Washed in Translation: How Dishwashers Differ in Europe and the US

You may hear talk of "European-style" and "American-style" dishwashers. Ignore it. A good dishwasher is a good dishwasher.

If you were to visit a high end appliance retailer, you might hear a salesperson mention "American style" or "European style" dishwashers. Those terms may be outdated, and they don't tell the whole story of different automatic dishwasher styles. But they do provide an interesting tidbit of appliance history.

Back in the 1980s, there was a pretty clear distinction between American and European style dishwashers. In Europe, dishwashers used mesh filters to catch washed-off food particles and internal water heaters to control temperature. They sat flush to cabinetry, and also had stainless tubs for quieter operation and better air drying performance.

In America, dishwashers used powered hard food disposers to grind up waste food particles, and featured a visible heating coil at the bottom of the machine to heat water and dry dishes. With larger tubs than their European counterparts, they usually stuck out past cabinetry.

Those design decisions were based on local needs. In Europe, homes tend to be smaller, so a loud dishwasher would be more intrusive. Electricity and water are also more expensive, so a heated dry would cost customers more and run afoul of environmental regulations. Design-wise, Americans needed a larger tub to fit more dishes, while Europeans preferred the flush look that fit with the continent's built-in kitchens.

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A KitchenAid with a hard food disposer

And that's the way it went for years. With the exception of some high-end European machines that made it across the pond, Americans washed one way and Europeans washed another. (New Zealanders did things entirely differently, but that's a story for another day.) The two styles of dishwashers even resulted in separate testing protocols in each continent that highlighted the specific strengths of each style of dishwasher.
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The European-style filtration system on a Miele Futura Crystal, disassembled for cleaning

That all changed in 1991, when Bosch started selling their European-style dishwasher to American consumers. Americans gradually warmed to the design, and by the late 1990s, a German-designed Bosch or Miele, or Swedish-designed Asko dishwasher became a hallmark of a patrician kitchen.

Spurred by customer interest and tightening environmental regulations, American manufacturers quickly followed suit, redesigning US-market machines to use static filters and air dry. Today, all brands feature at least several European-style machines, while some brands have done away with hard food grinders entirely.

A nice side effect of this technological confluence is that early all dishwashers have become extremely quiet. As long as your'e spending more than $500 on a machine, it's rare to find a machine on the market that's louder than 50 dB, which is about the same ambient noise level of a quiet suburb. Even the cheapest, loudest machines on the market are mostly below 60 dB, which is about the loudness of a typical office.

As far as performance is concerned, a lot has changed since European dishwashers first started washing up on American shores. European-style machines have gotten better at washing, and American-style machines have gotten quieter. The differences are far less distinguishable than even five years ago.

That's immediately apparent from looking at our list of top dishwashers, which contains a smattering of each style of dishwasher.

For example, the KitchenAid KUDS30FXSS is an American-style machine with a hard food disposer. The KitchenAid KUDE48FXSS is a nearly identical machine with a filter. The American-style machine uses more water, but is cheaper to buy and takes less time than the European-style machine. When it comes to cleaning, however, both have nearly identical performance. And the more obscure European-made machines that make it to the US are less exotic. Check our our review of an Italian-made Smeg, Spanish-made Fagor, or even a Turkish-made Blomberg, and the most glaring differences will be in relation to control panels.

It's a win for consumers, as different styles of dishwasher meet different needs, and shoppers need not worry about performance as long as they choose among some of the top-rated machines out there. While Americans and Europeans may not agree on food, fashion, or foreign policy, at least we all can rally around our dishwashers.

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