How to buy the best dishwasher
By Hannah Walsh
Buying a great dishwasher means kissing goodbye to washing up by hand. Our guide will help you buy the best dishwasher for your household.
One dishwasher may look like another, but our tests reveal that there are huge differences in how well they clean and dry. The best will leave your crockery, cutlery and glassware gleaming, while the worst will see you standing at the sink re-washing still grubby plates and bowls.
We've tested dishwashers from all the big brands, including Beko, Bosch, Hotpoint and Miele. Our tough testing has uncovered machines that make your life easier, but we've also found some that simply aren't up to the task. There's little point buying a dishwasher that will leave a supposedly clean load smothered in caked-on food or watermarks, or dripping wet.
Picking the right model for you also comes down to your budget, the size of your kitchen and the capacity and features you want. You'll also need to decide whether you want a semi- or fully-integrated dishwasher that blends in to your kitchen, or one that's freestanding.
That's where our expert advice and the video above can help. You can also use our online tool below - simply click start and then explore the features on offer by clicking on the information spots. If you're on a mobile device, you'll need to scroll down to the 'features' tab at the bottom of your screen to explore.
If you already know the type of dishwasher you want, then head over to our dishwasher reviews.
How much does a good dishwasher cost?
You could buy a dishwasher for less than £170, or you could spend more than £1,000. But our testing has found that price is no indicator of quality - in fact, we've uncovered a £800 dishwasher that did such a bad job we've labelled it a Don't Buy.
It's perfectly possible to pick up a great, affordable dishwasher that gets the basics of cleaning and drying right - whether you're looking for a compact, slimline or full-sized machine. You may need to compromise on features, though.
Expensive models will often have more program options and advanced features, such as an auto sensor for detecting how dirty your dishes are and adjusting the wash, an anti-flood sensor, auto-open door feature for leaving your dishes completely dry, and even built-in wi-fi for controlling your dishwasher remotely from your smartphone.
How much will it cost to run?
The cost of a dishwasher doesn't just come down to it's price tag. When we test dishwashers, we calculate the energy running costs as well as the amount of water the machine uses, and we've found significant differences between the most and least efficient machines.
Most dishwashers have an official A rating for energy efficiency, but this doesn't guarantee that you're getting the most efficient machine. Which? gives each model a star rating of one to five for energy and water use. The most inefficient dishwasher we've tested would add £64 to your yearly energy bills, while the best adds just £27. You can find out the energy costs for each dishwasher using our interactive tool in the dishwasher energy running costs guide.
When it comes to water use, we've found full-sized machines that use just half a litre of water per place setting. Slimline models tend to be less efficient, but the most efficient we've tested used less than a litre of water per place setting - far less than the amount used while hand washing.
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 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 home.
Cons They don't blend in to kitchens the way integrated models do.
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).
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.
Dishwashers come in three different sizes: full-sized, slimline and compact. Each size has a range of capacities to choose between.
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.
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.
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 are 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-sized or slimline models. It can be tricky to fit large items into them.
What features and programs do I need?
Getting the perfect dishwasher for your lifestyle also comes to down to the features you choose - those with children may value a childlock, while others may need an adjustable rack to configure the machine for large platters or long-stemmed wine glasses. If you use an economy energy tariff, such as Economy 7, then a flexible delay-start feature is worth looking for. Here, we look at the features on offer and examine what each one actually does.
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 upper 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 as you need to remove and then replace the basket 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 or fuzzy logic This measures how dirty the dishes in the machine are, and adjusts the temperature and length of the wash accordingly. It's frequently found on more expensive models.
Built-in wi-fi Currently reserved for high-end machines, wi-fi connected dishwashers can be paired with an app on your smartphone and monitored or controlled remotely.