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.

Last Updated: September 28, 2014
After 50 hours of research and interviews with experts, we’ve decided the Bosch 500 series is the best dishwasher for most people. It has as much rack space and loading flexibilities as dishwashers that cost $1,000+, plus it's quieter than any other models in its price range.
Expand Previous Updates
December 16, 2013: Setting this guide to wait status while we work on making sure it's up-to-date. Our picks are still good for now, but we're doing some additional testing.
June 25, 2013: Sears upped the price of our favorite Kenmore dishwasher, so we did some research and added some alternatives that are great deals to the end of this article.

The Bosch 500 Series dishwasher cleans as well as any dishwasher, but beats its peers with whisper-quiet cycles and flexible loading options, including a third rack.
The main feature that sets the Bosch 500 Series apart from other mid-tier dishwashers is the third rack for cutlery—it’s the cheapest model that we could find that included one. It opens up enough room on the bottom rack to fit two more place settings2 compared to other two-rack models in this price range. That extra space allows more latitude to load the dishes correctly—facing the jets, with enough space between each item for water to get in.

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.

Also Great
The Bosch Ascenta series has a smaller capacity and cheaper build than the 500 Series, but still does an excellent job cleaning dishes. It’s just not as quiet and lacks the third rack that we love so much.
If our main pick is unavailable, or if you want to save a few bucks and don’t think you’ll need as much rack space (keep in mind that you should have this for at least 8 years), then check out the Bosch Ascenta. It has a typical two-rack setup and is noticeably louder than the 500 Series (though still as quiet as a conversation at home), but Consumer Reports and Reviewed.com both give it excellent marks for cleaning performance. Despite being louder than our main pick, it does run a few decibels quieter than most machines running about $600.

CR really goes to bat for it, awarding it its Best Buy status. Among the dozen or so individual SKUs, we like the look of the SHX4AT55UC ($630) because it has adjustable racks, a stainless finish, and hidden controls. But all of the options are reasonably quiet, attractive, and feature-balanced, and some of the non-stainless versions can sell for as cheap as $500.

Also Great
Lots of oversize pots and pans? The KitchenAid KDTE334DSS takes everything we like about the Bosch 500 Series and adds a specialized power-washing zone for an extra $180. It’s more than most people need, though.
If you have a bigger family, or are an active home cook, then consider stepping up to the KitchenAid KDTE334DSS ($989), part of the Architect II Series. In addition to the features that make the Bosch 500 excellent, the KitchenAid adds a pan-washing zone made of a bunch of targeted jets built into the back wall of the wash tub. It helps blast away stubborn stuff like burnt cheese, and our experts agree that it’s a useful feature.

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?

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.

But these perceptions don’t reflect reality. A good, modern machine washes dishes more effectively and efficiently than any person could hope to.

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.

flowchartBasically, 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.

“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% of the dishes come out 100% clean…” – Keith Barry
The most important takeaway from the interviews was that most of today’s dishwashers do a hell of a job when they’re used correctly. At Reviewed.com, almost all of the dishwashers that they had tested passed the 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% of the dishes come out 100% clean, probably even more than that,” Barry said.

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.

Dishwashers with stainless steel tubs are quieter and will last longer than models with plastic tubs.

Dishwashers with stainless steel tubs are quieter and will last longer than models with plastic tubs.

A soil sensor (or turbidity sensor) is another mandatory feature.
A soil sensor (or turbidity sensor) is another mandatory feature. It lets your dishwasher “see” whether your dishes are still dirty and adjusts the cleaning times accordingly. Without one, your dishwasher is dumb, blindly firing jets of hot, soapy water for a predetermined amount of time. For years, that’s how all dishwashers worked—they power-washed until there was no chance that any residue was left. But new environmental regulations mean that dishwashers can’t use nearly as much water or electricity as they used to. The active ingredient in detergent has changed as well, which has a major effect on how new machines are supposed to work—more on that later.

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.

So how much is a reasonably quiet dishwasher with a soil sensor, stainless steel tub, and nylon coated-racks? All the experts we talked with put the sweet spot in the $700 to $800 range.
So how much is a reasonably quiet dishwasher with a soil sensor, stainless steel tub, and nylon coated-racks? All the experts we talked with put the sweet spot in the $700 to $800 range. It’s the point where manufacturers step up from the cheapo frames, but haven’t loaded down the platform with pointless features.

