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Cheap Dishwashers Buying Guide

We identified four models that that don't skimp on features or performance, thus qualifying as best cheap dishwashers. The Whirlpool Gold Top Control WDT710PAY (starting at $445) is a hit with consumers for its array of wash cycles and settings, flexible design, and high-level performance.

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Also sitting on the top rung is the Maytag Jetclean Plus MDB4709PA (starting at $404), with fewer frills but similar commendations for clean results. The second-best cheap dishwashers include the GE GDF520PGD (starting at $359), which boasts three spray arms and a steam prewash and generally satisfies users, and the Bosch Ascenta SHE3AR56UC (starting at $490), which comes with some griping about the rack layout but acclaim for very quiet and energy-efficient operation. One budget model that fails to impress is the super-cheap, basic Frigidaire FBD2400K (starting at $233), a non-starter that gets zapped for poor build quality and noisy operation.

The standard built-in dishwasher is a front-loader that measures 24 inches across. (Anyone strapped for space will need to hunt around for alternatives -- there are only a handful of 18-inch models out there.) The best of the cheap dishwashers feature four or more wash cycles that each suit different soil levels, often boast a sanitize option and hard-food disposer (goodbye prerinse), are designed with a tall tub and racks that maximize interior space, include a delay-start, and sport an Energy Star label. Ultra high-end dishwashers bearing brand names such as Miele and Thermador can hit stratospheric price points -- $2,000 is no exaggeration -- and come loaded with even more features -- 19 wash cycles (including cheese/starch and plastics), for example, or a beam of light projected onto the floor that indicates how far the cycle has progressed.

But frugal shoppers needn't fret about missing out. As the marketing information experts at J.D. Power & Associates explain, anyone who uses the same basic settings all the time (and that's most of us) won't derive any benefit from the snazzy stuff, so there's no sense paying for it.

Perhaps more importantly, the best cheap dishwashers perform just fine. Although complaints about food residue on dishes, spots on flatware, and milky film on glasses crop up in reviews of nearly every budget model, the vast majority of purchasers are thoroughly pleased with the best of the current crop. They rave about the sparkle and shine, the convenience, and the relative quiet.

Two issues, however, irk even those who give a thumbs-up to the appliance's cleaning prowess: The very long cycle, nearly three hours from start to finish when using a "normal" or "heavy" setting along with sanitizing and dry options (this is about double the cycle time required by older models) and the likelihood that the tub's contents remain wet even after going through a heated dry. (Manufacturers recommend using a rinse aid to facilitate drying and spot-free results but consumers report this tactic often falls short.) Reports of both performance weaknesses pervade the cheap dishwasher category and are largely attributable to the resource-conserving goals and requirements of the Energy Star program.

A couple of other matters are worth keeping in mind. Unless you plan to install the dishwasher yourself, note that the cost of professional installation can add several hundred dollars to the price of a dishwasher, depending where you buy it and where you live. Also, dishwashers don't automatically come with the fittings necessary for installation, so be sure to check whether this is part of the package or requires a separate purchase.

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by Elizabeth Sheer (Google+ Profile)

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