Dishwasher buying guide
By Aaron West
Article 1 of 2
Buying a great dishwasher means kissing goodbye to washing up by hand. Our guide will help you buy the perfect dishwasher for you, your kitchen, budget and priorities.
One dishwasher may look like another, but buying the right one for you can mean you'll actually save on your energy and water bills, while still getting pristine results.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about buying a dishwasher. Or if you simply want to know what our top scoring models are, head straight to our round up of the best dishwashers.
In this article:
Use our handy free tool, below, to help you choose a dishwasher for your kitchen. Then head to our dishwasher reviews to find out which models you should buy.
One of the first decisions you'll need to make is whether you'd prefer a freestanding dishwasher, an integrated (built-in) model or a semi-integrated one.
These are the most common, so there's bound to be one perfect for you. It will fit into any kitchen that will accommodate them, too, and their front door is designed to remain fully visible.
- The most common type of dishwasher, so it's easier to find one that matches your budget.
- Unlike integrated models, they're not built in to your kitchen units, so you could feasibly take your dishwasher with you if you move home.
- Freestanding dishwashers are easier to pull out and remove for maintenance.
- They don't blend into kitchens the way integrated models do, although you could find one in a colour that suits your decor.
Three popular freestanding dishwashers
Discover the best freestanding dishwasher we've tested in our shortlist of the best dishwashers.
These are designed to be incorporated into built-in kitchens. The entire front panel of the dishwasher is hidden behind a kitchen cabinet door.
As a result, you won't be able to see how long is left of the program at a glance. But some high-end models get around this by projecting a light or even the remaining time on to the floor in front.
- They completely blend into your kitchen, hidden behind a cabinet door. This is great if you want your kitchen to look streamlined.
- Often more expensive than freestanding models.
- The controls and display aren't visible at a glance with fully integrated models; you'll need to open the door to check the controls.
- You can't easily check how long is left of the current program. But some modern dishwashers get around this by projecting the time remaining on to the floor.
Three popular integrated dishwashers
Check out our shortlist of the best integrated dishwashers.
Although quite rare, semi-integrated dishwashers can offer the best of both. They are integrated into your kitchen cabinets, but have just the control panel at the top on display.
As a result you get all the functionality of a freestanding model, but with the streamlined look of an integrated dishwasher.
- They blend into your kitchen, mostly hidden behind a cabinet door - great if you want your kitchen to look streamlined.
- With most you'll be able to tell at a glance how long is left of the current program.
- Often more expensive than both freestanding and integrated models.
- Not common, so the choice of brands and price points are limited.
Dishwashers come in three different sizes: full-sized, slimline and compact.
If you're fitting a new dishwasher into an existing kitchen, you'll need to measure the width of the space you plan on putting it in.
Slimline dishwashers are narrower. We've sometimes found them trickier to load, and our lab tests reveal that they use about the same amount of energy and water as a full-sized dishwasher – meaning per item they are actually less economical.
This means you're better off going for a full-sized dishwasher if you have the space.
Learn more below about the pros and cons of opting for a full-sized, slimline or compact dishwasher.
Width Approximately 60cm Capacity 120-150 items
Pros They can wash at least 120 items at once. They're also, in general, better for water and energy efficiency.
Cons They might be too big for small kitchens. Households that don't use much crockery could struggle to make up a full load. Running the dishwasher when it isn't full will waste water and electricity.
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 in total. The biggest dishwashers can squeeze in more than 150 items – so they’re capable of coping with the washing up after large dinner parties or family get-togethers.
If you regularly have lots of dishes to wash, go for a model with a larger-than-average capacity - so 13, 14 or 15 place settings.
Width Approximately 45cm Capacity 90-100 items
Pros A great option if you're short on space.
Cons A larger machine will be more energy and water-efficient per item washed.
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.
Go to our shortlist of the best slimline dishwashers.
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 inside.
Compact models can be either integrated or table-top dishwashers. As their name suggests, table-top dishwashers sit on top of kitchen worktops, while integrated compact models take up the space of a large drawer in your built-in kitchen.
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. As such, compact dishwashers use more water and energy per item than slimline and full-sized machines.
Price isn't a guarantee of quality, but it's 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.
Some of the top performing dishwashers we found can be bought for less than £300.
You may need to compromise on features, though.
Go to our shortlist of the best cheap dishwashers.
Expensive models will often have more program options and advanced features, such as 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 with your smartphone.
Dishwashers will have an official EU rating for energy efficiency, but this doesn't guarantee that you're getting the most efficient machine.
When we test dishwashers, we calculate the energy running costs as well as the amount of water the machine uses. We've found significant differences between the most and least efficient machines, regardless of their energy label.
Learn more about running costs and energy labels by going to our guide to the most energy efficient dishwashers.
The least efficient dishwasher we've tested would add £64 to your yearly energy bills, while the most efficient adds just £27.
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 still used less than a litre of water per place setting - far less than the amount used while handwashing.
Adjustable upper racks (see picture below). This means you can lower or raise the height of the upper rack to fit large items in. 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.
Anti-flood protection This prevents flooding if something goes 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 splits or leaks.
Automatic sensor wash 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 or smart features Currently reserved for high-end machines, wi-fi connected dishwashers can be paired with an app on your smartphone and monitored or controlled remotely.
Child safety lock This is a reasonably common feature that prevents unwanted changes being made to settings while the dishwasher is in use.
Cutlery tray (above). Some dishwashers now have a third rack, right at the top of the machine, which replaces the cutlery basket.
Delay start (below). 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, for example.
Fold-down prongs Dishwashers with fold-down prongs make loading large items easier. Look for dishwashers with this feature in both the upper and lower racks.
Large spray head Large spray heads can be used on extremely dirty items, such as roasting trays. Removing the lower spray arm and attaching the large spray head concentrates the water in one direction.
Second cutlery basket Some also still include a basket, or even have two baskets, giving you the option for extra flexibility when loading.
Smart dishwashers connect to your home wi-fi network and pair with an app on your smartphone or tablet. They used to tend to be pricier – usually more than £600 – but recently we've seen ones available for less than £300.
Most allow you to start your dishwasher, but some allow you to automatically order more detergent on a timer and download new programs.
This should give you greater flexibility to operate your dishwasher without needing to be home, but we're not convinced it's worth paying more for.
If you forget to put your dishwasher on in the morning, being able to do it from your smartphone won't be of much use as there won't be any dishwasher detergent in there.
And, unlike with washing machines, you can leave clean dishes and glasses in your dishwasher all day. There's no need to time a wash to be done for just when you get home.
You can buy black, silver, stainless-steel or even cream dishwashers.
We've found that a choice of colour other than white can make your dishwasher slightly more expensive. And it will limit your choice, as many retailers will only sell one colour – either the white one or the black one, for example.
Dishwashers with a stainless-steel exterior will cost more than white, black or silver dishwashers, too. This is because stainless steel is more expensive than the plastic many dishwashers are made of.
Black and silver slimline dishwashers are also available.