“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.

Our pick

The Bosch 500 Series dishwasher cleans as well as any dishwasher, but beats its peers with whisper-quiet cycles and flexible loading options, including a third rack.
The Bosch 500 Series is the best dishwasher for most people because it’s easy to load, as quiet as a library, has a space-saving third rack, and uses a soil sensor to get your dishes as clean as any other dishwasher can. Consumer Reports (subscription required) ranks Bosch the most reliable brand of dishwashers with the fewest reported repairs. There aren’t any silly bells and whistles to drive up the cost, so you’re basically getting a premium appliance at a mid-range price.

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.

2_decibelsAt 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.

…if a 44-dB machine is functionally silent, what’s the point of a 39-dB machine?
In this price range, most dishwashers tend to run closer to 50 dB. Higher-end models get even quieter than the 500 Series, but as Keith Barry from Reviewed.com pointed out to us, if a 44-dB machine is functionally silent, what’s the point of a 39-dB machine?

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.

A major reason that a dish will stay dirty during a cleaning cycle is that it was packed up next to another dish, and the water jets couldn’t get to it.
Extra space is useful on its own merits—it’s awesome that you can wash more dishes with the same soap, water, power, and time. But it goes deeper than that. A major reason that a dish will stay dirty during a cleaning cycle is that it was packed up next to another dish, and the water jets couldn’t get to it. When there’s more room for dishes, you’re less likely to stuff them in too tight. The same goes for utensils. In a poorly loaded silverware basket, spoons can cradle together. In this cutlery rack, that’s basically impossible.

In the third rack, utensils get notched slots for sitting on their sides, adding about 15% more loading capacity vs. a two-rack model.

In the third rack, utensils get notched slots for sitting on their sides, adding about 15% more loading capacity vs. a two-rack model.

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.

4_normal_heavy_autoEnergy 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.

Our experts all said that rinse aid is a must-use with condenser-dry dishwashers.
Bosch also offers one of the better warranties among dishwasher companies. Parts and labor are covered for a year. From the second through fifth year, the microprocessor or printed circuit board and racks are covered, though not labor. And there’s a lifetime warranty for rust-through on the tub liner. A few other mid-tier brands match this warranty, topping out at one or two years, and we didn’t find any others that beat it. Bosch has a pretty big presence in North America now (they even make a bunch of their dishwashers in the US, including the 500 Series and Ascenta models), so it shouldn’t be difficult to find somebody to repair one.

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 4.5 out of 5, based on more than 550 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.

All told, the Bosch 500 Series is the most compelling dishwasher out there. It cleans well, it’s quiet, and it has racking features you didn’t realize you’d want, all for a palatable price.

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.

…we mentioned the Euro-style condenser drying system as an upside, not everyone will see it that way.
American-style washers heat-dry their dishes using a heating element. It’s faster and is basically guaranteed to get any dish bone-dry. Condenser drying doesn’t work all that well with plastic items (they cool too fast), and sometimes droplets of water can dribble back onto your dishes. And if you don’t use rinse aid, the drying barely works at all. Ineffective drying is the most common complaint about the 500 Series in user reviews, even among owners who have figured out that rinse aid is a necessity. (Of course, you can always just open the door and let the dishes air dry, if you have the time to spare.) So although we mentioned the Euro-style condenser drying system as an upside, not everyone will see it that way.

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.”

European-style dishwashers like the Bosch 500 Series use mesh filters to catch food particles, rather than a grinder to pulverize them.

European-style dishwashers like the Bosch 500 Series use mesh filters to catch food particles, rather than a grinder to pulverize them.

We also read a fair share of complaints about the racking system, pointing out that the bottom rack doesn’t accommodate glasses or that bowls wobble around on the top shelf. Remember how we said that dishwashers only work well when they’re loaded correctly? These are textbook examples of not following directions, or at least of making the mistake to expect that a new dishwasher should work exactly like an older dishwasher.

