.
Asko is an upscale European brand like Miele, and once again, you just don’t need to spend this much to get a decent dishwasher.
What makes a good dishwasher (and how to use it)
In an ideal world, the best dishwasher completely cleans all of your plates, cups, bowls, pots, forks, and so on, every single time that you run it, using as little water and energy and making as little noise as possible. That machine doesn’t exist yet, but the industry is getting much, much closer to that goal.
Maybe the biggest holdup en route to that goal is that modern dishwashers require a bit more knowledge, understanding, and mindfulness from their owners than older dishwashers did.
Some context: Dishwashers used to just overwhelm the dishes, so nothing could stay stuck on. These machines were also loud and wasteful, and could easily break thin glass and stemware.
Over time, newer models becomes gradually quieter, gentler, and more energy-efficient. On the downside, power levels dropped off significantly as smaller motors replaced the half-horse monsters of yesteryear, and prerinsing became a common part of the washing process, which offset some of the efficiency gains. But, in general, dishwashers were working smarter rather than harder.
In 2010, the industry hit a choke point when phosphates disappeared from detergents. Phosphate salts are incredibly effective cleaners, knocking away organic residue and preventing it from redepositing on dishes. But it had been argued since at least the early 1970s that phosphates in household detergents contributed to algae blooms in lakes and rivers, which can starve fish and other marine life of oxygen.
States gradually started to ban phosphates from dishwasher detergents, but it was such an effective cleaning agent that the detergent companies continued to sell them in states where they were legal. Finally, in 2010, phosphates had become so widely prohibited that detergent makers gave up. It was too expensive to keep producing the old formula for fewer and fewer states.
The industry then switched en masse to detergents with enzymes. 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.
Everyone with a dishwasher noticed that new phosphate-free detergents didn’t work well. But over the past few years, Cascade, Finish, and other detergent makers have refined their formulas, and the appliance companies have figured out how to make their new dishwashers work better with enzyme-based detergents.
It took a few years, but the industry has found an equilibrium. “In the past 18 months, all the major manufacturers have come out with dishwashers that are almost 100% new,” Barry said, and it’s a change for the better. “Now it seems like the machines, the detergents, the energy ratings, the water use ratings, the science is all in the same place. 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.”
How to use your dishwasher—the modern way
In a nutshell, it means that you might need to change the way you use your dishwasher, if you’re used to the old methods.
The biggest change is that new dishwashers only work with dirty dishes in them. This is great news! You don’t need to prerinse your dishes anymore. In fact, as soon as you buy a new dishwasher, you need to stop prerinsing your dishes. Scrape extra gunk into the garbage for sure, but leave some goop and crusty stuff on the plate.
“Modern [enzyme-based] detergent uses food residue to activate,” Warner said. “If you put in dishes that look clean, your dishwasher is not going to run a full cycle.” Enzymes are basically inert until they come into contact with organic matter—that is, the dried marinara, globs of mustard, and crusty spinach stuck to your plates, bowls, and forks. That’s important to know, because if there’s not much gunk left on your dishes, the detergent activates very slowly—perhaps too slowly to introduce any significant turbidity into the water streams. The soil sensors see clean water, and register a false-positive that it’s time to shut down the cycle. It’s a feedback loop, and more dirty is mo’ betta.
Next, the dishes need to be loaded properly. “Every dishwasher comes with specific directions about how to load the dishwasher,” Zeisler said. “If consumers would actually pay attention to that and follow that, they’d be much happier with how their dishwasher works.” Common sense is a great place to start: Aim the dirty surfaces toward the center of the machine, toward the wash arm. Leave enough space between items for water to blast in. Try not to block the water jets’ path with, for instance, a meatloaf tray. Beyond that, read the manual—directions vary from model to model.
To generalize a bit, the best models design their racks so that the tines read like a blueprint for what dishes go where. Plates go between the tall tines with minimal spacing. Glasses fit in the recessed area along the sides of the top shelf. A row (or sometimes segments) of folding tines is a hint that big stuff goes here, when you need it. The racks on cheaper dishwashers don’t offer much guidance. On the Amana dishwasher pictured below, the bottom rack is comprised entirely of straight, evenly spaced tines—no hints about where it’s best to put a pot or pan, or which way you should angle the plates. There aren’t any adjustable options like folding rows or stemware clips either.
