The Dirt on Dishwashers, by Sherise Dorf Sweat Equity

Once upon a time, the dishwasher was considered a luxury appliance, one of which to boast at dinner parties and one that could boost the saleability of a home or condo. Nowadays, homeowners consider it a definite necessity, and turn to manufacturers worldwide in their search for the one that can perform the most tricks--efficiently, quietly, reliably and at the right price.

There's a fairly clear distinction between dishwashers made in the U.S. and dishwashers made in Europe. U.S. dishwashers--made by the likes of Whirlpool, GE and Frigidaire--are geared to clean those dishes, come hell or high water usage. Most of them also have a miniature garbage disposer of sorts so that whatever gets washed off the dishes can be ground up and flushed away.

European dishwashers, on the other hand, are geared to conserve. They do clean dishes, but in general, they use far less water and energy than their U.S. counterparts. One way they save energy is by eliminating the food grinder and replacing it with a filter. No grinder also tends to make European dishwashers quieter. The trade-off is that whoever uses the dishwasher might have to periodically clean the filter, unless the dishes are pre-rinsed to get rid of big chunks of stuff.

So basically, the U.S. versions get the job done and are lower maintenance, whereas the European versions are better looking and conserve resources. In financial terms, U.S. dishwashers are generally cheaper to buy but cost more in water and electric bills. Euro dishwashers are more expensive to buy but cheaper to use.

Getting the Best of Both

So...if you're like most Americans, you're probably hoping to come across a model that combines sleek European design with the soil-stomping functionality and price you're used to getting from U.S. manufacturers.

That's a tall order, but as the two dishwasher schools converge, the products get better and better. There's always been that huge difference between U.S. and European dishwashers, says Carolyn Verweyst, Whirlpool's manager of marketing communications, but U.S. manufacturers are making design improvements to meet consumers' needs. Such improvements include reducing water usage, redesigning dish racks and sprayers for maximum coverage and beefing up insulation for quieter cycles.

Apparently, homeowners love the look of the European dishwashers from companies like Miele, Bosch and Asko, but we're not necessarily comfortable shelling out upwards of $1,000 for looks alone. "They're certainly beautiful," Verweyst admits, but their emphasis on water conservation means they have no way of disposing of food particles, a process that can require an additional quart of water. "I can't imagine many people in this country spending that much on a dishwasher that requires them to rinse the dishes first."

Just as Americans are finding ways to use less water and energy, so Europeans are making their units less high-maintenance.

In 1997, the German manufacturer Bosch opened a dishwasher plant in the U.S. and now offers what it calls "the best of both worlds: European design and engineering coupled with American manufacturing." One positive upshoot of this arrangement, according to the company, is there's no pre-rinsing necessary with Bosch dishwashers. "We never had that type of step," says a spokesperson in the corporate office, "as long as people scrape off the big pieces of food, everything will run smoothly."

Miele boasts that each dishwasher is custom configured to meet clients' needs. Its "Novotronic" line is equipped with electronic controls that are "capable of performing hundreds of tasks." One feature allows the consumer to load and wash just the top half of the dishwasher.

And then there's Fisher & Paykel, a New Zealand company that offers a new spin on dishwashers. That new spin is called the Dish Drawer, and that's just what it is: a dishwasher in drawer form. Two of the units can be stacked to fit in the space of one conventional dishwasher, and they can be operated independently. The company began selling these babies in the U.S. in autumn 1998.

Find pretty pictures of dishwashers in Dishwasherpalooza!

whirlpool dishwasher

Traditionally, U.S. dishwashers, like the Whirlpool model above, were built for power and ease of use. European models, like the Bosch below (actually built in the U.S. now), were designed to run quietly and conserve energy and water. These schools of thought are gradually merging.

bosch dishwasher

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