The Insider: Full steam ahead for clean and easy dishes

Washing up by hand can be a quick and simple way to clean your dishes, but it's possible to save time, money, water and effort if you invest in a good dishwasher.

The type of dishwasher that best suits you will probably depend on how many people there are in your household or how often you entertain.

"A full-size dishwasher holds up to 14 place settings – an enormous 147 plates, bowls, cups, saucers, knives, forks and spoons," says Martyn Hocking, editor of Which?. "Smaller households, or those with less space, might want to opt for slimline models. You can even get table-top styles that are a bit bigger than a microwave and ideal for people who live on their own."

The type and number of programs vary between different models. As well as standard wash cycles, most also have eco programs that save water and electricity, and some have half-load programs.

Other options to look out for include intensive programs, which are designed to clean extremely dirty pots and pans, delicate programs for fine china and glassware, and programs specifically for use with three-in-one tablets which combine detergent, rinse aid and dishwasher salt.

You don't have to buy a dishwasher with lots of different programs to get a good machine though, as most people tend to use just the main and energy-save programs.

The Bosch SMS69L09 (£508), above left, is one of the top-performing full-size dishwashers in Which?'s tests. As well as being one of the quietest machines Which? has tested, it is cavernous inside and is particularly good at drying dishes – leaving very few watermarks. Its water and energy use are also good for a large machine.

According to Which?, the highest-scoring slimline model is currently the Miele G120SC (£657), above right. It cleans crockery, cutlery and glassware well, on both the main and the eco program, and is also a good choice if you're after a quiet machine. It's easy to use and the main program is shorter than some models, at just two hours.

Which?'s latest reliability survey found that Bosch, Siemens, Neff and Miele dishwashers were the most reliable.

Where to buy

It's a good idea to look at the model you're interested in to check the displays and controls are easy to use, but even the largest retailers only have limited stocks on display in store. If you can't find the model you want near to where you live, retailers such as John Lewis and Currys will order appliances for you from their online catalogue or another branch, while independents will often track down models for you.

Alternatively, many manufacturers, including Bosch, keep lists of dealers that you can access by calling their customer care telephone line or on the company's website.

Questions to ask...

How flexible is the space?

Some models have adjustable or removable lower baskets, height-adjustable or tilting upper baskets, and cutlery baskets with a removable top.

What handy features does it have?

Look for lights that warn you when the rinse-aid or salt need topping up, as well as timer or delayed start functions so you can set your machine to run overnight.

What safety features does it have?

Dishwashers use strong chemical detergents and scaldingly hot water, yet only a few models have child-safety locks to stop the door being opened while the machine is running. Most machines have anti-flood devices.

How eco-friendly is it?

Dishwashers are graded "A" to "G" for energy efficiency, with "A" being the most efficient. Choosing the energy-save program uses less water and electricity, but there's no standard definition, so one machine's standard program may be more economical than another model's energy-save program.

How easy to use are the controls?

They can come with concealed controls, raised or flush buttons, or electronic touch pads. Check they are big enough to read, and easy to operate.

The Insider is written by Which?, the independent consumer champion. For more information go to www.which.co.uk/dishwashers. To get three issues of Which? magazine for a special price of £3, call 01992 822800 and quote INADVICE.

theinsider@independent.co.uk

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