The Best Dishwasher
After putting in 70 hours of research over the past two years, we’ve learned that pretty much any dishwasher can get your dishes clean when you use it properly. But we think paying a bit more for a machine that’s practically inaudible and easier to load is a worthy investment. That’s why we think the Bosch 500 Series is the best dishwasher for most people. One of the most affordable dishwashers with a third rack, it offers as much capacity and loading flexibility as models that cost a few hundred dollars more.
Expert reviewers and owners alike praise this Bosch model’s cleaning prowess and quiet performance—it’s as silent as a library, no joke. It also ranks among the most water- and energy-efficient dishwashers out there. This model has existed for a few years and has earned a reputation for reliability, backed by one of the better warranties in the category and a wide service network.
Table of contents
- Who should buy a dishwasher
- How we picked
- Our pick
- Flaws but not dealbreakers
- Power washer, but less reliable
- A cheaper, American-style dishwasher
- A good 18-inch dishwasher
- The competition
- How to use your dishwasher the modern way
Who should buy a dishwasher
A dishwasher is a phenomenal investment. It saves you time, does its job better than any person could hope to, shrinks your utility bill, and conserves energy and water. It’s a win on so many fronts. If you own your home and have the means, buy a dishwasher.
Today’s machines are so, so much more efficient than washing dishes by hand. A normal wash cycle uses about 4 gallons of water and 1 kilowatt-hour of energy. Hand-washing the same number of dishes guzzles about 27 gallons and burns the equivalent of 2.7 kWh to heat all that water. If you run a full dishwasher every other day, you’re looking at saving about 4,200 gallons of water and the equivalent of 310 kWh of energy per year, which keeps about $50 in your pocket, based on national averages.
Of course, a dishwasher is also convenient, especially now that pre-rinsing by hand is supposed to be a thing of the past. Even if a dishwasher saves you only an hour per week—and that’s a bare-minimum estimate—you get back two extra days per year to do anything else with your life. Plus, your dry, pruny hands and sore lower back will thank you.
How we picked
After spending 70 hours on research, including conducting interviews with experts from across the industry and reading hundreds of editorial and user reviews, we learned that almost any dishwasher will get your dishes clean if you use it properly. So we sought out models with the most flexible and intuitive racking options, as well as whisper-quiet operation and a reputation for reliability.
The sweet spot for price is around $800 to $900. DIshwashers in this range are quiet, efficient, effective, and easy to load with lots of dishes of all shapes and sizes.
If you spend less, the dishwasher will be louder and use more water and energy. Its racks won’t be as accommodating to as many shapes and sizes of dishes. And with heavily soiled loads, it may not get every dish entirely clean. Such a model can still be totally adequate, though, and any new dishwasher is better than none.
Higher-end models don’t have many practical advantages over midrange dishwashers. Yes, expensive models are quieter, but midrange models are barely audible anyway. Higher-end dishwashers might cram in some handy loading features, like a third rack, specialty zones with extra water jets, or additional sets of folding tines. Such things can be helpful, for sure, but the most useful of those kinds of features are already available in some models that cost less than $1,000 (our main pick, for example, costs about $810 and has a third rack).
And although the premium brands are built to last, they can also be prohibitively expensive to repair once they’re out of warranty. So we don’t see a compelling, practical reason to spend more.
Going into this guide, we knew we wouldn’t be able to test any dishwashers firsthand, because we don’t have a testing facility. So instead we relied on reporting.
First we got in touch with a handful of experts from different parts of the industry, namely Keith Barry, the editor in chief of Reviewed.com’s appliance sites, who has overseen more than 100 dishwasher reviews during his tenure; Julie Warner, marketing manager at Warners’ Stellian, an appliance-sales powerhouse in the Twin Cities region of Minnesota; and Chris Zeisler, an expert at RepairClinic.com with a few decades of field experience repairing machines. We had some informal and semiformal chats with representatives of most of the major dishwasher brands, too.
User reviews and comments were a big part of our research, as well. At first our goal was to detect patterns in what people find frustrating about their dishwashers in general. When we narrowed down the list to some finalists, we looked for quirks particular to those models, as well as for any insights about reliability. Emails and comments from our own readers played a big part in this, as did reviews on major retailers’ websites. Also, a few Sweethome and Wirecutter staff members bought our picks (or similar models) based on our research, and they contributed long-term usage notes when the information was relevant.
Since we couldn’t test the dishwashers ourselves, we got some hands-on time with a few models at appliance showrooms in the Boston metro area, going to Home Depot, Lowe’s, Sears, and Yale Appliance + Lighting. This process helped us get a feel for each machine’s loading flexibility.
