Dear Umbra,

I’m in the market for a new dishwasher, one that uses as little water and energy as possible and still gets that flatware sparklin’ clean. But I don’t have a lot of dough to blow on appliances. Any thoughts?

Orem, Utah

Dearest Dean,

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I really can’t say enough about Consumer Reports and its online archives of product reviews and ratings. The subscription is worth the $4.95 per month.

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An Energy Star-bellied
Photo: U.S. DOE.

I approached buying a dishwasher by cross-referencing the Consumer Reports recommendations with handy Energy Star ratings. Energy Star is a labeling project of the U.S. EPA; when you go into an appliance store these days, any appliance with an Energy Star rating has a little flier inside it describing its energy use. I suggest you march into the store with a Consumer Reports ranking, a budget, and knowledge of your dishwashing needs (height, capacity, decorative touches), then compare the Energy Star details of the machines that could fit your bill.

It’s worth it to spend the time and money to get a dishwasher that works. You won’t need to waste water on pre-rinsing, or money on repairs. One little secret: In my area (Seattle), Sears has a scratch-and-dent center where they send all their slightly banged appliances for sale at a discount. Call around and find out if a similar outlet is available in your part of Utah.

And, as a final note, since I know a great many readers are wondering: If fully loaded but not overloaded, if no pre-rinsing is done, if low-energy cycles are used, then yes! A dishwasher is more water-efficient and hygienic than doing ’em the old-fashioned way.