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

Also Great
The Bosch Ascenta series has a smaller capacity and cheaper build than the 500 Series, but still does an excellent job cleaning dishes. It’s just not as quiet and lacks the third rack that we love so much.
There are plenty of decent dishwashers for less than $800. If you’re comfortable giving up the flexibility of a third rack from our top pick and willing to live with a slightly louder machine, check out Bosch’s entry-level line, the Ascenta series. Our SKU of choice is the SHX4AT55UC ($630).

The Ascenta is a bare-bones dishwasher, but it cleans stubborn stains better than most other lower- or middle-tier models. Consumer Reports rates 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.

Our favorite Ascenta, the SHX4AT55UC, runs at 49 dB, which is about the volume of an indoor speaking voice. Most user reviewers noted it as very quiet. Other Ascenta models run at 50 dB, though $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).

It’s a regular two-rack setup, with an adjustable top rack and a row of folding tines on both the top and bottom 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 pretty standard—Normal, Auto, Heavy, Delicates, and Express, with options for Sanitize or Delay on any of those. 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 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 about $600, or even $500, if you opt for a non-stainless finish. Dip any lower than that, and you’re in real crapshoot territory.

A pick for bigger families or serious home cooks

Also Great
Lots of oversize pots and pans? The KitchenAid KDTE334DSS takes everything we like about the Bosch 500 Series and adds a specialized power-washing zone for an extra $180. It’s more than most people need, though.
For larger families or serious home cooks with lots of large dishes that have tough stains, the KitchenAid Architect II Series KDTE334DSS ($989) is worth the extra money.

Reviewed.com recently awarded their Editors Choice badge to a similar model in the Architect II Series, and Consumer Reports rates it as Excellent for its cleaning performance. At Google Shopping, it has an average user rating of about 4.5 based on 96 reviews, which tend to point out its quiet operation, effective performance, and ease of loading as the biggest upsides. The KDTE334DSS has a full third rack and most of the other features that make us love the Bosch 500 Series.

6_full_loadThe stand-out feature on this KitchenAid is the power-washing zone for pans, trays, and other large items that tend to pick up really stubborn stains in the line of duty (they call it PowerScrub). The back of the tub has a 40-jet array that sprays the hell out of any dish pointed toward it, no pre-scrubbing necessary.

The back of the tub has a 40-jet array that sprays the hell out of any dish pointed toward it, no pre-scrubbing necessary.
Is it more effective than the heavy cycle on the 500 Series? Both seem likely to clean pots equally well when they’re loaded correctly. The targeted zone on the KitchenAid just makes it almost impossible to load big stuff the wrong way. So if you frequently wash a lot of big, dirty stuff, you might appreciate the peace of mind and targeted performance here.

The rack adjustment system on the KitchenAid is smoother and more intuitive than on Bosch’s. To change heights, you lift a tab along the side of the rack and glide the rack to the desired height. It’s not a deal-sealer, but it’s a nice touch. It also has a few extra, potentially helpful clips and baskets not on the Bosch 500, including four light-item clips, a small-item basket, and a standard silverware basket with a sliding cover.

Unlike the Bosch, the KitchenAid uses a heated-dry system. This design tends to dry dishes quicker than a condenser system. But the heating element uses more energy and can have some unintended side effects—if anything plastic falls and lands on an exposed heating element, it can melt and cause a stink.

The other anomaly worth noting is that Consumer Reports gave the KDTE334DSS a meh overall score of 68. We think that’s really odd. CR lists four models tied for first place, with an overall score of 85. Guess what: One of them is the KitchenAid KDTM354DSS, which is essentially the KDTE334DSS with a handful of extra features. The discrepancy is in the “ease of use” score, which “considers convenience of controls, the ability to hold extra place settings and oversize items such as platters up to 13½ in. long and Pilsner-type glasses up to 10 in. high.” We checked, and the control panels are almost identical, and they both hold long items, no problem. The third rack on the 334 could make it more difficult to load a tall pilsner glass because the middle rack doesn’t have as much clearance. But the top (third) rack pops right out of its frame, opening up plenty of room for beer mugs.