The most important conclusion we drew from our research was that most of today’s dishwashers do a hell of a job when people use them correctly. At Reviewed.com, almost all of the tested dishwashers passed cleaning trials with flying colors. “We load the dishwashers properly, and we load them with filthy, filthy dishes—filthier than you would ever see in your own home. And 90 percent of the dishes come out 100 percent clean, probably even more than that,” editor in chief Keith Barry told us. At Consumer Reports, all but seven of the 169 dishwashers that the testing house has reviewed own an Excellent or Very Good mark in washing performance.
In other words, the machine is rarely the problem. “If it isn’t getting the majority of your dishes clean, you’re doing something wrong,“ Barry said. Along the same lines, Julie Warner, the marketing manager at Warners’ Stellian, told us, “It’s hard to say, ‘Your dishwasher’s not broken, your process is.’” But that’s often the case. We have some tips to help you make the most of your dishwasher, no matter which one you buy.
Considering that a properly loaded dishwasher should get all the dishes clean, we think the top distinguishing factor for a great dishwasher is intuitive and flexible loading. Ideally, in such a machine the racks let you fit as many dishes as possible, with every dirty surface exposed to the water jets, and with obvious cues for where different kinds of dishes are supposed to fit. But some cheap racks, like the one pictured below, don’t offer much guidance, as the bottom rack consists entirely of straight, nonfolding, evenly spaced tines—no hints about where you should put a big pot, or which direction to angle the plates.
Other loading features that add flexibility include a third rack, height-adjustable racks, folding tines, and removable silverware baskets. Power-washing zones for big, grimy dishes such as casserole trays or roasting pans can be particularly helpful.
The sweet spot is around 44 dB. That’s roughly the volume of the background noise of a typical suburb at night, so any dishwasher that runs at or below that threshold probably won’t register in your consciousness. Anything quieter is great but probably not worth paying extra for. As Barry put it, “The difference between a really low number and a really lower number isn’t going to make a difference in your kitchen unless you sleep next to your dishwasher.” Volume starts to get moderately annoying around 50 dB, while some of the cheapest models register in the low-50s, which is about as loud and unpleasant as a window air conditioner.
A soil sensor (or turbidity sensor) is another must-have feature, as it lets your dishwasher “see” whether your dishes are still dirty and adjusts the cleaning times accordingly. It’s a key component in the feedback loop that makes modern dishwashers so effective. At regular intervals, the sensor shoots an infrared beam into the water stream, and if it’s turbid (a fancy word for dirty, in this context), the dishwasher will keep running. But once the water is clean, the cycle begins to end. Without that sensor, your dishwasher blindly fires jets of hot, soapy water for a predetermined amount of time. For years, that’s how every dishwasher worked—the machines power-washed until their settings indicated no chance of any residue remaining, even if some bits of food actually did get left behind. These days, a soil sensor adds a layer of intelligence to the machine that not only saves water and electricity but also helps ensure that your dishes come out fully washed. On top of that, this system works a little better with new-style detergents, which use a different active ingredient than older detergents.
Our experts told us to look for two other features that are a sign of a good dishwasher: nylon-coated racks and a stainless steel tub. Compared with vinyl or PVC, nylon is less likely to crack over time and expose the wire frame underneath. (Non-nylon racks are rare these days, but we made sure to double-check our picks.) A stainless steel tub is better than a plastic one because it dampens the running volume; it also helps to dry dishes faster at the end of a cycle because it holds more heat and speeds up condensation. And while plastic tubs can crack on occasion, metal tubs almost never will. This distinction helped us focus on the best budget-friendly dishwashers—we didn’t seriously consider any models with all-plastic tubs.
The flexible and forgiving nature of the racks makes the Bosch 500 Series stand apart from other dishwashers in its price range. You can easily load the racks to expose every dirty surface to the water during the cleaning cycle, and that boosts the chances that every dish will get totally clean during every cycle.
The key component here is the dedicated cutlery rack, also known as the third rack. Tucked right near the top of the washtub, it has lots of little notches for utensils. Kitchen tools (such as spatulas or pizza cutters) and small dishes (such as ramekins) can fit there, too. Since all the small, flat items have a dedicated rack in this setup, it frees up room on the other racks for a couple more plates, bowls, mugs, wine glasses, and whatever else fits.
Tons of owners have called out the third rack as their favorite feature. One reviewer writes on Best Buy’s website: “It’s wonderful for spatulas, wisks and all those other large utensils that used to take up half the top rack including sippy cup lids.”
At this price, the Bosch 500 Series has the largest capacity of any dishwasher that we know of. It’s rated to hold 16 place settings,1 whereas the average model holds more like 13 or 14. You don’t need to load it fully for every cycle to get a functional advantage from it, either. Think of the extra space as wiggle room that helps make sure you don’t cram the dishes together too tightly. (Dishes can come out dirty because they’re nested together, blocking the full force of the cleaning cycle.) And of course, you don’t need to use the third rack with every load. You can even take it out of the dishwasher if you need space for extra-tall items on the middle shelf from time to time.
