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The Dishwasher Dilemma

My wife and I have decided that we really, really need to replace our dishwasher. It hasn’t cost us hundreds of dollars in repairs. It hasn’t leaked all over the floor. It hasn’t caught fire. But it doesn’t clean the dishes. In my mind, when an appliance is not equal to the challenge brought by its sole purpose, then it is useless.

Ever since leaving my childhood home and hopping from place to place in the pursuit of an education and a career, there has been one constant: General Electric appliances in my kitchen. Each time, they came with the place I lived in. Whether it was the age-old equipment in my ’60s-era Orlando apartment or the brand new builder-grade appliances installed in our first new home in Naples, the GE logo has been on all of it. And while there are some things that GE seems capable of putting together, like a range, a wall oven or even a microwave, I have officially had it with their refrigerators and dishwashers.

The refrigerator problem was solved for us when we moved to Texas, because here, it’s common for homeowners to take their fridges with them when they move out. Faced with the need to buy a new fridge, we did like all of our friends and bought a Samsung. It has served us well since (although I admit that a year and a half of service time is hardly enough indicator). But there under the countertop — groan — was yet another GE dishwasher for our enjoyment, model GLD5500L00BB. All dressed in tuxedo black, it tried to impress upon me the idea that it wasn’t as underqualified for its duties as were the older, eggshell-white GE dishwashers installed at all of my previous residences. But I wasn’t fooled by appearances. This thing is perhaps the biggest slouch of them all.

The first bad dishwasher omen was at the house inspection. Before we bought the place, I dropped in with an inspector to thoroughly check things out, and when he started up the dishwasher, it groaned and rumbled like nothing I’ve ever heard before. Still, it seemed to clean OK, so I put it aside. Once we moved in, I did some Internet research and found tons of people complaining about the same issue. Apparently the water supply tube that connects the lower and upper spray arms is poorly secured, and if it pops a couple of clips it’ll start vibrating and making that rumbling sound. Some securely-placed nylon zip ties took care of that.

But in the year that followed, the dishwasher seemed only to fall further and further to ruin. It developed squeaks everywhere — the door, the racks, and something internal which squeals ominously during the middle of each cycle. Its slipshod construction is more obvious now than ever. But most importantly, the damn thing won’t clean. It doesn’t matter what detergent you use, doesn’t matter what cycle options you set, doesn’t matter whether you enable heated drying or not, doesn’t matter if you use a rinse aid. We thoroughly pre-wash everything we put into it, and the dishes still come out with food stuck to them, soap scum all over them and weird grittiness everywhere. Our water is fairly hard (about 8 grains average, according to the city), so we added a water softening agent to the mix. It got rid of the nasty white film, but not the caked-on food, soap residue and other bizarre weirdness.

When the day came that I picked up a cereal bowl to slurp the last remnants of milk out of it and got a mouthful of nasty-tasting caked dishwasher detergent instead, I decided enough was enough.

Our challenge now has been to find a suitable replacement, for we have never before purchased a dishwasher. Buying any kind of appliance in the modern era is, of course, an exercise in trying to outsmart the marketing departments of large corporations who would like you to think that the 200-dollar shit-tub at the bottom of their lineup will polish your dishes to a high mirror shine for just pennies a day, because it’s obviously a load of baloney. All appliances are not created equal, and certainly almost none are equal in longevity to the machines we designed and built fifty years ago. When your parents tell you the brand name of the fifteen-year-old dishwasher they swear by, does it even matter? That company is probably now owned by a foreign conglomerate, either that or they outsourced all their appliance manufacturing to the lowest bidder, making the number of similarities between their new units and your parents’ unit exactly zero. But the new ones cost a lot less, so hey, all’s good, right?

I would be fooling myself, though, if I said that price was no object. It’s always an object — for almost everyone. In a day and age where you half-expect to be billed by either a government entity or a large corporation each time you take a shit and even cast a sideways glance at the loo roll, there’s a need to watch your expenses in nearly every area. So we settled on a budget of about $500 for a dishwasher and went looking at what that would get us.

With a budget in mind, maybe some people just pick an attractive appliance that falls within that budget and then call it a day. I, on the other hand, will spend hours poring over reviews, reports, compros and retailer deals to find the ultimate combination of price, performance and reliability. For the money and features, it looks like the Whirlpool Gold Series WDT710PAYM is the one to beat.

