- Published on
- By Elizabeth Sheer
Shoppers on a budget looking for a cheap dishwasher that leaves dishes clean and shiny without making much noise or running up the utility bill will find several good options for less than $500. The key players in the low-priced segment of the market are household names: Whirlpool, GE, Frigidaire, Maytag, Kenmore, and Amana. (Bosch, Samsung, and KitchenAid make a limited appearance but mostly show up outside the Cheapism zone.) These manufacturers all offer an array of cheap dishwasher models, some distinguished by a specific bundle of features and some only by their finish: white, black, bisque, or stainless steel. (As with most appliances, stainless steel commands a markup of about $100.)
Whirlpool Gold Top Control WDT710PAY Review
# Cycles 6
Noise Level 55 dBA
# Place Settings 15
Rack Flexibility Upper and lower fold-down tines/ adjustable top rack/AnyWare basket
Soil Sensor Yes
|445||6||55 dBA||15||Upper and lower fold-down tines/ adjustable top rack/AnyWare basket||Yes|
Maytag Jetclean Plus MDB4709PA Review
# Cycles 5
Noise Level 57 dBA
# Place Settings 12
Rack Flexibility Tiered upper rack
Soil Sensor No
|404||5||57 dBA||12||Tiered upper rack||No|
GE GDF520PGD Review
# Cycles 4
Noise Level 54 dBA
# Place Settings 16
Rack Flexibility Basket in door or rack
Soil Sensor Yes
|359||4||54 dBA||16||Basket in door or rack||Yes|
Bosch Ascenta SHE3AR56UC Review
# Cycles 4
Noise Level 50 dBA
# Place Settings 14
Rack Flexibility Removable basket
Soil Sensor Yes
|490||4||50 dBA||14||Removable basket||Yes|
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. 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.
The unsurprising revelation in dishwasher reviews is that washing/cleaning excellence is consumers' top priority. Many are thrilled that prerinsing is usually no longer necessary (scrape off the scraps before loading, though), which saves time and water. Performance expectations also include quiet, trouble-free operation. Our research found that the best budget models deliver, for the most part, on all three counts.
Dishwasher Cleaning Performance.The four top picks earn mostly commendations in dishwasher reviews for cleaning ability. A small number of dissenting comments are littered throughout, expressing disappointment with leftover tea and coffee stains, oily residues, crusty remnants, and otherwise uneven results. A relatively larger proportion of negative assessments attaches to the very entry-level Frigidaire FBD2400K (starting at $233).
Sparkling clean dishes, glasses, and cutlery is the consensus opinion of the Whirlpool Gold Top Control WDT710PAY (starting at $445). Although a handful of dishwasher reviewers demur, claiming the appliance fails the thoroughness test, the vast majority of posts at Sears proclaim the Whirlpool Gold cleans anything you throw at it, including notoriously sticky eggs and cheese. Similar appraisals of the Maytag Jetclean Plus MDB4709PA (starting at $404) show up at AJ Madison, where reviews attest to its cleaning chops even as a few note the occasional failure to clean off every last baked-on crumb.
Two other models in the budget category also pass muster with users. Dishwasher reviews at sites such as Abt generally laud the cleaning action -- even with dried-on food -- of the GE GDF520PGD (starting at $359) which is helped along by the unusual inclusion (among low-price offerings) of a third spray arm. Users grouse, however, that utensils don't get fully clean when the cutlery basket sits on the door and caution that the soap dispenser may not open properly when, in an alternative location, it sits on the front of the lower rack. Experience with the Bosch Ascenta SHE3AR56UC (starting at $490) is positive overall. We found strong support for cleaning performance in most dishwasher reviews, but some at Amazon stress the need to scrape carefully and prerinse thoroughly to ensure acceptable results.
Failure to follow those practices prior to loading the Frigidaire FBD2400K guarantees disappointing results, according to comments posted at AJ Madison and Abt. One user writes that unless dishes are washed first they come out the same way they went in -- an observation seconded by some others -- although a few report clean results. This is the only model we researched with a tower wash system (rises up through the center of the tub during the wash cycle) rather than a second spray arm mounted under the top rack (and occasionally a third that would sit at the very top of the machine).
Dishwashers Noise.Next on the list of user concerns is the noise level. Reviews indicate that users assign high priority to quiet operation, hardly a surprise given the open floor plan in many homes or the kitchen's location close by dens, living rooms, and sometimes even bedrooms. Noise level partly depends on the quality of the insulation packed around the machine when it's installed, but also on its engineering. Fortunately, many manufacturers have been adding features such as sound-absorbing washtubs, vibration absorbers, and low-noise pumps to minimize the din. Their efforts are paying off: Dishwasher reviews indicate that many people who have recently replaced older models are surprised by the quietness of the new appliances.