Operating at a noise level of 44 decibels, the 500 Series is as quiet as a dishwasher reasonably needs to be. Most people’s indoor voices are louder than that. It’s one of the most affordable models under that threshold. On the Abt website, user reviewer kimpin writes, “The first night my wife and I ran it, we sat in the living room and just tried to listen for it. We couldn’t hear a thing.” On Best Buy’s site, user Alulugbug writes, “I had to stand next to the dishwasher on my first try to make sure I had pressed the correct buttons to begin the wash.” Since 500 Series models can be so hard to hear, some of them even project a red dot on the floor next to the dishwasher to let you know that they’re running. In this price range, most dishwashers are in the high-40s decibel range, which is just loud enough to hear from the next room over.
Bosch dishwashers are some of the most reliable appliances, judging by user reviews. The most popular version of the 500 Series (the pocket-handle, stainless steel SHP65T55UC) averages about 4.6 out of five stars across 5,000 or so reviews posted on several retailers’ websites, with similar averages for other versions. For what it’s worth, at the moment Consumer Reports ranks Bosch as the most reliable dishwasher brand; among surveyed Consumer Reports readers, only 9 percent needed repairs on Bosch dishwashers that they had bought between 2010 and 2014. Currently JD Power also ranks Bosch as the top overall dishwasher brand, having awarded the company a five-star rating in the Performance and Reliability category among others. These ratings apply only to brands, not to individual models or lines, so you should take them with a grain of salt. But the statistics do look good for Bosch.
Among dishwasher brands, Bosch has a better warranty than most. Parts and labor are covered for a year. From the second through the fifth year, the microprocessor or printed circuit board and racks (though not the cost of labor) are covered. And you get a lifetime warranty for rust-through on the tub liner. All of that adds up to stronger coverage than what you get from most brands, whose warranties top out at one or two years, though it’s similar to KitchenAid’s warranty and a step behind Maytag’s. Bosch was a niche European brand at one point, but the company has a big presence in North America these days. It even makes a bunch of its dishwashers, including the 500 Series, in the US, so you shouldn’t have difficulty tracking down someone to repair your machine if necessary.
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. That could happen again in the future. But based on the information we have right now, Bosch is a good bet.
Cleaning performance from the 500 Series is just about as effective as a dishwasher gets (though again, they’re all pretty good when you use them correctly). Consumer Reports scored its washing as Excellent, and the dishwasher boasts Recommended status overall. Reviewed.com’s testers write that while its normal cycle is on a par with that of a solid $600 machine, its heavy cycle is about as excellent as they’ve seen from any machine at any price. They rated the 500 Series an 8 out of 10 and gave it an Editors’ Choice award. Even the machine’s Express cycle is effective. Auto mode seems like the best bet most of the time. According to Reviewed.com, the Bosch 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 typical heavy cycle would require (though about a gallon more than the normal setting). Starchy, sticky substances such as oatmeal and white rice may get left behind during the cleaning cycle, usually as redeposit (that is, the washing knocks the particles loose, but they end up sticking to another surface during the cleaning cycle). But that’s a typical dishwasher problem, nothing unique to this model.
Energy Star and Energy Guide both peg the 500 Series among the most efficient dishwashers available. It uses about 2.9 gallons of water per load in a normal cycle, beating the Energy Star standard of 4.25 gallons per load. (Dishwashers made before 1994 used about 10 gallons per load, and hand-washing consumes 27 gallons if you leave the faucet on.) Energy Guide (the yellow sticker) indicates that this model uses about 259 kWh of electricity annually, which will cost you about $28 per year based on national averages. If you regularly run the heavy cycle or the Sanitize option, expect it to use more energy. A few high-end models are even more resource-conservative, but the 500 Series is about as efficient as it gets at this price.
The 500 Series uses a condenser drying system, which contributes to energy savings. Rather than “baking” the dishes dry with a ceramic heating element, as American-style dishwashers do, Bosch machines let the natural process of condensation do the work. 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 and collects as water on the sides and ceiling of the tub. It’s the same process that makes your bathroom mirror foggy when you’re in the shower. (To be clear, the Bosch 500 Series does have a heating element, but it serves to heat water for the wash cycle, not to dry dishes.)
Most cycles in the 500 Series take about two hours, which is typical for modern dishwashers. We found the control panel to be pretty easy to grasp, and Consumer Reports gave the Bosch a rating of Very Good for overall ease of use. You pick one of the five main cycles and then add extra options as needed, such as Delicates (if you’re washing crystal), Delay (if you want to run the machine in the middle of the night, when energy costs may be lower), or Sanitize (which heats the water to 162°F).
