A standard dishwasher will offer at least three wash cycles in its repertoire: light, normal and heavy (or pots and pans). Each cycle is different in speed, water temperature and pressure, and the number of washes and rinses it emits. The lighter the cycle, the lighter the wash.
Most dishwashers boast a soil, dirt or clean sensor, which monitors the wash and rinse cycles and the level of dirt in the water, adjusting the cycle until the dishes are clean. Often these sensors are automatic, but some dishwashers require the user to select selected upon starting a cycle.
You'll pay more to get multiple wash arms or jets placed strategically around the dishwasher's interior. The cheaper models have a central wash tower that leaves less space for dishes.
For many people, three cycles are enough. However, parents with young children, large households, wine aficionados, frequent hosts and other folks might have a need for special cycles, including:
- Auto clean: An electronic sensor automatically adjusts the cycle depending on how dirty the dishes are.
- China/crystal: a light wash and rinse and not-too-hot drying cycle won't chip and crack your kitchen delicates.
- Delay wash: a feature that allows you to delay the start of the preferred cycle. This setting can be used to wash dishes once you are away from the kitchen or have gone off to bed (electricity rates are often cheaper at night).
- Half load: This allows you to wash just one rack at a time.
- Quick wash: For those dishes you've pre-rinsed, but need a hot wash before you can call them clean.
- Rinse/hold: This allows you to rinse your dirty dishes if you don't have a full load and aren't ready to run a full dishwasher cycle.
- Plate warmer: Once your dishes are clean, this setting will warm your dishes to a perfect temperature right before you serve your food.
- Power wash: This cycle uses a concentrated jet of hot water to clean off caked-on foods.
- Sanitize: In this cycle, the dishwasher warms the water as high as 140 or 150 degrees Fahrenheit to kill any bacteria that may be present. Most cycles only heat up to 120 degrees.
Rinse-aid dispensers come with many dishwashers and are a must if you have hard water and want to avoid calcium deposits on your dishes. A high-heat wash cycle also helps.
If you like to monitor the dishwasher's progress, avoid integrated controls-you won't be able to look without interrupting the cycle.