Barry says it’s also a good idea to use whatever detergent the manufacturer recommends. Some machines aren’t made to work with tablets, for instance. It’s not just marketing—there are actual differences between the detergents, and given the complicated nature of today’s machines, it’s likely that some machines are designed to work with certain formulas.
Also, rinse aid makes a big difference in how dry your dishes are at the end of a cycle. Where older dishwashers would “bake” dishes dry at the end of a cycle with a heating element, many models now use condenser drying systems, mostly for the sake of efficiency. Rinse aid helps water droplets bead up and roll off of dishes, kind of like Rain-X on a car windshield.1
And finally, you may need to soften your water—that is, balance or remove the mineral content. Phosphates doubled as water softeners, but enzymes don’t. This all depends on where you live. In many major metro areas, tap water is pre-softened anyway. But some areas have mineral-rich water supplies, and if your source is a well, you almost certainly need to add a water softener. Some dishwashers have a built-in softener, but it’s a luxury feature.
Care and maintenance
Beyond the everyday techniques for proper use, dishwashers need a little bit of upkeep.
If your dishwasher has a mesh food filter, clean it monthly, just like you should with a washable vacuum filter. (Some dishwashers have food grinders instead of filters, in which case no maintenance is necessary.)
If you’re handy, Zeisler said it’s wise to inspect the sump area every year. Random crap like bread ties and paper labels tend to pile up down there. It’s one level below the filter, and RepairClinic.com has some helpful videos on how to go about cleaning it out (along with some how-to clips for basic repairs).
If your dishwasher really starts to run into 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 said. “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.”
What to look forward to
When you think about it, a dishwasher is a box that sprays hot, soapy water. For such a simple concept, it’s fascinating that engineers keep finding ways to improve on the old designs. As we covered above, the industry quickly adapted to the demands of tough environmental regulations. Where do they go from here?
Keith Barry of Reviewed.com said that we can look out for “exciting wash-arm tech.” Some high-end models already have experimental designs. Some Kenmore Elite washers have a 360 PowerWash Plus feature, which is basically the wash-arm version of a tilt-a-whirl carnival ride. The Samsung WaterWall does away with the wash arm entirely—picture the Bellagio’s fountains, but on a moving track. GE even built bottle-washing jets into the top rack of one of their dishwashers. Chris Zeisler of RepairClinic.com said that since the goal of any dishwasher is to achieve 100% water coverage, the designers will do “anything to get an advantage. That’s kind of the war—whoever can come up with the coolest stuff to clean.”
We don’t anticipate any major changes in state regulations on dishwasher detergent formulas, so any incremental advances in that area shouldn’t affect machine technology the way phosphate removal did.
Wrapping it up
The Bosch 500 Series cleans anything, fits a ton of stuff of all shapes and sizes, and is easy to use the right way. It’s got everything we’d expect to see in an $1,100 model, but it only costs $810—not bad for something that’s there to clean up your mess every day for a decade. It’s the dishwasher that we’d buy, and we think you should, too.
Appliances Editor at Reviewed.com, Phone Interview, 2014,
Marketing Manager at Warners' Stellian Appliance Co., Phone Interview, 2014,
Appliance Expert at RepairClinic.com, Phone Interview, 2014,
Dishwasher Ratings, Reviewed.com
Dishwasher Ratings, Consumer Reports
A Historical Perspective of the Phosphate Detergent Conflict, Conflict Research Consortium at University of Colorado Boulder, 1994,
Washing Their Hands of the Last Frontier, Washington Post, 2005,
Will More Britons Buy Dishwashers?, Bloomberg Businessweek, 2012,
Residential Dishwasher Introduction, Alliance for Water Efficiency
New Detergents Arrive, Consumer Reports, 2010
Cleaner for the Environment, Not for the Dishes, The New York Times, 2010,
Originally published: September 29, 2014