The 500 Series comes in at least a half dozen configurations, but aside from a couple of nitpicky exceptions, the differences are aesthetic. The most widely available and popular model seems to be the SHP65T55UC, which has a stainless steel exterior, a pocket handle, and a hidden control panel. But configurations are also available in a black or white finish, with a bar handle or an exterior control panel, and they all work the same. In some earlier manufacturing runs, the pocket handle was prone to cracking, but Bosch claims to have resolved the manufacturing problem and will fix cracked handles upon request.
You should be aware of two other Bosch dishwasher lines. If the 500 Series sounds great, but you know you won’t use it to its full capacity, check out the 300 Series, which is the same machine without the third rack. If your water supply is mineral-rich (also known as hard water), consider stepping up to the 800 Series, the SGX68U55UC model in particular. It has a compartment for water-softening salts, which can go a long way toward improving your dishwasher’s cleaning performance. All models in the 800 Series also have two sets of folding tines on the bottom rack, which makes loading bigger items like stock pots or casserole trays easier.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Ineffective drying is the most common complaint about the Bosch 500 Series in user reviews. As a condenser-dry dishwasher, it needs a little more effort and attention than a heater-dry dishwasher does to turn out moisture-free plates and bowls. Rinse aid is mandatory, because (among lots of other benefits) it helps water evaporate more readily, and that’s how condensation-based drying works. Without rinse aid, dishes will be moist at the end of a cycle. If you don’t open the 500 Series within an hour or two after a cycle ends, condensed water droplets will start to dribble back onto the dishes as the interior cools (though most of it will slide to the bottom of the tub). That happens because the 500 Series has no vent, so all the moisture stays inside until you open it and allow it to air-dry. In extreme cases, such as if you wait for several days before opening your dishwasher, some flatware may rust.
Some owners claim that even when they follow the directions to the letter, the 500 Series still doesn’t dry dishes to their satisfaction. So if you’re adamant about having bone-dry dishes at the end of every cycle, a condenser-dry dishwasher like the Bosch 500 Series may not be the right choice; check out a heat-dry dishwasher such as our runner-up or budget pick instead. Otherwise, the 500 Series does its job pretty well, and most residual moisture will evaporate off the dishes after a few minutes of air-drying, or at worst, an hour of drip-drying on the rack. We think condenser drying is an adequate method to dry your dishes and is worth the energy savings. Another plus is the reduced risk of accidentally melting plastic items that fall off the racks during a cleaning cycle.
A somewhat small percentage of owners report that the 500 Series can start to smell musty and even transfer that smell to dishes. Basic maintenance should resolve the issue. (I can attest that maintenance helped get a stink out of my older-model Bosch.) Why does the smell develop in the first place? One reason is that the 500 Series and most other condenser-dry dishwashers don’t have a vent, so moisture can stay trapped, and that’s a great environment for mildew. Another reason is that, since you’re not supposed to pre-rinse your dishes anymore, today’s dishwashers (even heat-dry models) are more likely to get bits of food stuck in the sump area or even in the drain hose. Don’t want to deal with that? A heat-dry dishwasher like our runner-up or our budget pick might be slightly less likely to stink.
Like the vast majority of new dishwashers sold today, the Bosch 500 Series has a mesh filter to catch big chunks of food before they clog up the valves or your drain pipe. You’ll need to remember to clean the filter, ideally once a month, though you can stretch it longer. Some people hate the idea of dealing with the filter, but it really takes only a minute of your time once a month. All you need to do is run it under the faucet, maybe scrub it with a sponge for a few seconds. This step barely counts as maintenance. But if you absolutely don’t want to deal with cleaning a filter, you can get a dishwasher with a built-in masticator (essentially a garbage disposal) like our budget pick or with a self-cleaning filter like our runner-up.
The racks in the 500 Series are great but not perfect. When they’re empty, without the weight of the dishes to keep them secure, they can fall off their tracks as they slide. The height-adjustment system on the middle rack isn’t as intuitive as it could be, either—each side moves up and down independently, so the rack can wind up crooked if you’re not paying attention (though we’re not sure whether that poses any practical problems). We’d also love to see a pan-washing zone, or at least some fold-down tines on the bottom rack to make loading big items a little easier. Large pots and wide pans do fit into the 500 Series, and as Reviewed.com’s testing shows, the heavy cycle already does an amazing job of cleaning especially tough stains. But the unmovable tines can make for some slightly awkward positioning. Folding tines would be icing on the cake here, and stepping up to an 800 Series model for this feature is worth considering.
Power washer, but less reliable
The exciting thing about the KDTM354ESS, at least from our dorky perspective, is the filtration system. KitchenAid calls it Clean Water Wash, and as far as we know, it’s the only one of its kind. It has a couple of practical advantages. One, it’s a self-cleaning filter, so you don’t have to wash it by hand (and the filter has no moving parts to break, as a dishwasher with a grinder does). Two, it does a great job of preventing redeposit, which is when debris gets cleaned away from its original surface but ends up stuck on another dish. In a 2014 review, Reviewed.com praises the older (and very similar) KDTM354DSS for its anti-redeposit performance, which applies to this model as well. Most dishwashers don’t really struggle with this problem during an average wash anyway, but if you frequently deal with sticky, starchy substances like oatmeal, rice, or mashed potato, the KDTM354ESS should have an edge on other dishwashers, all else being equal.
