Top-Rated Dishwashers: Feature Attractions

Manufacturers are adding features to enhance dishwashers’ cleaning capability. Meanwhile, design innovations and wireless capability deliver benefits that you can see.

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If you’re in the market for a dishwasher, you’ll find that manufacturers have a variety of ways to clean dishes and use a number of terms to describe their appliance’s cleaning performance. Each company promises that its innovation is the best when it comes to ridding pots, pans, plates and utensils of debris.

For example, in June 2016, GE Appliances introduced its Deep Clean Silverware jets. The system is meant to clean your flatware better than ever before. Dedicated jets that are meant to clean particular items aren’t new, but GE says its 40-plus jets that spray water from below the flatware basket provide a more intense focus of spray than do the company’s silverware jets that are found on lower priced models. The feature is included in GE Profile, GE Café and Monogram brand dishwashers (starting at $899).

However, experts tell us that little difference exists between the cleaning performance of dishwashers. Unless the dishwasher is overfilled, “very seldom will you see particles left on dishes,” says Shirley Hood, who is an appliances expert at retailer Abt.

PERFORMANCE ISSUES. Rising prices, of course, are always a concern for consumers, and proposed federal regulations threatened to increase the price of a dishwasher by 2019. Fortunately, that threat was eliminated in November 2016 when Department of Energy (DOE) decided not to change its minimum efficiency standards for dishwashers.

In 2014, DOE proposed standards that would have cut a full-size (24-inch-wide) dishwasher’s energy use by 24 percent and its water use by 38 percent, to 234 kilowatt-hours (kwh) per year and 3.1 gallons per wash cycle, respectively, from 307 kwh and 5.0 gallons. The standards were supposed to take effect in 2019.

Manufacturers weren’t pleased, particularly because DOE didn’t consult them before issuing the proposed standards, they say. In a response to DOE in 2015, trade group Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) included a study of DOE’s new standards. The conclusion: The new standards would be bad for consumers.

AHAM said the standards would hinder dishwasher performance. Consequently, it said, consumers would prewash dishes or use more-vigorous cleaning cycles, thus, wiping out the standards’ intended environmental benefits.

In its final determination, DOE concluded that consumers would benefit from the energy and water savings of its proposed standards but left open the possibility that the new standards might have affected the dishwasher’s performance.

However, GE’s Cynthia Fanning told us that the proposed standards likely would have resulted in increased prices to dishwashers because of the necessity to add sensors, redesign hydraulic systems and make further design changes. She didn’t specify an amount, but we believe that the increase could have been significant.

The current standard for Energy Star status for a full-size dishwasher is 270 kwh per year and 3.5 gallons per wash cycle—standards that are close to what DOE had proposed. As of press time, the lowest priced Energy Star-rated dishwasher cost $349, compared with $299 for a similarly featured noncompliant model.

However, as of press time, we found only one full-size model by a national brand that meets both of DOE’s proposed standards—the Viking FDW302—and it costs at least an additional $360 compared with a similarly featured model that meets Energy Star standards but not the proposed DOE standards.

This seems to have been the reason why DOE scuttled the standards. Although DOE indicates in its final determination that manufacturers likely would have absorbed the costs of converting most of the market because of competition, we believe that at least some of the costs would have been passed along to the consumer.

A new presidential administration that’s expected to be friendlier to business than it is to consumers and the environment with regard to regulation makes us doubt that DOE will adjust dishwasher standards any further.

IN DOORS. While manufacturers tinker with the performance of their dishwashers, they also continue to add innovative features to stand out in the crowded marketplace. The most obvious involve the door.

In the past 2 years, Gaggenau and Miele took the design of dishwasher doors to a new dimension among national brands by removing the handle. Hood tells us that these innovations fit a desire to have appliances that fit flush with countertops and cabinetry for a sleek appearance. “It looks like there’s one less appliance,” she says.

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