Dishwashers jargon buster
By Yvette Fletcher
Confused by dishwasher jargon? This guide explains all the terms you'll come across when buying a new dishwasher.
Shopping for a new dishwasher and want to understand all the technical terms you're reading about? Find out the meaning of everything from 'integrated' to 'fuzzy logic' in our guide to dishwasher jargon.
Once you know exactly what you're looking for, browse our dishwasher Best Buys to find the best model for you from our reviews.
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. The filters on our dishwasher reviews allow you to search specifically for models with a height-adjustable upper basket.
'Float switches' detect water in the base of machine and stop it filling further
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. If you have a built-in kitchen, see our guide on how to buy the best integrated dishwasher.
The capacity of a dishwasher is the number of place settings it can clean and dry when it's loaded in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. Compact models can usually hold four to six place settings, slimline dishwashers hold 8-10 place settings and full-sized machines wash between 12 and 15. See our entry on place settings to find out what this consists of.
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 dishwashers are typically 56cm wide and can sit on a kitchen work surface
Compact (also known as table-top dishwashers)
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, although occasionally they accommodate as many as 10. Broswe the Best table-top dishwashers we've reviewed.
The control panel is the strip where you'll find all the machine's control dials, buttons, displays and indicators. On freestanding and semi-integrated models, this is placed at the top of the front door. On fully integrated models, the control panel is on the top edge of the door.
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 free up the space that would have been used for a basket. The technical specifications tab on all of our dishwasher reviews lets you know whether that model has a cutlery basket, drawer or both.
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 are more popular among Which? members than powder. We've found the Best Buys in our dishwasher detergent reviews.
Which? members have told us that drying is an important feature in their dishwasher, so drying ability is given a star rating and built into the overall score for every dishwasher 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 its controls. We've tested some models that are very hard to load to capacity, and have controls that are confusing. If you're on the hunt for a user-friendly model, consider one of our Best Buy dishwashers.
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. We test each dishwasher's eco program, allowing us to assess how much energy and water it uses compared with the main program.
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 a week for 52 weeks). Energy use is also built into the overall test score for each dishwasher.
Tiltable upper baskets let you make the most of the available space. Dishwasher racks may also have prongs that can be folded down to allow you to fit larger items in.
Freestanding models are the most common type of dishwasher, and fit into any kitchen where space is available. Get help deciding whether a freestanding dishwasher is the best type for you using our guide on how to buy the best dishwasher.
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. We check each dishwasher's control panel to see how straightforward it is to use, and whether it has handy features such as a time-remaining indicator.
The largest and most common dishwasher size. Full-sized models are usually 60cm wide and can typically hold 12-15 place settings or 120-150 items, although larger models do exist. If your kitchen is short on space, you may prefer a slimline or compact dishwasher instead.
This uses sensors to adjust the washing conditions according to how dirty the load is. We know that sensor wash is an important feature. You can filter by 'features' in our dishwasher reviews to find models that have this.
A program you'll find on some models that allows you to wash only half the dishwasher's usual capacity - check your machine's manual for guidance on how to use this setting. While this program uses less energy, it uses only 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 - they're found on fully integrated dishwashers. The advantage of them is that they're concealed when the door is closed, giving a sleek and contemporary exterior. Find out more about the pros and cons of fully integrated models using our guide on how to buy the best integrated dishwasher.
You can choose dishwashers that are partially or fully built in, so they're hidden behind a cabinet door - see the entries on 'semi-integrated' and 'fully integrated' for more information
Some dishwashers have a program specially designed for items such as pots and pans, that have baked-on 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, which help tackle hard-to-remove dirt.
Used to describe the capacity of a dishwasher, each 'place setting' consists of 10 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 teaspoon. The three different dishwasher sizes usually hold a set range of place settings:
- Full-sized: 12 to 15 place settings
- Slimline: eight to 10 place settings
- Compact: four to six place settings
Occasionally, individual models break convention – we've tested a compact model with capacity for eight place settings, and full-sized models that can take 16 – but these instances aren't common. Use the technical specifications tab of our dishwasher reviews to double check how many place settings each model can hold.
Dishwashers need rinse aid to speed drying and prevent water marks. Some machines have indicator lights to tell you when this needs to be refilled.
Dishwasher salt helps to soften hard water and prevent the clouding you sometimes find on glasses after washing. Some models have an indicator light to tell you when the salt 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's 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.
Another name for Fuzzy Logic, 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.
As their name suggests, slimline dishwashers are thinner than full-sized models, so take up less space – they're usually around 45cm wide (rather than 60cm) and have space for 8-10 place settings (80-100 items). Find out which slimline models have top our reviews in the Best slimline dishwashers.
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.