If you want to geek out about a filter for a few minutes, watch this video to get an idea of how Clean Water Wash works. The gist of it is that the mesh filter is extra-fine, so it captures more debris midcycle. That design keeps the wash water cleaner for longer, which means it doesn’t need draining, refilling, and reheating as often as it would in a typical dishwasher. To prevent the filter from clogging midcycle, an extra pump pulls debris off the mesh filter and sends it out through a drain. Pretty neat.
Like any top-tier dishwasher, the KDTM354ESS is quiet enough that you’ll barely hear it running even when you’re in the same room. The machine operates at 44 dB, exactly the same level as the Bosch 500 Series. Its efficiency is about equal to that of our Bosch pick, according to the Energy Guide sticker, though the heat-dry and power-washing options will use extra energy. And for what it’s worth, currently this is the top model overall in Consumer Reports rankings.
The KDTM354ESS has no third rack, so it holds fewer dishes overall than our main pick and gives you less wiggle room for proper loading (facing dirty surfaces toward a jet). Some owners have written that very large plates sometimes have trouble standing up straight on the bottom rack, because the tines are too far apart. On the plus side, this model has a power-washing zone on the back wall by the bottom rack. It may or may not clean stubborn, burnt-on stains any better than a typical wash-arm, and it uses some extra energy. But thanks to this design, you can more easily load casserole trays and pans so that water has a direct path to the dirty surface, and that’s what really matters for cleaning performance.
Reliability shouldn’t be an issue with the KDTM354ESS, though we’ve seen enough conflicting data that we can’t be positive. This KitchenAid dishwasher is a relatively new model, so we have only a couple hundred user reviews to go off of. But the average is about 4.4 stars out of five, which is strong, and we can’t find patterns of obvious problems—the issues seem to be isolated incidents, due to an installation error, results of a misunderstanding of how the machine works, or just the effects of getting a factory lemon. The older, very similar KitchenAid KDTM354DSS has an average user rating of about 4.5 stars across more than 1,000 reviews, an excellent score. (User ratings are a pretty good proxy for short- and mid-term reliability data, we’ve found.) The warranty covers parts and labor for two years and covers the racks through five years; both are above-average policies.
That said, Consumer Reports cites KitchenAid as one of the more repair-prone brands (though that says nothing about this particular model), and JD Power gave KitchenAid a four-star (out of five) rating in the Performance and Reliability category, whereas Bosch earned the full five stars in that regard.
For most people, we think the Bosch 500 Series is the better bet. But if you’re not cool with some of the design choices in the Bosch machine, the KitchenAid KDTM354ESS should be the next one you consider.
You can still find the older KDTM354DSS—KitchenAid still lists it as a current product, though company representatives told us it will be phased out within the year. It has a few aesthetic differences, runs 1 dB quieter, and uses about 3 percent less energy per year according to Energy Guide. Pick whichever one you like, or whichever one you can get on sale.
Note too that the KDTM354ESS is basically the same machine as the Kenmore Elite 1476x, sold only at Sears. The Kenmore variant tends to cost more than the KitchenAid version, but Sears has megasales every few weeks; we’ve seen a dishwasher that cost $1,050 on a Sunday going for $700 on a Tuesday. So just keep your eyes peeled if you’re interested.
A cheaper, American-style dishwasher
.) Quieter than most dishwashers at this price, this model is blessed with a phenomenal user rating and backed by Maytag’s industry-leading warranty. It’s also a true American-style dishwasher, with both a heated-dry cycle and a food grinder.
The MDB4949SDx runs at about 50 dB, so it’s loud enough to hear from one room over if you’re listening for it, but it should blend into the background of your consciousness the rest of the time. It’s several decibels quieter than the average dishwasher at this price, mostly because it’s one of the few with an all-stainless tub—plastic tubs are the norm in cheap dishwashers.
Built in the style of old-school American dishwashers, the MDB4949SDx offers both a heated drying cycle and a food grinder. Unlike a filter, a grinder doesn’t need removal and rinsing, so that saves you a few minutes of maintenance per year. However, the grinder is one more moving part than can break, whereas a filter has no moving parts and can’t break.
People who own the Maytag MDB4949SDx tend to love it, so the tighter rack space and louder running volume don’t seem to be a huge turnoff. It has a staggering number of positive reviews, averaging almost 4.6 stars (out of five) across more than 11,000 ratings posted on the websites of major retailers—one of the best ratings we’ve seen for any appliance. Reviews generally mention effective cleaning, relatively quiet operation, and reliable performance.