Indeed, our top four picks win kudos on this score. Although a few dishwasher reviews grouse that the model of choice proved to be louder than expected, most describe them as extremely quiet; some users even tell of putting ear to door to make sure it's actually running. Bosch dishwashers, in particular, are known for an almost complete absence of noise, and this is the performance attribute that garners the most glowing commentary in reviews of the Ascenta SHE3AR56UC.
Decibel levels for the best budget models range from a very low 50dBA on the Bosch Ascenta up to 57dBA on the Maytag Jetclean Plus MDB4709PA. The Frigidaire FBD2400K, on the other hand, is roundly dinged in several dishwasher reviews for its 62dBA roar. One post at H.H. Gregg tells of recycling the insulation blanket from the previous dishwasher to help dampen the racket.
Dishwasher Cycles and Warranty
Dishwasher Cycles and Settings.Budget models boast enough dishwasher cycles to suit most needs, although "normal" (or "auto" on some brands) works for most households most of the time. The best of the cheapest models feature at least four dishwasher cycles, usually some combination of rinse only, quick/short, light, normal, heavy/pots & pans. Occasionally a low-priced dishwasher sports a cycle or two that has filtered down from the higher-end segment: china/crystal, energy saver, or top rack only, to name but a few. To that the GE adds a steam prewash, the Whirlpool features an overnight setting, and the Maytag offers rinse-and-hold. By contrast, the most basic and cheapest model we researched, the Frigidaire FBD2400K, offers only normal and light dishwasher cycles.
Increasingly shoppers are finding other practical settings on comparatively cheap models. For example, a sanitize setting that raises the water temperature to 160 degrees to rinse away bacteria shows up on the Whirlpool Gold WDT710PAY, GE GDF520PGD, Maytag Jetclean Plus MDB4709PA, and Bosch Ascenta SHE3AR56UC. Additionally, the Whirlpool, Bosch, and GE models are equipped with sensors that calibrate the appropriate water and temperature levels based on soil level, with the aim of conserving resources when possible. All the models we researched, but for the mechanical-dial Frigidaire, provide a delay-start up to several hours.
The best budget dishwashers have at least two spray/wash arms, one below the bottom rack and one below the top rack. The GE GDF520PGD boasts a third arm that sits at the very top of the tub. As noted above, the Frigidaire forgoes the double/triple spray-arm design in favor of a collapsible center-mounted wash tower and one arm under the lower rack.
Many low-cost dishwashers come with heated dry and/or air dry settings. The former relies on an electric element at the bottom of the unit to heat the air, while the latter uses hot air left from the wash cycle. A heated-dry option is available on the Whirlpool, GE, and Maytag models. Note, however, that reviewers are mostly down on the ability of modern dishwashers to yield up a dry load regardless which dry setting you chose and how much rinse aid is used. A word to the wise budget shopper: Don't toss away that dishtowel just yet.
Dishwasher Warranty and Durability.The usual warranty for dishwashers in the budget range is one year; according to the National Association of Homebuilders, the expected lifespan is nine years. We read quite a number of reviews written by consumers who were finally replacing a dishwasher that had lasted far longer. Whether any of the dishwashers on our list will reach comparable lifespans is impossible to predict; most reviews are written within six months of purchase.
Still, we came across a few minor trouble spots. Several reviews of all the models we researched tell of requiring service calls for one reason or another even before the warranty had expired. A small minority of reports posted at Best Buy about the Bosch Ascenta mention malfunctions such as leaks, bad circuit boards, and cycles that simply stopped working. At Amazon several owners of the Whirlpool Gold WDT710PAY refer to little dots of rust on the stainless steel version and a heating element that burned through the bottom of the tub.
The Maytag Jetclean Plus is cited at Home Depot for a leaky seal around the door and electronic and other components that give out prematurely. Heat is directed at the GE GDF520PGD in reviews at Sears for deficiencies like control board failure and a soap dispenser that fails to open.
Comparatively more problems cluster around the Frigidaire FBD2400K. Reviews at Abt and Sears note mishaps such as a clogged soap dispenser (after using powdered detergent), a pump that gave out, and leaks that ruined the floor under the appliance.
