Dishwashers glossary

Dishwashers glossary

by Emma Featherstone
This is our overview of different types of dishwashers, dishwasher controls and the features to think about if you're shopping around for a new machine.

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Adjustable baskets

Some upper baskets can be moved up and down to give more space for larger dishes in either the upper or lower basket. These are handy if you want to wash pots, pans, large plates or long-stemmed wine glasses in your dishwasher.

Anti-flood devices

'Float switches' detect water in the base of machine and stop it filling further

These prevent flooding if something should go wrong with your dishwasher. 'Float switches' detect water in the base of the machine and stop it filling further, while an 'aqua-stop' prevents flooding if the hose that fills the dishwasher spills or leaks.

Built in (also known as integrated) dishwashers 

Built-in models are hidden behind a kitchen cabinet - fully-integrated models are hidden entirely and have concealed controls along the top of the door, while semi-integrated dishwashers usually have a small panel that can be seen at the top of the cabinet door.


Compact dishwashers are typically 56cm wide and can sit on a kitchen work surface


The capacity of a dishwasher is the number of place settings the model can clean and dry when it is loaded in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. Compact models usually have a 4-6 place setting capacity, slimline dishwashers hold 8-10 place settings and full-sized machines wash between 12 and 15 place settings. See our entry on place settings to see what one entails.

Child-safety lock

A feature that prevents children from starting the dishwasher or changing its settings when in use. In some cases, the child-safety lock also stops the door being opened while the machine is cleaning.

Compact (also known as table-top)

Around 55cm wide, compact models take up around as much space as a microwave or a large drawer. While freestanding (table-top) models have been available for some time, drawer-style integrated machines are becoming more common. Compact models usually hold between four and six place settings, though occasionally models accommodate as many as 10.

Control panel

The control panel is the strip where you'll find all of the machine's control dials, buttons, displays and indicators. On freestanding and semi-integrated models, this is found at the top of the front door. On fully integrated models, the control panel is found on the top edge of the door.

Cutlery drawer

A hidden drawer above the upper basket for cutlery and espresso cups; an alternative to a cutlery basket. Cutlery drawers can be fiddly to use, but they also make available the space that would've been used for a basket.


Delay start 

A function where you can set your machine to run after a delay of a number of hours. Some models allow as much as a 24 hour delay. 

Dishwasher tablets

Dishwasher tablets are more popular among Which? members than powder. We've found the Best Buys in our dishwasher detergent tests.


Which? members have told us that drying is an important feature in their dishwasher, so how well a dishwasher dries is given a star rating and built into the overall score for every dishwasher that we test. 


Ease of use

This is built into the overall test score for each dishwasher. It is assessed based on loading and emptying the dishwasher and using the controls. 

Eco program

A wash program that generally takes longer than the main program, but uses less water and energy. Occasionally, a dishwasher's main and eco programs will be one and the same.

Energy-efficiency labels

All dishwashers are graded A+++ to D for energy efficiency, with A+++ being the most efficient and cheapest to run. This is determined by testing the energy consumed washing a collection of soiled dishes and tableware using the standard cycle recommended by the manufacturer. The energy efficiency label also gives figures for annual water consumption, drying efficiency, capacity (in place settings) and noise emission.

At Which?, we test each dishwasher using a mixed load of dishes, similar to how you would at home. We then give star ratings for both energy and water use on the dishwasher's main and eco programs and an estimated annual running cost, (based on the cost of running the machine five times per week for 52 weeks). Energy use is also built into the overall test score for each dishwasher.


Flexible racks

Tiltable upper baskets that let you make the most of the available space.


The most common type of dishwasher - freestanding models fit into any kitchen where space is available. 

Front-facing dishwasher control panel

These come in different designs, buttons may be raised or flush to the surface, and some machines have electronic touch pads. LCD panels showing details of the cycle are also common.


60cm wide, 12-15 place settings

Fuzzy logic

This adjusts the washing conditions according to how dirty the load is.


Half load

A program you'll find on some models which allows you to wash only one of the dishwasher baskets. While this program uses less energy, it only uses 10-25% less energy than a full-load, despite washing 50% fewer dishes.

Hidden dishwasher controls

These controls sit along the top edge of the door. These are concealed when the door is closed, giving a sleek and contemporary exterior.


You can choose dishwashers that are semi or fully built in, so that they are hidden behind a cabinet door - see 'Semi-integrated' and 'fully integrated' for more information

Intensive program

Some dishwashers have a program specially designed for items, such as pots and pans, that have baked or dried-on food residue. These typically involve higher temperatures than main programs.


Large spray head 

Some models come with large or extra-large spray heads that help to tackle hard-to-remove dirt.


Place setting

Used to describe the capacity of a dishwasher, each 'place setting' consists of ten items of crockery and cutlery: a dinner plate, soup plate, dessert plate, glass tumbler, tea cup and saucer, knife, fork, soup spoon, dessert spoon and a teaspoon


Rinse aid 

Dishwashers need rinse aid to speed drying and prevent water marks. Some machines have indicator lights to tell you when these need to be refilled.



Dishwasher salt helps to soften hard water and helps prevent the clouding you sometimes find on glasses after washing. Some dishwashers have an indicator light for salt to tell you when it needs to be refilled. 


These dishwashers are usually mostly hidden behind a cabinet door but the control panel is still visible. In a few cases, semi-integrated machines have a door that is designed to remain visible - this is the case for drawer-style compact machines, and retro-style full-sized models such as those from Smeg and Swan.

Sensor wash

This measures how dirty the water is in the machine and adjusts the temperature and length of the wash to suit. Effective sensor wash programs are handy because they mean the dishwasher doesn't use more water, energy or time than the load requires.


45cm wide, 8-10 place settings


Water efficiency

We've tested dishwashers that use up to 21 litres of water per load; some new machines use as little as 6 litres per wash.