What’s the downside? Some owners have mentioned that the automatic sensor wash mode can take up to four hours to run—that’s a long, long time, even for a cheap dishwasher. A normal load without the sensor takes two and a half hours, which is still longer than average.
No surprise: You probably won’t be able to load as many dishes into the MDB4949SDx as with our main pick or runner-up. Its racks don’t have as much built-in flexibility, such as height adjustments or folding tines. But in the bigger picture of dishwashers, this model has a totally average, perfectly serviceable rack setup.
While owners find the MDB4949SDx to be acceptably quiet, it is about 6 dB louder than our main pick and runner-up, which is a noticeable difference. You’ll probably have to raise your voice a bit if you’re carrying on a conversation in the kitchen while this machine runs.
The testers at Reviewed.com found that, no matter which cycle they used, the MDB4949SDx left behind bits of baked-on food and tended to redeposit particles onto dishes. That isn’t a huge surprise, since this dishwasher uses a grinder instead of a fine-mesh filter to handle leftover food. On the other hand, Consumer Reports rated it as an excellent cleaner, and judging from user ratings, most owners don’t run into redeposit problems.
A good 18-inch dishwasher
We scoped out about 20 other compact dishwashers from Arctic King, Asko, Avanti, Blomberg, Danby, Edgestar, Electrolux, Fagor, Frigidaire, GE, Kenmore, Miele, Smeg, Summit, and Whirlpool. In the end, we found that Bosch is the best bet for a full-featured compact model that performs like the best standard-size machines without veering into the luxury price range.
KitchenAid makes a few other models that we considered for our runner-up spot. The similar KDTE204ESS and KDTE254ESS are heat-dry models with a third rack, though it’s a shallower tray than the Bosch’s and doesn’t free up as much usable loading space. And neither model has the Clean Water Wash system, so the cycles use about 15 percent more water and energy, take longer to finish, and don’t have that slight cleaning advantage. But they are fine machines, if the feature set seems appropriate for you. The main difference between the two is operating volume—the 254E runs at a nearly inaudible 39 dB, while the 204E works at a still-quiet 46 dB. Meanwhile, the KDTM384ESS is the same dishwasher as our runner-up except with a window in the door. If you want to pay extra for that privilege, knock yourself out. None of the other KitchenAid models caught our eye—just not enough bang for the buck.
The Bosch Ascenta line, including the SHX5AV55UC among many other models, seems to offer a tempting way to save a couple hundred bucks and still nab a Bosch dishwasher. We even recommended an older Ascenta line as our budget pick in a previous version of this guide. But the newer models are a bit of a disappointment: They don’t seem to dry as effectively as their predecessors did, probably because their tubs are a mix of stainless and plastic. As it stands, the Ascenta line is in a no-man’s land—too expensive to be a budget pick, too feature-limited to be in the top tier.
Tons of other dishwashers in the $700 to $1,000 range are adequate, even great, if you decide to roll with one of them. We had our eye on a few models from Electrolux, Frigidaire, GE, LG, Samsung, and Whirlpool, but many of them had some significant shortcoming such as poor reliability, and none of them had standout features similar to our main pick’s third rack or our runner-up’s filtration system.
Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect from other brands:
Whirlpool and Maytag (same company) make adequate, middle-of-the-road dishwashers, but they don’t go the extra mile with extra racking flexibility or forward-thinking cleaning features. That said, they make plenty of great wallet-friendly models, including our budget pick, the Maytag MDB4949SDx. We also considered the Whirlpool Gold WDF760SADW and the Kenmore 13222 (which Whirlpool makes for Sears) for the budget pick.
Most GE dishwashers earn solid reviews relative to their prices, but none stand at the top of their class. The GE GDT580SSFSS, for example, looks like a decent midrange choice, with a strong review from Consumer Reports; a similar model scored decently on Reviewed.com, too. But it’s missing some loading options that make the Bosch 500 Series well worth an extra $90 or so. The best GE dishwashers seem to be in the over-$1,000 price range, which we think is more than you need to spend to get a great dishwasher.
Frigidaire makes a ton of decent midrange dishwashers, such as the Gallery FGID2474QF, that fall into the gap between budget-friendly picks and the top tier.
Electrolux is like a more upscale version of Frigidaire (the two brands belong to the same parent company). Reviewed.com loves the Electrolux EI24ID50QS, but we’ve read so many user reviews criticizing its reliability—to the point where we can’t recommend any Electrolux models.
Samsung and LG are still relative newcomers to dishwashers. They each make a few particularly cheap models with good specs, and we briefly considered the Samsung DW80J3020US and the LG LDS5040ST for our budget pick. Samsung also experiments with some interesting features at the high end of its lineup, such as WaterWall technology. But these machines don’t get terrific ratings from their owners (due to reliability issues, we think) or from expert reviewers. Both companies have made huge inroads into other appliance categories over the past 10 years by building great upper-midrange products with more features than competing models. So far, however, they haven’t yet found a way to change dishwashers as they have washers, dryers, refrigerators, or freestanding ranges.