What’s more, when we scoped out dishwashers at Sears, it’s plain that Kenmore Elite dishwashers are made with most of the same parts on the same assembly line as KitchenAid machines. The other three top-scoring models (and most of the top 10) at CR are Kenmore Elite dishwashers, too. Many of those have a similar rack system and control panel as the KitchenAid KDTE334DSS, yet none got punished for mediocre ease of use.

So we can’t figure out why CR rated the KDTE334DSS so low—it seems like a scoring error. When we reached out to CR for comment, we were told that they don’t provide score details about specific products.

We’d still recommend the Bosch 500 Series to most buyers because it’s $200 cheaper and will be just as effective in almost every situation. But if the pan-washing zone sounds like something you need and would be willing to pay for, then go for it.

What about portables?

Sometimes, a traditional built-in dishwasher is out of the question. Kitchens don’t always have enough under-counter space to fit one. Maybe you want a dishwasher in your apartment, but the landlord won’t pay for one.

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 hook up to a faucet rather than a dedicated water line. 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 it’s not an option for everybody. We haven’t spent much time researching portables yet, but we plan on updating this guide with a pick in the fall of 2014.

The competition

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.

Now [pre-rinsing] is completely unnecessary, and actually detrimental to performance.
If this is news to you, you’re not alone. It shocked Sweethome editors Jacqui Cheng and Ganda Suthivarakom. If you grew up with a dishwasher, pre-rinsing was part of the ritual—the Right Way to do things. Now it’s completely unnecessary, and actually detrimental to performance.

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.)

Specialty dishwasher cleaners are available, though Warner said that Tang or Crystal Light work fine.
Warner and Zeisler recommend running some kind of citric acid through your dishwasher at least once every six months (more often if you have hard water). This cleans out the soap and mineral deposits that form in water jets and keeps everything flowing smoothly. Specialty dishwasher cleaners are available, though Warner said that Tang or Crystal Light work fine. Zeisler added that it’s a decent idea to clean the rubber gaskets with white vinegar and a rag at the same intervals, too.

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.

What about portable or smaller models?

Sometime in the fall of 2014, we’re planning on making a pick for a portable dishwasher (the kind on wheels that hook up to a faucet), as well as an 18-inch built-in model, for all the big-city, small-apartment dwellers. We’ll also look into the mini countertop machines, though we don’t have high hopes.

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.

Footnotes

1. American-style vs. Euro-style dishwashers

Dishwasher designs have traditionally fallen into two schools. American-style dishwashers use a grinder (or masticator) to get rid of food particles, contain a heating element for drying dishes and making hot water, and have larger tubs. Euro-style dishwashers have a mesh filter for food particles, use condenser drying systems, and generally washed with less water. For years there was this very clear divide. Now, while you can still find both styles, the Euro school’s influence has grown because their machines tend to be quieter and more efficient. Either kind of dishwasher is totally capable of efficiently cleaning and drying your dishes—owners just need to be aware of the differences and adjust their behavior accordingly. Brands that have traditionally made American-style machines are starting to adopt Euro features because they use less energy, even if it is just a few kilowatt-hours per year on average. They also have fewer moving parts to break—masticators, for example, don’t stand up well to “bone, seed, pit, or anything like that,” Zeisler said. Barry covers the topic more in-depth in an article over at Reviewed.comJump back.

2. Place settings

A place setting is an industry standard measurement of the “unit” of dishes and utensils one person uses at dinner. It’s a quaint concept, especially to those of us who have been known to eat last night’s leftovers out of a tupperware container, while sipping beer out of a can. But it’s really just a framework for measuring capacity in relatable terms. One place setting includes:

  • Dinner plate
  • Dessert plate
  • Glass tumbler
  • Tea cup
  • Saucer
  • Knife
  • Fork
  • Soup spoon
  • Dessert spoon
  • Teaspoon
  • Bowl
  • One serving bowl and serving spoon for every three or four place settings

Jump back.