It’s unfortunate, then, that this models lacks three features that I would really like to have: a display on the door that tells me what the bloody thing is doing, a self-cleaning filter and a hard food disposer. You’d think that the latter two options would be found only on high-end dishwashers — and you’d be right, in this day and age — but chances are your dishwasher has them, assuming you haven’t replaced it in the last few years. Turns out, those used to be very common features. Apparently manufacturers have found it convenient to drop said features from most of their models as a way of further monetizing ever more expensive appliance tiers, and then blaming it on the environmentalist movement. Okay, fine, I suppose I can live with yet another filter that I have to remember to pull out and clean from time to time.

Then, last night I ran across the latest Frigidaire dishwasher series. For about a hundred bucks more than what the Whirlpool was selling for, I could get those three missing features, along with a fingerprint-resistant coating on the stainless steel door, more configurable delay start times and other goodies. It seemed perfect. But then my research hit a snag.

Almost as if some kind of misinformation campaign had been launched, I found either a complete lack of reviews on the Frigidaire unit, or reviews so polarized that I could scarcely believe that more than half of them could be legit. Amazon has no listing for the current Frigidaire unit I was interested in, so I went back to their listing for last year’s model, and found 31 reviews with a solid 1-star rating. Leaks, fires, repeated failures, you name it — everybody hated that thing with a passion. And yet then you go to Best Buy’s website, and the reviews are glowing, near 5-star average. What in the hell is going on? I guess I could pay Consumer Reports $7 to gain access to their reviews long enough to do some supposedly “unbiased” research, but after learning about how their automotive review process works, I don’t trust them any more than I trust some random Joe Q. Blow on Amazon or Best Buy’s review sections.

My only explanation is that a swath of these Frigidaire reviews have been bought and paid for. But which swath? The bad ones, funded by Frigidaire’s competition? Or the good ones, funded by Frigidaire themselves? The latter seems vastly more likely, but who can really say. At times I feel like consumers are merely pawns in a continuously spinning game of lies, corruption and deceit, with the end result being that we all have to do the equivalent of sticking our money in the maw of a random cannon and trusting that the cannon won’t explode in our faces at some unexpected later time.

At the moment it looks like we’ll wind up with that Whirlpool model, and if we do, we’ll probably buy it from Fry’s Electronics since they gave us such a great experience when we bought our fridge and washer/dryer. But if anyone else has bought a dishwasher recently and has one to recommend in the under-$700 price range, I’m all ears. I’d like features comparable to (or better than) the Whirlpool WDT710, but realistically, as long as I never have to eat disgusting soap cake again, I’ll probably be fine.

4 thoughts to “The Dishwasher Dilemma”

  1. Eeeww. Eating a wad of dishwasher soap IS disgusting.

    We have never bought anything by Kenmore dishwashers, but, of course as you say, we are your parents and all our appliances are hopelessly outdated (very much like we ourselves.)

    Of course our NEW house is a Pulte home and has the requisite GE appliances, including the exact same refrigerator and dishwasher we had in Island Walk. How lucky are we??

    I hope you find something you like because it could be we’ll be buying a new one too within the next year or so. Right now we’re busy researching toilets for the bathroom we’re putting in the basement of the new house 😉

  2. We’ve pretty well settled on that Whirlpool — just waiting another 3 or 4 weeks to pick one up — so we’ll let you know how it goes. I probably will take a look at the Kenmores in our price range to see what they offer, although that of course requires that we buy from Sears where installation is more expensive. I found nothing to recommend against Kenmore as a brand and Consumer Reports has nothing negative to say about the name. I did find statistics showing that Whirlpool had the lowest rate of repairs in the industry.

    Toilet shopping! I’ve never had to buy one of those either, but at least outfitting your new home offers some fun times ahead. I’m very excited to see the place. Hopefully those infamous GE appliances hold up for you, but if not, I hope to have some recommendations ready should you need any.

  3. I’m buying a house and adding a dishwasher. The only good space it will fit though is in an island across from the sink. Where do I tap in for the drain line? I can go through the floor as it’s an open basement beneath. Do I run it down, under the floor and up into the sink drain?

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