Inside Consumer Reports

by Joseph Stromberg, Vox Media

Barry Schwartz/Flickr

Barry Schwartz/Flickr

At the Consumer Reports testing labs in Yonkers, New York, Emilio Gonzalez cooks chili, eggs, soup, oatmeal, and 13 other foods a few times per month. No one eats any of it. Instead, Gonzalez smears carefully measured quantities of the foods on a set of 113 plates, bowls, cutlery, glasses, and other dishware.

An hour later, the dishes are scraped, loaded into a dishwasher in a specific pattern, and allowed to sit overnight. The next morning, they’re washed with a set amount of specific detergent, using 120°F water and exactly 120 volts of electricity. Afterward, Gonzalez and other staff scrutinize the dishes to judge how much food is left on them, and a computer system images the bowls to analyze them pixel by pixel.

“All the dishwashers go through this test multiple times,” Gonzalez said. “Sometimes it’s two times, if they’re consistent, but if we see discrepancies, we’ll continue testing over and over.” They do this for virtually every dishwasher that hits the US market.

At this sprawling testing center — and at an auto track a few hours away in Connecticut — a few hundred Consumer Reports staff test thousands of products annually with this same level of meticulousness.

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