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Sources

  1. Keith Barry, Appliances Editor at Reviewed.com, Phone Interview, 2014
  2. Julie Warner, Marketing Manager at Warners' Stellian Appliance Co., Phone Interview, 2014
  3. Chris Zeisler, Appliance Expert at RepairClinic.com, Phone Interview, 2014
  4. Dishwasher Ratings, Reviewed.com
  5. Dishwasher Ratings, Consumer Reports
  6. Chris Knud-Hansen, A Historical Perspective of the Phosphate Detergent Conflict, Conflict Research Consortium at University of Colorado Boulder, 1994
  7. Phoung Ly, Washing Their Hands of the Last Frontier, Washington Post, 2005
  8. Matthew Boyle, Will More Britons Buy Dishwashers?, Bloomberg Businessweek, 2012
  9. Residential Dishwasher Introduction, Alliance for Water Efficiency
  10. New Detergents Arrive, Consumer Reports, 2010
  11. Mireya Navarro, Cleaner for the Environment, Not for the Dishes, The New York Times, 2010
  • arbus

    I own a Kenmore Elite DW and have been really happy with it. Purchased about two years ago. We are redoing our kitchen and the white Kenmore will no longer fit in – it’s white and going all SS. This unit is destined for our rental. I am going with a Bosch this time around. FYI, Bosch is coming out with a revamped line in June. These are built in the USA. There are good deals to be had on the current models as they clear them out. We are buying a 7 series in the 800+ line for a little over $800. It was more than $1,200 a few months ago. These models were made in Germany, FWIW.

  • Luke

    Kenmore doesn’t actually manufacturer any of their own appliances, they simply rebadge others. There are really only 2 manufacturers Frigidaire and Whirlpool/Maytag/Kitchenaid. Looking at the interior, it looks a lot like the Maytag we have. I would be curios to

    • dbergen

      Are you saying there are only two companies that make dishwashers? Frigidaire and Whirlpool?

      What about Miele? Bosch?

      • Luke

        Sorry I hit enter too soon. Those are the two large US companies, that own the majority of the US brands. Sears rebadges dishwashers, refrigerators washers, dryers and ovens from one or the other of them. I would be curious to see which one this Kenmore was from.

  • http://www.BarnesFamily.com/ davebarnes

    Bosch. Still the quietest at an affordable price.

    The Sears website states: ” And, at 48 dBA, this 24-in. Kenmore Elite dishwasher”
    48 and not 45. Huge difference.

    You are correct about spending somewhat under $1K.

  • Bruce Patrick

    You omit what I consider to be the clear leade in this category, Miele. This dishwasher fits more dishes into its interior than any other I’ve owned or tried out. It is so quit it should come with a stethoscope so you can tell when it’s on. It has an ingenious upper tray for silver ware that is a little more difficult to load than the traditional basket, but gets the silverware much cleaner. Plus the lower tray fits many more dishes because there doesn’t need to be an enormous space for the liver ware basket.

    • Richard Baguley

      Bruce & other commenters, we did consider models from Miele and Bosch, but they were not amongst our final picks.

  • Dan

    I can’t take an article about household appliances seriously that completely fails to mention Miele and Bosch – both are usually among the best in class.

  • brandonmwest

    The linked dishwaser is $1019

  • http://incise.org Nick Welch

    Martin Holladay’s new article on dishwashing energy efficiency is an even better resource than the TreeHugger article. Here’s the link: http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/musings/all-about-dishwashers

  • Lori S

    Models that can hold “a couple of day’s worth of dishes” made me laugh (or kinda cry). With a house full of dogs – dog bowls and water dishes take up a lot of room – we average 2.5 loads a day! So, in addition to the factors you mention, durability is key. After running through the whatever-brand that came with the house, a high-end Kenmore, a mid-range Maytag and a high-end Maytag in 8 years, we got a Bosch 7 years ago and haven’t looked back. Had a little trouble with the electronics on it – they are integrated into the handle on our model (but not on all models), and eventually the strain of opening and closing the handle (which locks and unlocks the dishwasher) did some damage to the electronics panel and it needed to be replaced. But other than that, it has been flawless. It may be pricey, but it was WAY cheaper than the other 4 dishwashers combined! And I love that it is so quiet. But the durability factor was the real winner. Despite having a bunch of other Maytag appliances, I don’t feel I can trust Kenmore and Maytag and similar brands for durable dishwashers.

  • McAlli*

    Sears must have raised their prices, it’s now $1019. Still worth it with a 35% price premium?

