Basic Dishwasher Features
Whichever type of dishwasher you are thinking about buying, there are some general features that apply to all of them. You need to understand what these are, and how they impact your decision to buy a dishwasher. This article explains the different dishwasher features that are available today and what you need to know about each one in order to fully understand them.
All dishwashers are basically a 'box' that holds your dishes while a series of hot water jets are used inside the 'box' to blast off any food or grease. The hot water is either directly plumbed into the appliance, or it comes from hoses that are attached to the sink faucet. Both methods still end up using the normal household water supply. Similarly, the dirty water that exits the dishwasher 'box' just goes into your normal kitchen drain system. Beyond this basic description, is a vast selection of additional features and options.
Depending upon whether you are just starting to look at dishwashers or if you have been researching them for a while, some of the features below may be new to you. Don't be overwhelmed. Just take them one at a time, and soon you will feel comfortable with them. Keep in mind the simple 'box' description, above. It will help you to decide which dishwasher features you want to spend your money on.
Once you've seen the variety that you have to choose from with the basic options, have a look next at the Best Dishwasher Features. They will really open your eyes to some possibilities.
How Big is Big Enough?
The first thing to think about is the physical size of the dishwasher. This can be the determining factor for which type of dishwasher you finally buy. Single people, retired couples or someone living in their RV may only have the option to buy a Countertop Dishwasher. Most people will be able to choose between a standard Built-in Dishwasher or a slimline 18 inch Dishwasher. Then it just depends upon how much space you have in your kitchen.
What really matters is how many dishes, pots and pans you need to load in a single wash. Running a dishwasher that is only half full is a huge waste of water and energy. Regularly needing to run two separate loads because you have too many dishes is even more wasteful.
You need to assess how many place settings you wash after a regular meal, and also remember to include any cookware and utensils that you use. Try to figure out what your average load will be and then use that amount as the minimum that you require. If that means that you only have 2 place settings to wash each day then fair enough. That means that you just saved a bunch of money on both the initial ticket price of the dishwasher and also for ongoing water and energy costs.
All of the manufacturers will display how many place settings they can handle in each model. These tend to be a little optimistic but give you a rough idea. The best way to decide if it will be big enough for you is to test it out. Bring a couple of your regular plates, bowls and pans to the store and see if you can load them successfully. If you bake regularly then bring a cookie sheet too, so you can see how it fits (or not).
My Tub's Taller than your Tub
One way to increase the capacity of the dishwasher without making it bigger is to have a taller 'tub' inside. The 'tub' is the name for the internal container that actually holds all the dishes, racks and spray arms. This is different than the outer 'shell' which is really just the shiny packaging for the appliance. By keeping the outer shell the same size but increasing the tub height, you get larger capacity in the same space.
To do this, manufacturers have reduced the size of the internal working components such as the water pumps and heating elements. Some have also moved the control panel onto the front door rather than taking up space above the tub.
How Tough Are You?
Older dishwashers used metal that was coated in enamel to construct the tub. This caused problems over time as the enamel would crack or chip and the underlying metal would then rust.
Modern dishwashers use either plastic or stainless steel. The plastic tubs are more than adequate for handling the job. They will usually outlast the mechanical components of the dishwasher.
The use of stainless steel has certain benefits. It can withstand much higher temperatures than plastic tubs which means that you can truly sanitize items. They are also heavier and will therefore be less inclined to cause noise due to vibrations. Stainless steel also retains heat better than plastic. During the drying cycle this means that less energy and time is needed which saves you money.
You are now in Hot Water
A feature that you might not realize is the temperature of the water in a dishwasher. It is far hotter than anything you would use to hand wash dishes. Most models will heat the water up to 140 - 150 F. Some even offer a 'sanitize' feature that gets the water up to 165 F during the wash cycle, successfully removing bacteria.
For more details about sanitizing dishes, go to Best Dishwasher Features.
Not Just Water
If you were able to get water hot enough and blast it at your dishes then there really is no need for anything else. That is the secret to the sanitize feature on some models. However, this does use up a lot of costly energy. Therefore most wash cycles rely upon some kind of detergent. Dishwasher detergent is not like your other detergents and you should never try to use a hand wash soap or detergent in your dishwasher. It would create too many suds and overflow the appliance.
Dishwasher detergents are chemically designed to react to the high temperatures of the water. This causes them to release effective cleansing agents that can remove the food and grease from the dishes.