Blomberg is a small brand that has been trying to gain a foothold in the US over the past few years. The dishwashers are apparently effective and pretty reliable, and the prices are fair. The downside, though, is that the company still doesn’t have a service network that we’re aware of, so if something breaks down, you’ll have a hard time getting it fixed. We know this is sort of a chicken-and-egg problem—it’s hard to build a repair network without a customer base, and it’s hard to build a customer base without a repair network. Here’s hoping Blomberg figures something out.
Then you have the truly upscale brands, such as Asko, Miele, and Thermador, as well as the Bosch 800 Plus and Benchmark lines. All of these models are good-looking, whisper-quiet, effective, efficient, and reliable dishwashers, just like our main pick and runner-up, but you’re really paying extra for the style and the label. It’s your call if you want to do that—fashion is outside the scope of this article.
How to use your dishwasher the modern way
If your new dishwasher isn’t working well or seems to be giving you trouble, try to tweak your habits before blaming the machine. Dishwashers and detergents don’t work like they used to, and old methods don’t always do the trick now. You need to stop pre-rinsing your dishes, and to start using rinse aid. If that doesn’t solve your problems, try switching detergent or using a different amount. You’ll need to do a bit of low-effort upkeep a few times a year to maintain the machine’s washing performance and prevent odors, too. The good news is that, once you get your new routine dialed in, you should be putting less effort into using your dishwasher than ever before.
Story time: Back in the day, dishwashers blasted the hell out of dishes. Tons of water, high pressure, very hot temperatures, strong detergent. Efficiency regulations kicked in during the 1990s, and over time dishwashers gradually became quieter, gentler, and thriftier with water and energy—and, some people would argue, less effective at cleaning dishes.
In 2010, the industry hit a choke point when regulations forced detergents to change. Phosphate salts used to be a major ingredient in dishwasher (and laundry) detergents. They’re fantastic cleaning agents, able to pick up organic residue and prevent it from redepositing on dishes. But scientists have argued since at least the early 1970s that phosphates in household detergents contribute to algae blooms in lakes and rivers, which can starve fish and other marine life of oxygen. Detergent companies continued to sell phosphate-based detergents wherever they were legal, but eventually enough states banned them that the industry ditched the ingredient altogether.
Everyone with a dishwasher noticed that the first phosphate-free detergents didn’t work well. But Cascade, Finish, and other detergent makers have improved their formulas, which are now based on enzymes, and dishwasher makers have figured out how to design their machines to work with enzyme-based detergents. To oversimplify: Enzymes, like those present in your digestive system, break food down into smaller molecules. They’re also biodegradable and easily removed from water.
It took a few years, but the industry has found an equilibrium. “Now it seems like the machines, the detergents, the energy ratings, the water use ratings, the science is all in the same place,” Reviewed.com’s Keith Barry told us. “Today’s dishwashers are really cleaning better than anything out there and use less water. The key is that you have to use them properly, you need to load them properly, and use the right detergent.”
The biggest change is that new dishwashers work only when they have dirty dishes in them. This is great news! You don’t need to pre-rinse your dishes anymore. Seriously, you shouldn’t pre-rinse. Scrape solid gunk into the garbage, for sure, but leave some goop and crusty stuff on the plate. “If you put in dishes that look clean, your dishwasher is not going to run a full cycle,” noted Julie Warner of Warners’ Stellian.
Dirty dishes jump-start the feedback loop that drives modern dishwashers. Enzymes are basically inert until they come into contact with organic matter—that is, the dried marinara, globs of mustard, and bits of spinach stuck to your plates, bowls, and forks. So when your dishes are dirtier, more of the detergent activates faster, and the process of actually cleaning the dishes (rather than just getting them wet) begins sooner. But if your dishes are mostly clean at the start of a cycle, the detergent may not fully activate, and any residue may stay stuck on the dishes. The soil sensors will see clean water and register a false positive indicating that the cycle is finished.
If all this is news to you, know that you’re not alone. Pre-rinsing was part of the ritual, the Right Way to do things, up until about six or seven years ago. Now it’s completely unnecessary and actually detrimental to performance. Several Sweethome staff members were shocked to learn about this change, but they made the switch away from pre-rinsing and have not looked back. As owner brian c writes in a user review of the Bosch 500 Series, “the dirtier the dishes, the better the result.”