  • Jonathan Dell

    I would love a recommendation on an 18″ model. I want to replace my current one in my apartment that is useless. There is the Kenmore Elite 18″ but I am not sure if it measures up. It is very hard to filter to just 18″ models.

  • Manish kumar verma

    Thanks for your great information, the contents are quiet interesting.I will be waiting for your next post.

    Affordable Kitchen Appliances

  • Paul Lane

    We just ordered the recomended dishwasher (replacing a cheaper Kenmore that didn’t really do a good job on the top rack anymore). My main reason for commenting is that Sears Online is selling it for $750 at the moment, back down to the originally listed price. It’s definitely worth monitoring prices as good deals pop up.

  • Robert Foster

    I found this article very educational regarding Kenmore appliances.

    http://appliantology.org/blog/1/entry-736-kenmore-just-another-brand-or-yet-another-scam/

  • P007

    Purchased the KUDS30FXSS. Three months later the end gable of my kithen cabinet finish all started to bubble and the finish is completely ruined. I had the kitchen aid tech out who said all is installed and was operating as it should as it should be. My friend had purchased the same machine. She has new custom made cabinets and today just noticed that the end gable of her cabinets are all also starting to bubble and are damaged as well. This could be in the thousands to repair!.
    KA has come back to me saying they have a moisture barrier to put around my unit. Then why did it not come with the machine? Surly they are aware these are installed into wooden cabinets. I have not had an offer to repair the finish of my new solid wood cabinet?
    Do not purchase one of these units. There is a serious venting flaw with the newest 2013 model. When my dishwasher is in the drying mode I can barely put my hand the end end gable of my kitchen cabinet where the unit is up against. This is where it has all bubbled – the entire end panel of my cabinet.
    There should be a recall of this model.

  • GreenEngineer

    I wanted to suggest that you guys take another look at the Asko dishwasher. Yes, it is more expensive than your pick. But it’s also quieter, more efficient, and much better built. It’s almost entirely built out of stainless steel, including the spinner arms and other internal parts which are typically plastic, even in units which have a metal tub.

    It has a couple of features which are unique as far as I can tell:
    – It has no exposed internal heating element. It heats water as needed using an internal heat exchanger. It does not have a heating element for drying (see next point). This avoids the situation where plastic items melt on the bottom rack due to proximity to the heating element.
    – It has an air circulation fan which activates at the end of the cycle to expel moist air. This works extremely well for drying the dishes, because the metal tub holds the heat in and the dishes evaporate at an accelerated rate due to the airflow. This works much better than the traditional exposed heating element for drying and uses less energy.

    It also lacks the “features you don’t need”. One of the features that it lacks which IMO you should avoid is the dirt sensor. While these can in theory make the washing process more efficient, Asko has removed them from their design (they used to have them) because if the sensor goes bad, it will make the unit use far MORE water than it would otherwise.

    It hits all the other high points too: easy to load, very quiet, very effective wash.

  • Ian

    Hey guys! I’m suddenly in need of a new dishwasher and am curious when you expect this guide to get updated? Thanks!

    • cgshaq

      Same here. Any estimation would be great.

      • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

        I know our lead researcher has gathered up his picks to test. Just the testing process left!

        Still, would estimate over a month :(

    • Austin

      same!

      • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

        We’re in the process of researching!

  • Craig Cassioppi

    Currently $699 with free home delivery.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Thanks for the heads up!

  • shultquist

    Other than price, is there a reason you don’t recumbent the Miele or Bosch? They do, indeed, seem to be best-of-class, although you must pay more.

  • diane bartels

    Agree with several others here. I’ve had many dishwashers through the years (Kenmore, Kitchen Aid, GE, Whirlpool) and none even come close to the performance of the Miele Dimension installed a year ago. Dishes are not only perfectly clean but glassware & china are sparkling and spotless—and this is without a heated drying cycle. It’s so quiet you can’t tell that it’s running unless you put your ear up to the cabinet. It holds more dishes than most other dishwashers and has unique adjustments for tall/odd items. You do pay more for a Miele, but if this is really about the best dishwasher then a Miele model should be at the top of your list. Makes me wonder how well tested the appliances were for this article?

