Hard as it is to believe, a squeeze of Palmolive, a sponge and drying rack were once the only items necessary in order to tackle a sink full of dirty dishes or a tower of food-encrusted pots and pans.

Of course, technology was to change all that. The first functional dishwasher was presented to the nation at the Chicago World’s Fair by its inventor, Josephine Cochrane, in 1893 — although it took until the 1950’s for dishwashers to become widely available to the public.

Now, more than a century after introducing her hand-powered contraption, Cochrane probably would recognize little of her original invention in the sleek, streamlined units gracing contemporary kitchens.

New developments in dishwasher technology — such as digital controls, programmable wash options and automatic sensors – have appeared in response to consumer demand for dishwashers that are  ever more convenient, hygienic, energy-efficient and effective.

Liquid Assets: Water-Saving Options

A growing appreciation and concern for the environment seems to be reflected by the increased popularity of eco-friendly Energy Star dishwashers, classified as those that are  12 percent more water-efficient and 10 percent more energy-efficient than existing federal energy standards dictate.

Manufacturers also offer a variety of environmentally-friendly options. Kitchen Aid recently unveiled its innovative Aquasense feature, in which recycled water from previous loads is used in the pre-rinse cycle. Fresh water is used in the actual cleaning process,so there is no compromise of safety or hygiene. The result: a dishwasher that uses a third less water than other models.

Assorted other companies, including Whirlpool, have developed sensors that can determine how heavily soiled the dishes are, and allocate just the right amount of water to clean them, with no waste or overuse.

They’ve Got the Power: Electricity-Saving Options

Perhaps the most inventive power-saving feature to date is the Zeolite technology by Bosch, in which microporousaluminosilicate zeolite crystals warm the dishwasher’s interior during the drying cycle, resulting in an electricity-free method of heating that dries dishes within minutes.  Although currently available only in Europe, these innovative appliances are expected to sell briskly once they are offered for sale in the United States.

Other thrifty features, currently available in many American-made dishwashers, include programmable delayed start times – which can save money by triggering the machine to start after midnight or at other off-peak times, when rates for electricity are lower – and options for air-dry cycles.

Going Undercover

The overwhelming popularity of the “open” floor plan — in which kitchen and living areas segue seamlessly into one another – has caused the kitchen and its workspaces to be more visible from other parts of the home, and created a trend towards sleek, uncluttered-looking design, as well as demand for kitchen appliances that look like furniture. Wood-paneled dishwashers that blend into the cabinetry are surging in popularity; many have concealed buttons, hidden displays and minimal hardware to preserve the appearance of seamlessness.Also popular are two-level “drawer” dishwashers, in which dishes can be both washed and stored. Extra-deep drawers provide plenty of clearance for oversize pots and pans.

All in a Spray’s Work: More Cleaning Power

Not to be overlooked, of course, is the dishwasher’s ability to produce sparkling dishes and glassware. The hard-working Frigidaire Gallery features an OrbitClean rotating spray arm, which the manufacturer claims can deliver four times better water coverage than its competitors, along with quicker drying time. Not to be outdone, GE dishwashers now feature special bottle-washing jets, specifically designed to clean long, narrow  items such as sports bottles and baby bottles.

Taking Control: Programmable Options

Finally, the newer contemporary dishwashers put the consumer in control with a wealth of data and programmable options.The Frigidaire Gallery, for example, features a digital display that indicates how much time is left in the cycle, and whether the machine is washing or drying at the moment. It also offers four different wash cycles — including Energy Saver and Quick Clean — three different settings for spray intensity, and three settings for drying temperature, along with a programmable wash delay. When you find the ideal parameters, you can recall the specific settings with the Favorite Cycle feature button.

Some dishwashers even rely on alternate means of communication. Thermador has arrived at a novel way in which to indicate the cycle the dishwasher is in—a beam of light is projected and displayed onto the kitchen floor. When the dishwasher’s door is opened, the interior glows sapphire.

You have to wonder what Josephine Cochrane, inventor of the early dishwasher, would think of that. Enjoy!

About the Author

Molly Hilton is the owner of Renaissance Painters in Toronto and has devoted more than 30 years to home renovation, painting, and custom home building. Her unique design concepts bring homes to life with colours and unique pieces that are artfully placed to draw attention to the most powerful and distinctive features of a home.