Dishwasher Design and Capacity
Dishwasher Layout.Everyone has a preferred way to load the dishwasher, and the design of its interior has a lot to do with user satisfaction. The critical parameter, of course, is sufficient rack space for dishes, platters, and bowls; cups and glasses (including those with stems); silverware and cooking utensils; and, for some users, pots and pans. What that really means is the functionality of the space. And that, in turn, largely depends on the dishwasher design: the arrangement of tines, the position of the upper rack, and the location of the cutlery basket.
All the models we researched feature tall tubs, which have capacity for more, and ostensibly larger and/or oddly shaped, items. Specifications for the tall tub dishwasher design vary by model. The GE GDF520PGD can hold up to 16 place settings, the Whirlpool Gold WDT710PAY can accommodate up to 15, and the Bosch Ascenta SHE3AR56UC claims up to 14. Both the Maytag Jetclean Plus MDB4709PA and Frigidaire FBD2400K can each take up to 12 full place settings.
Specifications are one thing, however, and kitchen reality another. In reviews at Lowe's consumers grumble about the racks on the Bosch Ascenta, saying the slanted tines and overall layout requires lots of forethought when loading and is not amenable to nonstandard dishware; the bottom rack, huffs one reviewer, is suitable only for plates. The rack design on the GE GDF520PGD likewise draws the ire of some users whose posts at Sears say the unusual tine arrangement means pots and pans don't fit. A tiered top rack on the Maytag Jetclean Plus may ensure space for tall items on the bottom but some users complain there's no headroom for taller stemware.
The Whirlpool Gold skirts many complaints about dishwasher design with what might be considered upmarket features. The top rack is removable (ditto on the GE) and can be raised or lowered, as well; additionally, the top rack sports fold-down tines (which also appear in the lower rack) and a minishelf for stacking two rows of mugs. We came across a few comments in user reviews about getting used to the layout but barely a whisper about inefficient dishwasher design. A mid-tier dishwasher we glanced at, the KitchenAid KUDS30IXWH (starting at $674) also comes with an upper rack that can be raised or lowered to accommodate the contents.
Flatware baskets come in various shapes and sizes and sometimes can be moved from place to place. Users are fussy about these baskets, commenting in reviews about the size of the holes at the bottom, the basket's placement in the machine, and on some models, basket covers that are meant to separate the utensils for better cleaning. Marketing for the Whirlpool Gold touts the flexible and space-saving virtues of the "AnyWare" basket -- it sits in the door or bottom rack or on the front of the rack. Some users clearly welcome this dishwasher design feature, but others assert that placing the basket anywhere but in the rack makes loading the utensils awkward and keeps them from getting really clean. And despite dedicated silverware jets on the GE GDF520PGD, similar complaints are lodged against the basket, which also sits either in the door or lower rack.
Energy-Efficient Dishwashers, Filters, and Safety
Energy-Efficient Dishwashers.If you ever needed a justification for turning on a dishwasher, here's one: An energy-efficient dishwasher uses less human energy and less water than hand washing. (Just be sure the appliance is fully loaded before starting it up.) The latter is far easier to calculate than the former, but never mind.
All the dishwashers on our list except for the Frigidaire FBD2400K carry the Energy Star label. Energy Star-qualified dishwashers meet or exceed standards for water and electricity consumption set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy. The Energy Star web site notes that energy-efficient models save consumers an average of $40 on utility bills compared with dishwashers built before 1994. The type of soil sensors found on the Whirlpool Gold WDT710PAY, GE GEF520PGD, and Bosch Ascenta SHE3AR56UC add to the savings. Ditto for other eco-related features, such as the overnight and eco-wash cycles on the Whirlpool Gold and the air-dry option on our top picks. The Bosch Ascenta SHE3AR56UC claims to exceed Energy Star requirements for water usage by 69 percent and other proprietary technology aims to cut energy usage by up to 20 percent.
Dishwasher Filters.Scraping and rinsing dishes before loading them into the dishwasher is supposed to be a thing of the past. If you plan on skipping this chore (but for big chunks of food), make sure the dishwasher comes equipped with a stainless steel food disposer to keep food from cycling back onto the dishes or clogging the pipes. The GE GDF520PGD and Maytag Jetclean Plus MDB4709PA satisfy this requirement.
A self-cleaning filter frees users from having to check and clean it, while a manual filter requires periodic cleaning. Perhaps counter-intuitively, many expensive European brands come with manual filters because they help reduce noise. Most cheap dishwashers, including those on our list, have self-cleaning filters.