  • Ryan Pollock

    Just want to vote for a recommendation on an apartment size 18″ model. Got a tiny kitchen! I think that sound is definitely a big criteria for apartment models as many times the apartment is small and there are also neighbors below.

  • Jon Littell

    ARTICLE is way out of date. WAY BELOW par for this site!
    Very concerned that your article mentions it’s top pick is likely a Kitchenaid model that gets HORRIFIC reviews on Amazon.

    NOTE: I’m in the research phase for outfitting a very small dwelling–and would really appreciate reviews of 18″ models: noise is paramount followed closely by energy/water use.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      That’s why we have the big “WAIT” banner above. We’re researching this and it’s a time consuming process (especially with appliances this large). Please see our alternative picks under “Update” & stay tuned!

  • mainstreetmark

    I bought a Kitchenaid 3 years ago. In that time, the circuit board had to be replaced. The top-rack roller wheels have all broken off, and I’ve sequentially re-attached them with some stainless hardware. The stops for the top roller guides don’t like heat, and have become brittle. The “child lock” button doesn’t work, but occasionally will engage itself, so that the dishwasher cannot be operated until it decides to turn off the child lock (or cycling power). I’ve had to do maintenance to the macerator 6 times, because it’d get caught by something as simple as a small piece of onion. I hate the damn thing. I hate that I paid $850 for it, and it’s currently un-usable.

    I have to buy a new dishwasher. What I suggest to every potential buyer: look for metallic pieces inside. The things that hold the rollers, the things that cap the sliders. Any plastic part in a hot-cycle dishwasher is eventually going to fail. Also, a macerator is crap. It doesn’t do what it should. When it jams up with trivial stuff, no water flows, and you just wind up melting any plastic dishes that were in there, since the heat is on, and no water flows.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      We’re in the middle of updating this guide, but thanks for the feedback!

  • steve jam

    I am responsible for over (50) group homes with six or less persons living in them. I have purchased Maytag / Whirlpool / Kenmore brands of dishwashers for many years. During the past few years we have had an increase in repairs on all three brands. In addition, the design on some units has hot air ventilating near the top of the units, and it eventually ruins counter tops. For the first time in nearly (30) years we are buying GE dishwashers – began about four years ago, and our experience is far better from repair factor. On about ten units purchased one to four years ago we have had zero repairs. I do not have any complaints from employees using the units. The model we usually purchase is GLDT690DWW. Note, these dishwashers are run at least twice a day (365) days a year. The Maytag I have now in my personal home was a top of line model (stainless steel inside and out), when purchased in 2010, requires rinse aid, leaves dishes wet, and does not clean all dishes. I have had techs at my home a few times during the first year when still under warranty but they were not able to find anything wrong. At my own personal home, my next dishwasher will definitively be a GE product. I realize that GE may or may not make their own dishwasher. As it seems impossible to know what is being branded and what is actually manufactured by the company you think you are buying from.

  • Wanago Bob

    I have a Bosch Ascenta that I got on sale and while it doesn’t have the 3rd rack it is a great performer and is so quiet I sometimes have to put my hand on it to make sure it’s actually started. I had tarnished utensils that after being washed didn’t need any additional cleaning (YMMV).
    Also started using the Sams’s Club detergents that come in dissolvable packets (nothing to open or throw away) that work very well for the cost.

  • aquamarine

    I will be very interested to see the comments you get here from other Bosch users. I just replaced a 15+ year old Whirlpool dishwasher with a Bosch and I am extremely disappointed in the Bosch. (Mine is a 500 series but SHE65T55UC, which I think is slightly different than the one you linked to). You did call out one of the main reasons in your review, the way the Bosch “dries” the dishes. The manufacturer recommendation is to use a rinse aid — I just dropped 800 dollars on a dishwasher and now I have to buy another product to get it to do what my old one did? Another recommendation I found online is to run it on sanitize mode, which helps, but adds even more time to the cycle, and likely eliminates any energy savings. But at least I’m not hand-drying half the dishes.

    While I love the third rack, I have found the main racks to be pretty poorly-set up. We have been experimenting with all kinds of ways to load things and we are consistently putting fewer items in the dishwasher per load. I find that the bottom rack in particular has a ton of wasted space. The bottom rack is pretty much set up to hold plates or saucers and nothing else. Even shallow bowls don’t fit very well. I guess no one in Germany eats much cereal or ice cream because there is really no place in the dishwasher that seems to be set up for bowls without sacrificing a lot of space.