Rinse aids are another useful feature. They are dispensed during relevant wash cycles and help to wash off the detergent residue. This is particularly important for glassware to prevent it from getting spots or streaks.
Rinse aids also help to reduce the effects of calcium deposits in hard water areas. The better dishwasher models have adjustable dispensers to allow you to balance out the hardness of your water.
For more details, go to Best Dishwasher Features.
Racks, Racks and More Racks
Every dishwasher has racks. They hold your dishes in place while the blasts of hot water hit them from all directions. They prevent the items from hitting each other and causing damage. There is a huge variety of rack systems and designs.
Adjustable racks allow you to move them up and down inside the dishwasher. This makes it easier to squeeze in your favorite 20 quart pot.
Removable racks allow you to completely take out one of the racks so that you have maximum space. This is great for washing tall items such as cookie sheets or large serving platters.
Most rack designs also have various flip up or fold down 'tines'. Tines are long spikes that the dishes rest against. You can have them 'up' to hold plates and then lay them flat to keep them out of the way for your long serving spoons. Other designs have baskets for cutlery that can be moved around too.
Racks are typically metal that is coated in either nylon or vinyl. Nylon is toughest and is less likely to wear down over time and expose the metal.
What did you say?
A dishwasher is a complex piece of equipment with many moving parts. In operation this can mean that it is fairly noisy. Since a lot of homes have an open plan where people sit near the kitchen, this can be a problem. Manufacturers are aware of this and many claim to be very quiet. You will have to decide for yourself if you agree. Ask for a demonstration at the store or research the noise ratings for the models you are considering.
One reason for the noise is the food grinders or food disposers in most models. These reduce food particles to a size that is easily washed away to the drain. However, they do create noise.
Some European brands use filters instead of grinders which avoids this noise completely. However, you do pay a price by having to manually clean out the filters regularly.
Wash Cycles and Wash Programs
Everything you put into the dishwasher will not be the same. Different types of dishes need to be treated differently. This is why there are various wash cycles and wash programs to choose from in modern dishwashers.
A dishwasher does not just blast the dishes with water and detergent all at once. Instead, it runs various cycles of water and soap, water alone, and periods of drying. This selection of wash cycles and how they are scheduled makes up the wash programs. Manufacturers have developed wash programs that are best suited for cleaning china, crystal, pots and pans, glassware, etc.
However, most people usually only need 3 basic wash programs - 'pots and pans', 'heavy wash' and 'light wash'. Try to be honest with yourself about paying for fancy wash programs unless you will use them.
For lots more details about wash programs, go to Best Dishwasher Features.
Inside the dishwasher, the key factor is blasting the dishes from all angles with hot water. The number and placement of the water jets is therefore important to ensure that everything gets properly washed.
Dishwashers can have static jets built into the tub but most of the cleaning is performed by the wash arms. These arms are covered in holes where water shoots out at high speed. The arms move around inside the dishwasher so that every dish gets cleaned.
Some models have only 1 wash arm, others have 3 wash arms. Some have a central tower that simply spins and sprays jets of water in all directions.
The best dishwashers are rated by the US government and given an EnergyStar rating. This is an unbiased review of how energy efficient the appliance is when operating under normal conditions. This information allows you to compare one model with another to decide which will cost you more money over time. The long term savings can make a 'more expensive' model a smarter choice.
These ratings are simply a guide and are only tested using a full dishwasher load and using a 'standard' wash cycle. However, it is better than just believing the sales pitch.
There are 2 ways to dry dishes - naturally air drying or heated air drying. The first method just circulates air around the dishes and the second method blows hot air over them for a quicker result.
Heated drying does use up energy and can be costly.
If you have a family then child safety features will be an important consideration because the water inside a dishwasher can be very hot.
Most brands have an automatic locking mechanism to prevent opening of the door during a wash cycle. Some offer a coded lock system to stop any wandering fingers from starting or stopping the appliance. Others have the control panel built into the top edge of the door. This means that there is nothing at all on the front of the dishwasher that can be 'played around with'.
A few manufacturers also have a device that slows down the front door when opened so that it cannot crash down onto an unsuspecting child.
This has been an overview of the basic dishwasher features that you need to understand in order to make well informed decisions. There is a lot that we covered here and a lot that you need to remember. Dishwashers are complex appliances but if you break them down into their separate features then they are much easier to understand.
There are many more features that you will see available in modern dishwashers and more information is given about them in the article titled Best Dishwasher Features.
So, do your homework, learn about the features, then decide with confidence which ones you need.
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