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Product Reviews

Getting the spin on dishwashers

Models boasting drawers and water softeners fail to impress

Need a new dishwasher that won’t break the budget? You can pay as little as $500 to clean your grimiest dishes of baked-on food. More good news: Some premium features, such as hidden controls and half-load wash cycles, are migrating down to the $500-to-$600 range.

All the models Consumer Reports recommended are energy- and water-efficient. Efficiency, however, doesn’t matter if you can’t trust what you are buying to last. In the magazine’s annual reader survey, there was a spike in repairs of models from Amana and Maytag, two Whirlpool brands, largely due to a recall involving the electrical failure of heating elements.

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Consumer Reports’ tests used dishes coated with egg yolks, chili, raspberry preserves, peanut butter, and other gooey ingredients to challenge the models. The details:

Higher ranking, same reliability. The previously tested LG Steam LDF7932, $1,000, is now ranked near the top in the ratings, behind only the Bosch SHX98M0[9]UC, $1,550, in overall performance. But you won’t see it or other LG models recommended because LG remains among the least reliable dishwasher brands. Its 21 percent repair rate is roughly double that of many brands.

Water softeners get a hard sell. More dishwashers, including the KitchenAid KUDS30SX, $950, include water softeners to counter spotting on dishes and other effects of hard water. KitchenAid says some users with slight water-hardness problems might want water softening only for dishwashers, and claims it can improve washing with phosphate-free detergents. But Consumer Reports found phosphate-free dishwasher detergents that already offer fine cleaning.

If your water is especially hard, you’re better off installing a whole-house softening system instead of having it on your dishwasher. That’s because water hardness affects other appliances and showering. At the very least, check with your water utility before paying the extra $100 to $150 for that feature. Some utilities soften water they supply.

Drawers still fail to impress. The latest contenders are from Fisher & Paykel: the 24-inch-wide DD24DCHTX6V2, $1,350, with two drawers, and the 36-inch, single-drawer DD36SDFTX1, $1,050. The latter holds just nine place settings and was only fair at washing. Because it’s wider than traditional dishwashers, you’d need to remodel cabinets to install it. Both models’ overall scores were dismal. Fisher & Paykel is among the brands most likely to break. Though dishwasher drawers in general are as reliable as conventional dishwashers, they tend to use more energy and water.

How to choose

Consumer Reports testers aren’t seeing longer cycle times from models that meet the 2012 Energy Star requirements. But some models already take as long as three hours.

Some shopping tips:

Weigh the features. For the most versatility, look for adjustable racks, lots of flatware slots, and if you wash large or odd-shaped items, fold-down tines. Tubs made of stainless steel or grey plastic hide stains better than tubs of white plastic. Stainless tubs are sometimes available as an option.

Match your cleaning habits. You really don’t need to prerinse dishes, and recommended models did especially well at leaving no food residue. If you insist on prerinsing, don’t pay extra for a power-scrubbing model. Either way, expect to see fewer self-cleaning filters as manufacturers add spray features that can break food into smaller bits that pass through manual filters.

Consider the controls. The Kenmore Elite 1404[3] has interactive touch controls. But touchpads are fine if clearly marked. If you opt for controls you can’t see during operation, make sure you can still see the cycle status on the front.

Consumer Reports writes columns, reviews, and ratings on cars, appliances, electronics, and other consumer goods. Previous stories can be found at consumerreports.org.
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