    The quietness I will give you. It is super quiet. But I have to say that I really have never ever found the noise of a dishwasher to be an issue or a problem. I would happily take a louder machine in exchange for being able to load the actual dishes that my family uses,

    • DavidCulberson

      Just like you have to buy detergent, the rinse aid is no different. It’s inexpensive and lasts for a long time. If you’re not using rinse aid then you will consistently get disappointing results with the drying.

    • dmcgregor

      I have to say that I’m always amazed at the disconnect between the professional reviews of the Bosch 500, and what I hear from the people who actually own them. I know a number of people that own it and they say they like it…but then there are all these caveats, and in general they just don’t seem to get the dishes as clean as my (who knows how old) push button GE. I’m probably paying for it in extra electricity, and it is loud enough that you can’t really do anything else while it runs…but my dishes come out sparkling clean and almost perfectly dry (even with the drying feature turned off), and I haven’t had to do any kind of maintenance on it in the decade I’ve owned it (bought it used).

      I also agree that the tines on most of the European dishwashers I’ve seen don’t really work well for bowls, which is what we mostly use. I like to keep the upper rack dedicated to glasses and the lower rack to bowls.

  • Kelly

    we have a bosch 500 series for almost a year now. very positive things to say about it, amazingly quiet (I literally can’t hear it more than 3 feet away from it), very good job cleaning, the upper rack for silverware is really nice… extra nice if you have an infant/toddler cleaning those small parts for sippy cups, etc. only 2 negatives I could say is the cleaning cycle is really long, and the drying could be a little better. I would say those are minor quibbles though, i wouldn’t change my buying decision at all.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Awesome feedback. Thank you!

  • Andrew Wilson

    We have a slightly older model of the Bosch, and we’ve found it’s quietness to actually be a problem. On several occasions we thought it was running found out it wasn’t (due entirely to operator error) and had to quickly hand wash things. They’ve added a light that points to the floor and tells you it’s running which is probably useful.

    When it comes to drying, we’ve never used rinse aid, and since we almost never need a dish right away we let time take care of things. If I run the wash after dinner I usually open it up on the way to bed and let the dishes air dry overnight.

  • jimmortensen

    Any possibility of a sneak preview of the 18″ article? I’m replacing one in the next couple of weeks. :)

  • Skibum

    Great article, but things like this: “Soap doesn’t kill germs – hot water does,” would be a great place for a link to some sort of evidence. I know soap is just a surfactant, but I’ve never heard it said that hot – not boiling – water kills germs. The author is probably right, but isn’t the kind of site that prides itself on evidence-based research?

  • Ted

    After a lot of research, we bought the 500 earlier this year. It is as quiet, efficient, and cavernous as the review indicates. Our family of 4 used to fill up our old GE Profile every 3 days or so, but the Bosch holds so much more that we sometimes run out of clean dishes.
    I agree with one of the other comments that the bottom rack could be a little better in terms of holding shallow bowls, but definitely no regrets.
    I also learned something new in this review about how new gen machines work in terms of needing dirt to activate the enzymes. Thanks for the info.

  • DavidCulberson

    Five years ago, we bought a “new to us” house, and we were very unhappy with the performance of the Frigidaire Gallery dishwasher that came with it. We had been happy with the Bosch clothes washer and dryer we had, and like the made in USA aspect of it, liked the positive reviews by Consumer Reports, and so gave a Bosch 800 series dishwasher a shot. We have been very, very pleased and it blew away our expectations in a dishwasher.

    Four or so years later we’re moving and debating taking it with us and buying a cheaper one to leave for the next owners or getting one of the spiffy 3-rack machines. Moving away from a Bosch has never entered our minds, we’ve been so pleased with the long term performance.

    The drying sure could work a little better but it’s almost there and with all the other good things about the machine it’s worth tolerating for us.

    We’ve never had a problem with capacity. All of our bowls fit the racks just fine.

  • davedash

    Any thoughts on dish drawers?

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      We haven’t looked at any, but keep an eye out!