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How to buy the best compact dishwasher

By Aaron West

Living in a small home doesn't mean you have to live without a dishwasher. Our guide will help you buy the best compact dishwasher for you, your kitchen and your budget.

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To get the best compact dishwasher you first need to decide whether you want to buy a table-top (also known as a countertop) compact dishwasher or built-in drawer model, as well as decide which features are important to you.

This article will help you choose, plus give you advice on running costs and how many plates, glasses and cutlery you can fit in.  

Or you can go straight to our compact dishwasher reviews.

Read on to find out the answers to:

What's the best compact dishwasher? 

Best compact dishwasher

58%
£699.00
Reviewed

This semi-integrated one-drawer dishwasher that has room for 60 items. It has a child lock, a delayed start feature and six programs to choose from. But can this dinky drawer dishwasher get your dirty dishes sparkling clean? Read the full review to find out how it coped with sticky baked-on egg, spinach and mince in our tough lab tests.

Countertop or drawer? 

Countertop dishwashers (like the one on the left in the picture below) will sit on your kitchen work surface, and are the most affordable option. Built-in drawer countertop dishwashers (also known as integrated compact dishwashers) tend to be more expensive, but they will blend into your kitchen decor, and means you can save on countertop space. You can see an example of a built-in drawer countertop dishwasher on the right in the image below.

Countertop dishwasher: pros and cons

Countertop or tabletop dishwashers can fit into any kitchen that will accommodate them – they simply sit on your kitchen counter.

They're available in a range of colours. Unsurprisingly, white is the most common, but black, grey and silver are also popular.

Pros

  • Generally more affordable than built-in/integrated models.
  • Unlike integrated models, they're not built into your kitchen units, so you could feasibly take your dishwasher with you if you move.

Cons

  • They don't blend into kitchens as seamlessly as built-in models
  • They'll take up quite a bit of room on your countertop – a little more than a large microwave.

Built-in drawer dishwasher: pros and cons

Integrated and semi-integrated compact dishwashers are the most commonly available. They're designed to be built into a kitchen cupboard, so it won't take up space on your countertop.

Fisher & Paykel make quite a few different built-in models, but all are on the pricier side, and usually cost over £500.

Pros

  • Don't take up space on your counter.
  • Can blend into your kitchen, with just the front panel on display.

Cons

  • Often more expensive than freestanding, countertop dishwashers.
  • Controls aren't visible at a glance, so you won't be able to tell how long is left of the program

How much does a good compact dishwasher cost? 

You can buy a compact dishwasher for as little as less than £200, while some others will set you back more than £800. 

Even the cheapest and most basic models will have a selection of programs including an eco wash, and intensive cycle or tough stains, and a fast one. 

Some will also have a delicate or glassware program to clean your glasses at a lower temperature, protecting them from breakages. 

Freestanding compact dishwashers, which will sit on your countertop, are generally cheaper than integrated models. If you want one of this type, which is built into a kitchen unit, it will set you back at least £500.

How much does a compact dishwasher cost to run? 

As compact dishwashers are smaller than full-sized and slimline dishwashers, they need to use less water. But plate for plate, and glass for glass, they actually use more water and energy per item.

The only way that you would save money by making the switch to a compact is if you often run your full-sized dishwasher only half full. In this case, you're using a lot of water and energy to clean only a few items, whereas a compact dishwasher will do the same job using less.

The most efficient compact dishwasher we've seen in recent years would add just £28 to your energy bills each year, based on running it five times a week. Even the least efficient compact dishwasher would cost less than the most efficient full sized models – around £43.

You can find out the energy costs for every dishwasher we've tested using our interactive tool in the dishwasher energy running costs guide.

How big is a compact dishwasher? 

Compact dishwashers are smaller than both full-size and slimline models. Built-in drawer/integrated compact dishwashers will be a little smaller than a single built-in oven, while table-top ones are a bit bigger than a large microwave.

They have just one rack rather than the usual two you would get with a full-sized dishwasher, and hence are half the height – usually around 45cm. But they're actually wider than a slimline model – around 55cm rather than 45cm.

They go back in depth about as far as a normal dishwasher – usually between 50cm and 60cm.

How much can you fit in a compact dishwasher? 

Most compact dishwashers have six place settings, half that of the smallest full-sized dishwashers.

Using the compact dishwashers we've tested as a guide, we've worked out that you'll be able to fit in approximately:

  • Six larger plates
  • Three dessert plates or bowls
  • Two or three glasses or mugs
  • Three of each piece of cutlery, in the small cutlery basket

The actual amounts will, of course, depend on how large your individual items are, as well as how you arrange them.

Some larger items, such as bigger pans, oven trays and dishes will fit into your compact dishwasher. But you'll need to factor-in a second wash as you're unlikely to be able to squeeze them in alongside your glasses and crockery.

If you wash a lot of dishes and have the space, there's really no reason to go for a compact dishwasher. A full-size model will be more efficient, easier to load, and possibly even cheaper to buy in the first place.

Learn how to make the most of your dishwasher's space by reading our guide: How to load your dishwasher.

What features and programs do I need? 

Most compact dishwashers come with a good selection of programs, including eco and fast. 

Many now also have an auto program, which will measure how soiled the dishes and glasses are and adjust the amount of water, temperature and duration of the program to suit. 

Even the most expensive compact dishwashers lack the trendy features present on high-end, full-sized models, so there's no smart connectivity, no silent wash mode, no automatic opening door at the end of the cycle. 

And, for obvious reasons, you won't be able to do a half-load or two zone wash, as there is just one rack.

To learn about all the programs and features available on dishwashers, go to our dishwasher programs explained guide.

Does a table-top dishwasher need to be plumbed in? 

Yes. Table-top dishwashers need to be plumbed in to allow the dirt from your dishes to be drained away, just like any other dishwasher.

If it's sitting on your countertop, you'll have to drill a hole through the counter and connect it to the sink waste, as well as connect it to the water supply. 

You'll want to sit the dishwasher close to the sink to make this easier. Take this into account when planning where you'll put it in your kitchen.

Built-in compact dishwashers, like regular integrated dishwashers, will need to be plumbed in. 

The price of installation for a compact dishwashers from one of the big retailers, such as John Lewis, Currys PC World and Argos, is the same as for full sized models. This is normally about £25, but we've seen quotes for integrated dishwashers up to as much as £90.

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