Next, you need to load the dishes in the proper parts of the racks. If you position dirty surfaces away from the wash arms or nest them too closely together, they won’t get clean. “Every dishwasher comes with specific directions about how to load the dishwasher,” Chris Zeisler of RepairClinic.com told us. “If consumers would actually pay attention to that and follow that, they’d be much happier with how their dishwasher works.” You should aim the dirty surfaces toward the water source, which will usually be the wash arm in the center of the machine, though the design can vary if you have a high-end dishwasher with extra jets built into the tub or racks. Avoid nesting silverware and bowls too tightly, because water needs to be able to reach every dirty surface. When you’re loading big casserole dishes or pots, be mindful that they don’t block the water jets from reaching other nearby dishes. Beyond that, read the manual—directions differ from model to model.
Most important, experiment with the type, brand, and amount of detergent and rinse aid to find what works best for you. These cleaning options have a much greater effect on making your dishes sparkle than the dishwasher itself—a cheap dishwasher will clean well with the right detergent, but a great dishwasher will struggle with poor detergent. This topic is incredibly deep and deserving of its own article, and we have a lot to learn before we can claim to be experts. But we do have a few tips for now.
Always use rinse aid. Every new dishwasher has a rinse-aid dispenser because rinse aid is essentially mandatory if you want your dishwasher to work well these days, according to every industry person we talked to. Rinse aid offsets the limitations resulting from gentler detergents and stricter efficiency standards—it’s just part of the deal now. Depending on the brand, rinse aids work by reducing the surface tension of water so that it slides off dishes more readily (preventing loose food from redepositing onto dishes in the middle of the cleaning cycle) and by binding with any minerals in your water supply, which tend to reduce the efficacy of detergent. As a result, with rinse aid your dishes are more likely to come out sparkling and dry, particularly if your dishwasher uses a condenser-drying system. If your dishwasher lives up to your expectations without rinse aid, that’s great. But if you feel like your dishwasher is struggling, your first step should be to add rinse aid.
Detergents are not all the same, so experiment to find one that works in your dishwasher with your water supply. In our interview, Barry suggested using whatever detergent the manufacturer recommends. Consumer Reports ranks dishwasher detergents, and (purely anecdotally) we’ve been happy with the testing house’s top picks. Powders, tablets, and gel packs have a wider array of ingredients than liquids and gels, and they tend to work more effectively as a result.
Hard (mineral-rich) water prevents detergents from working to their full potential. Most metro areas presoften their water, so this should be a nonissue for most people. But if you live in an area with a hard municipal water supply, or if your source is a well, you’ll need to find a workaround. The most foolproof solution is to install some kind of whole-home water-softening system, but that isn’t an option for everyone. Some dishwashers have a tray for adding water-softening salts. Rinse aid will also help offset water hardness, if you need another reason to use it. Failing that, most manufacturers provide guidelines for adding extra detergent to offset hard water.
Beyond the everyday techniques for proper use, a dishwasher needs a bit of upkeep. Without that, its cleaning performance will fade over the course of a few months, and it might start to develop odors.
If your dishwasher has a mesh food filter, clean it monthly, just as you should a washable vacuum filter. Some dishwashers have food grinders instead of filters, in which case no maintenance is necessary.
Warner and Zeisler both told us that they recommend running some kind of cleaner or citric acid through your dishwasher at least once every six months (more often if you have hard water). This procedure cleans out soap, mineral, and food deposits that can cause odors and water-flow problems. You can use a specialty cleaner such as Affresh, though Warner told us that sugar-free Crystal Light works fine, and you can even buy plain old powdered citric acid. When you use the cleaner, run it with a hot-water cycle. Zeisler added that it’s a decent idea to clean the rubber gaskets with diluted white vinegar and a rag at the same intervals, too.
Zeisler also suggested that it’s wise to inspect the sump area every year, if you’re handy. Random pieces of junk like bread ties and paper labels tend to pile up down there, and some odor-causing food bits and soap scum can remain as well. It’s one level below the filter, and RepairClinic.com has some helpful videos on how to clean it out (along with some how-to clips for basic repairs).
If your dishwasher really starts to suffer from performance problems, Zeisler suggests taking a look at the water inlet valve. “That’s the number one thing when we hear that a dishwasher’s not washing well,” he told us. “It’s very susceptible to being restricted by minerals and deposits. If it doesn’t let enough water into the dishwasher, the wash system suffers severely.”
- 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 & reliability, Consumer Reports
- Historical Perspective of the Phosphate Detergent Conflict, Conflict Research Consortium at University of Colorado Boulder, February 1994 ,
- Washing Their Hands of the Last Frontier, The Washington Post, October 8, 2005 ,
- Will More Britons Buy Dishwashers?, Bloomberg Businessweek, March 22, 2012 ,
- Residential Dishwasher Introduction, Alliance for Water Efficiency
- New detergents arrive, Consumer Reports, September 2010
- Dishes Still Dirty? Blame Phosphate-Free Detergent, NPR, December 15, 2010 ,
- Cleaner for the Environment, Not for the Dishes, The New York Times, September 18, 2010 ,
Originally published: April 28, 2016