How Steam Dishwashers Work

Steam Dishwashers Performance Tests

Even if the steam wash doesn't impress you, some of the appliance's other features might.

Appliance companies are touting new top-of-the-line steam features as the latest and greatest thing in dishwasher technology. But should we believe the hype? After all, a steam dishwasher can run you up to $1,600 (whereas quality ones can be as little as $650), so it's best to know all the dirty details before making the purchase. Do these dishwashers get your dishes and flatware significantly cleaner?

Consumer Reports performed tests on steam dishwashers to answer that very question. Researchers ran the dishwasher with dirty dishes on steam cycles. Then they ran dishes in the same dishwasher without using the steam options. They found that the addition of steam does in fact make dishes cleaner -- but only a little bit. In the end, they concluded that the difference between steam cleaned and traditionally cleaned dishes was only slight [source: Consumer Reports]. In fact, they found that the spray jet features of some dishwashers worked more effectively than steam (for those dishes that got a front seat to the water blast).


Not only don't these steam dishwashers live up to the cleaning hype, but steam dishwashers typically take a lot longer to get through a full cycle than traditional dishwashers. The steam phase alone can add as much as 45 minutes to the cleaning time [source: Consumer Reports]. One LG steam dishwasher model runs for about two hours and 20 minutes for a full wash with steam [source: Consumer Reports].

But the Consumer Reports editors did grant that, besides the steam features, these cutting edge dishwashers are generally more stylish and easier to use than conventional models. Convenient, adjustable and additional racks are a major plus for these dishwashers. They also happen to be very quiet and energy-efficient appliances. So, even if steam performance, style, convenience and quiet aren't sufficient, the prospect of long-term savings in energy bills might persuade customers that they're worth the money (visit the Energy Star Web site to find out how much a particular model might save you.)

Another incidental advantage is that many new steam dishwashers advertise having a very large capacity. But if you're sick of the traditional, oversized dishwasher and you're in the market for a more space-efficient appliance, the Swash might be right for you. Although the Swash is still in development with an Australian company, Envisage NanoSytems, and is not yet ready for sale, the design is impressive. The Swash is a steam dishwasher that takes up very little space. (The designer hopes it will one day fit on a countertop like a microwave.) It even has a steam setting that requires absolutely no detergent (but rather sanitizes through the high temperature of the steam). Though it's conveniently small, it can fit about four place settings inside. Because it filters and reuses water, it's extremely water efficient. And, as it takes less heat to warm up a smaller volume of water, it's also highly energy efficient [source: DesignBoom].

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  • Consumer Reports. "Consumer Reports' Tests Reveal Dishwashers with Steam are Not So Hot." Consumer Reports. March 2008. (June 18, 2008)
  • Consumer Reports. "LG LDF9810[ST] Dishwasher: First Look." Consumer Reports. March 2008. (June 18, 2008)
  • DesignBoom. "Swash: Steam Dishwasher." DesignBoom. (June 18, 2008)
  • GE. "America's Smartest Dishwasher Now Steam Cleans." GE. Press Release. (June 18, 2008)
  • LG Electronics. "Dishwasher." U.S. Patent 20070079851. Filed Sept. 5, 2006. Pub. April 12, 2007.
  • LG. "Owner's Manual: Dishwasher: Model: LDF9810ST/LDF9810WW/LDF9810BB." LG Electronics. (June 19, 2008)
  • Maytag. "Maytag Brand Dishwashers with New "SteamClean" Option Remove Stubborn Residue from Glassware, Dishes." Maytag. Press Release. Feb. 13, 2008. (June 18, 2008)
  • Sioux Corporation. "Why Use Steam Cleaning Vs. Hot Or Cold Water Washing?" Sioux Corporation. (June 18, 2008)
  • Whirlpool. "Steam and Efficiency Meet in the Kitchen with New Whirlpool Brand Electric Ranges." Whirlpool. Press Release. Feb. 13, 2008. (June 19, 2008)