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A Guide to Understanding Dishwashers

Initial designs for the dishwasher were commercially unsuccessful, but the wash-cycle machines are now commonplace in homes around the world. With features ranging from food disposal units to digital controls, dishwashers have become as uniquely essential to the kitchen as ovens and refrigerators.

While dishwasher quality varies, most models work the same way. With a drop-down door and multiple pullout racks, they soak dishes using a variation of tubing and sprinkler systems. Dry cycles are also standard.

Types of Dishwashers

  • Built-in dishwashers: The most common variation, built-in dishwashers are installed right into the kitchen cabinetry. They come in a large variety of models and sizes.
  • Drawer dishwashers: Instead of having two pull-out racks, drawer dishwashers are separated into two drawers, the contents of which can be washed either separately or together. This is convenient for people who often have smaller loads and want to save water.
  • Integrated dishwashers: Designed to blend in, integrated dishwashers are installed into cabinetry with similar paneling to help it blend in and appear like another cabinet door.
  • Compact dishwashers: About two-thirds the size of a standard dishwasher, a compact dishwasher is made specifically for kitchens with limited space.
  • "Instant" tabletop dishwashers: Relatively new, instant dishwashers are small and rest in a countertop next to the sink, providing easy water and waste disposal. The design is convenient for single-person meals, but it does not accommodate large loads.

Important Dishwasher Features

  • Stainless steel models are the most effective, for many reasons. Plastic filters, for example, are often more costly to maintain, and plastic parts can vary in quality from store to store. For this reason, stainless steel dishwashers will also have better warranties. Stainless steel is somewhat pricier, but it resists stains and odors much better than plastic basins. It also improves machine performance: Stainless steel aids in the water-heating process, and stainless steel machines dry more quickly. This saves both time and energy. Stainless steel also resists hard water, better dampening sound.
  • Noise is a feature that often irritates us. For that reason, it should be something to consider when shopping for a new dishwasher. Also, brands that offer noise-resistant designs often adjust power settings and water levels to better handle the amount of dishes in the machine, making them more energy efficient in addition to moderating noise levels. Dishwasher noise can range from 45 to 60 decibels, and each machine comes with an individual listing of its decibel level. Be aware, though, that depending on your kitchen -- ceramic floors, for example, will carry noise more than hardwood floors -- the actual noise level can vary.

Dishwashers Designs

While the most common dishwasher colors are stainless steel, black, white and bisque, custom color options are also available. Some stores will do specialty orders in pastel colors, but companies will offer more variations to customers having a built-in dishwasher installed. The variations include many common cabinet colors and designs.

If you are concerned with the dishwasher design flowing with the rest of your kitchen cabinets, consider custom installation. Some companies use a process called hydroforming -- popular in modern automobiles -- to shape strong metals into lightweight structures, preventing them from appearing bulky or out of place. Also, be wary of generic paneling. Many front panels on standard warehouse dishwashers are glued on, making them prone to allowing excess water buildup and falling off. Again, stainless steel models avoid this problem.

Dishwasher To-Do List

  1. Gauge what size dishwasher you want. How much space do you have, and what model will fit best into your kitchen? Consider also what will be most convenient. While kitchen islands may seem like appealing locations, for example, they may make loading and unloading the dishwasher more difficult if the island is too far from the sink.
  2. Decide which features are most important to you. Do you prefer digital controls for after-hours operation? Will you want a food disposal unit included?
  3. Research warranties before setting foot in a store. Store employees will likely brush over warranties in their sales pitch, so look into your options online or in company brochures. Many companies now limit their warranty offers, so look for the best fit, particularly if you're investing in a more expensive model.
Last Updated: July 22, 2011
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About Emelie Battaglia Emelie Battagila is a contributing writer for

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