Playing All the Angles: High-Performance Dishwashers

The latest dishwashers are quieter, use less water and have more wash options than older models did. This gives consumers more control over how and when they wash their dishes.

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If you ever had to clean crud from dishes that were supposed to be cleaned in the dishwasher, you aren’t alone. When it comes to washing every spot of hardened or baked-on debris off dishes, pots and pans, and utensils, all but the most premium of dishwashers have done less than an ideal job.

Dishwasher manufacturers are trying to tackle this issue by adding spray arms and more pressurized jets to models across their lines. These dishwashers create a more direct spray pattern that hits a dish from all four sides and from different heights and angles than before.

In addition, models that allow you to configure racks to place dishes closer to the spray arms and jets and, thus, better clean the dishes, have come down in price in the past 2 years.

BLAST AWAY. Dishwashers traditionally come with one spray arm, but now you can find premium models that have as many as seven spray arms to improve cleaning performance. A dishwasher that has two or three spray arms will cost you $50–$100 more than would a model of the same size and features that has just one spray arm. Models that have more than three spray arms cost $700 more than an otherwise comparable single-arm model. The thinking by manufacturers behind the additional spray arms is that such a dishwasher reaches more dishes, particularly in the upper recesses of the dishwasher’s cavity.

Michael Lahey, who owns a dishwasher repair shop, confirms that additional spray arms can help to clean dishes, but this endorsement comes with a caveat. Lahey believes that spray arms that are located at the top of the tub, which are relatively new, can get beat up when dishes are stacked into the upper rack. He says that in his experience repairing dishwashers, he’s seen that this causes the spray arm to break and fall off.

When asked to respond to Fahey’s observation about arms that are located at the top of a dishwasher tub breaking, Julie McCrary of Miele said her company hadn’t encountered this problem. She says all Miele spray arms are tested to last 20 years based on normal use. LG, which, like Miele, makes dishwashers that have at least three spray arms, says its spray arms are expected to last 10 years.

Representatives of Bosch, Frigidaire and Thermador, which make dishwashers that have two spray arms, tell us that the spray arms on their models should last anywhere between 5 and 10 years as long as the owner is cautious about the placement of his/her dishes and doesn’t overstack them.

However, you should keep in mind that a typical warranty from any manufacturer covers spray arms for only 1–3 years.

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Manufacturers also are adding more high-intensity or “turbo” pressurized spray jet systems to their dishwashers. (Whirlpool has gone as far as to add up to 36 targeted jets on the bottom and back wall of its Gold Series dishwasher [$849].) The high-pressure spray jets help to clear off stuck-on food from your dishes, cups and pots or pans. The good news is that high-pressure spray jets now can be found even in single-arm models that cost as little as $329.

Kenmore, LG, Maytag and Whirlpool have a targeted jet system in addition to the jets that are located on spray arms. It blasts the dishes and utensils from three to four different angles as opposed to just the one or two angles of spray-arm jets. Kenmore’s Elite system positions these jets on rotating components that further change the angle.

LG’s system, which is on its high-end models ($849–$1,100) that premiered in 2011, shoots water in a cyclone motion that’s aimed at the dishwasher’s bottom rack and then whips water in a spinning motion for the top rack. This is combined with an intense discharge of steam from the rear of the dishwasher that covers delicate glassware and pots in a heavy blast of steam, which sanitizes them and removes any lingering spots, according to LG.

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