Models vary in terms of capacity and special features: While some entry-level units start at $200, those with bonuses, such as hidden controls, can cost upwards of $2,000.
- The number of place settings it holds. Dishwashers with standard-size tubs fit 12 five-piece place settings. If you entertain frequently, consider ones with tall tubs, which store 14 place settings and can easily handle large stockpots, vases, and cookie trays. Ideal for tight areas, compact 18-inch models hold six to eight settings. Don't feel guilty loading up these workhorses; they actually use less water than you would doing the dishes by hand. Isn't technology great?
- A delay-start option. This allows you to set the machine to turn on at a later time, like when you're tucked snugly in bed. (Plus, in some areas, utility rates are lower at night.) If you're concerned about noise, opt for an insulated machine or one that touts whisper-quiet capabilities.
- A forced-air mode. Without forced air, which involves a fan circulating dry air downward throughout the drying period, "anything with a concave top―like plastic cups, bowls, and upturned wineglasses―will collect water," says Hall. "It's a pain."
- Space-saving details. Some have tines that fold down to accommodate large platters; others have top racks that can be adjusted or removed.
- Multiple cycles. Choose a sanitizing cycle for baby bottles or a gentle cycle labeled specifically for glassware. Some new units have a steam cycle to get baked-on grime off dishes while using less water. If you would like to run small loads or quick loads of glasses during a party, "look for dishwashers with short cycles," says Reed-Granger. These can be as fast as 25 minutes, compared with more than two hours for normal cycles.