How to buy the best dishwasher

Dishwashers

How to buy the best dishwasher

by Yvette Fletcher

Buying a dishwasher can mean kissing goodbye to washing up by hand. This guide will help you buy the best dishwasher for your household.

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One dishwasher may look very much like another, but our tests routinely reveal that there are huge differences in how well they work and how long they last.

In fact, we've tested many new models from brands big and small that leave a supposedly clean load smothered in food residue and watermarks, and far from dry.

This is why it's well worth doing your homework before you buy a new dishwasher. Buy a dodgy one and it will become a daily annoyance that makes doing the dishes as much of a chore as washing up by hand. 

Watch our video guide above and read our tips below for expert shopping advice. 

Before you commit to any model, it's worth checking how it did in our tests. 

Head to our dishwasher reviews to compare models.

Freestanding or integrated dishwasher?

One of the first decisions you'll need to make is whether you'd prefer a freestanding dishwasher or an integrated (built-in) model.

Freestanding

Freestanding dishwashers are the most common, and fit into any kitchen that will accommodate them – their front door is designed to remain fully visible. They're available in a range of colours – unsurprisingly, white is the most common, but black, grey and silver are also popular and other colours are occasionally available, too.

Pros: The most common type of dishwasher, so it's easier to find one that matches your budget. They're also more portable than integrated models, so you could feasibly take your dishwasher with you if you move house.

Cons: They don't blend in to kitchens the way integrated models do.

Integrated

Integrated dishwashers are designed to be incorporated into built-in kitchens and fall into two categories: fully integrated, where the entire front panel of the dishwasher is hidden behind a kitchen cabinet door; or semi-integrated – where most of the front is covered, but the control panel is left visible at the top.

Pros: They make built-in kitchens look more streamlined.

Cons: They're less portable than freestanding models. Fully integrated models need to be opened for access to the control panel and display (if there is one).

Already know which dishwasher type is best for you? Take a look at all of our Best Buy dishwashers to see which freestanding and integrated models have topped our tests.

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On the left, below – a fully integrated dishwasher that's ready to be incorporated in a built-in kitchen. On the right, a freestanding dishwasher.

Dishwasher sizes

Dishwashers come in three different sizes: full-sized, slimline and compact. Each size has a range of capacities to choose between.

Full-sized

Width: Approximately 60cm Capacity: 120-150 items

The smallest full-sized machines have room for 12 place settings – each place setting is made up of 10 items, so that's 120 pots, pans, plates and pieces of cutlery. The biggest dishwashers can squeeze in more than 150 items – so they’re capable of coping with the washing up after large dinner parties.If you have a large family or regularly have lots of dishes to wash, go for a model with a larger than average capacity – so 13, 14 or 15 place settings.

120-150The number of items full-sized dishwashers can accommodate.

Pros: They can wash at least 120 items at once. They're also best for water and energy efficiency.

Cons: They might be too big for small kitchens, and smaller households may struggle to make up a full load.

Slimline

Width: Approximately 45cm Capacity: 90-100 items

When space is tight in your kitchen, a slimline machine can be a good option. At around 45cm wide, these are 15cm slimmer than full-sized models, but are still capable of washing 9 or 10 place settings at once.

45cmThe average size of a slimline dishwasher - 15cm thinner than the average full-sized model.

Pros: A great option if you're short on space.

Cons: For the amount of dishes washed, a large machine will be more energy and water efficient.

The image below shows the three different dishwasher sizes. The model on the left is a slimline dishwasher, the model in the centre is a full-sized model and the model on the right is a compact dishwasher.

Compact

Width: Approximately 55cm Capacity: 40-60 items

Compact models can be either integrated or table-top dishwashers. As their name suggests, table-top dishwashers sit on top of kitchen counters, while integrated compact models take up the space of a drawer in your built-in kitchen. Compact models are a good choice if you want a dishwasher but haven't got the floor space for a full-sized or slimline model.

Compact models are handy if space is scarce but they do use more energy per item than larger dishwashers.

They're a little bit bigger than a very large microwave oven or a large drawer, and have a small capacity of between four and six place settings, so you won’t be able to wash too many dishes at once. Compact dishwashers use more water and energy per item than slimline and full-sized machines.

Pros: A good option if you don’t use too many dishes or you're really tight on space. Table-top versions mean you don't have to bend down to load the dishwasher.

Cons: They're often quite expensive, and usually a lot less energy efficient than full-size or slimline models. It can be tricky to fit large items into them, too.

What features and programs do I need?

Dishwashers can come with a bewildering array of features. We explain what each one does below. At the very least, look out for adjustable racks, which allow you to configure your dishwasher based on the size of the crockery you’re washing. A delay-start function can be really useful if you're on an Economy 7 tariff, while safety locks can be reassuring for those with children.

At the very least, look out for adjustable racks, which will allow you to accommodate large items in your dishwasher.

Adjustable upper racks: Look for dishwashers with height-adjustable upper racks that are easy to use. The easiest have two quick-release clips on either side of the rack. This means you can lower or raise the height to fit large items in the lower rack, even if the upper rack is full of dishes. Roller systems allow you to adjust the rack's height, but this isn’t always easy and you won’t be able to do it if the rack is full.

Fold-down prongs: Dishwashers with fold-down prongs make loading large items easier. Look for dishwashers with fold-down prongs in both the upper and lower racks.

Large spray head: Large spray heads can be used on extremely dirty items, such as a roasting trays. Removing the lower spray arm and attaching the large spray head concentrates the water in one direction.

Delay start: Most dishwashers come with a delay timer, which allows you to set the dishwasher hours before you want the wash program to start. This is handy if you can make use of cheaper night-time electricity, or if you like to time your dishwasher so that your plates are warm for dinner.

Child-safety lock: This is a reasonably common feature that prevents unwanted changes being made to settings while the dishwasher is in use.

Anti-flood protection: This prevents flooding if something should go wrong. 'Float switches' detect water in the base of the machine and stop it from filling further, while an 'aqua-stop' prevents flooding if the hose that fills the dishwasher spills or leaks.

Sensor wash: This measures how dirty the water is in the machine, and adjusts the temperature and length of the wash accordingly. It's frequently found on more expensive models.

Now find the perfect model for you by checking out our dishwasher reviews – you can select which size and type you prefer and find a model that has all the features you need.