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Home & garden.

14 October 2021

Dishwasher buying guide

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.
Aaron West
Semi-integrated dishwasher

One dishwasher may look like another, but buying the right one can result in lower energy and water bills as well as beautifully clean dishes. 

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 2021 

Video: how to buy the best dishwasher

Watch our video to help you decide which type of dishwasher is right for you.

Freestanding, integrated or semi-integrated?

Use our handy free tool, below, to help you choose the right type of dishwasher. Then head to our dishwasher reviews to find out which model 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.

Freestanding dishwashers

These are the most common, so there's bound to be one perfect for you. They can be placed anywhere, as long as they’re connected to a drain and a plug socket, and the door is designed to remain fully visible. 

Pros

  • 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.

Cons

  • They don't blend into kitchens the way integrated models do, although you could find one in a colour that suits your decor.

Discover the best freestanding dishwasher we've tested in our shortlist of the best dishwashers 2021.

Integrated 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.

Pros

  • They completely blend into your kitchen, hidden behind a cabinet door. This is great if you want your kitchen to look streamlined.

Cons

  • 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.

Check out our shortlist of the best integrated dishwashers.

Semi-integrated

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.

Pros

  • 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.

Cons

  • Often more expensive than both freestanding and integrated models. 
  • Not common, so the choice of brands and price points are limited.

Slimline, full-sized or compact?

Dishwasher sizes compared graphic

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.

Full-sized dishwashers

Width: Approximately 60cm 

Pros: They can wash at least 120 items at once. They're generally 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.

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 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.

Slimline dishwashers

Width: Approximately 45cm 

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

Cons: A larger machine will be more energy and water efficient per item washed. 

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 nine or 10 place settings at once.

Compact or table-top dishwashers

Width: Approximately 55cm 

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. 

Capacity: 40-60 items

Compact models can be either integrated or table-top. 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. 

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.

How much will it cost to run?

Dishwashers will have an official rating for energy efficiency, but this doesn't guarantee that you're getting the most efficient machine.

When we test dishwashers, we base it on real-life scenarios, using the programs you use most often. We calculate the energy running costs a machine uses and find significant differences between the best and worst regardless of energy label.  

The least efficient dishwasher we've tested would add £78 to your annual energy bill, while the most efficient adds just £34.

Use our running cost tool below to find the dishwasher that will cost the most and least over their life. And use the search bar to find a specific model or brand.

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. 

Learn more about running costs and energy labels by going to our guide to the most energy efficient dishwashers

Can you buy an eco-friendly dishwasher?

Buying and replacing your appliances less often will reduce the impact on the environment of producing new dishwashers and disposing of old ones.

However, a dishwasher's environmental impact also comes from using it, day-in and day-out. When replacing a faulty model, buying one that is efficient is a great way of reducing that impact, and saving you money along the way.

That's why we've started recommending Eco Buy dishwashers. These are models that perform well in our cleaning tests while also being efficient and long-lasting. Buying an Eco Buy could save you as much as £30 a year in energy costs.

To find the cheapest-to-run and most sustainable models, read our dishwasher reviews and filter for Eco Buys.

How much does a good dishwasher cost?

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 best cheap dishwashers we've tested can be bought for less than £300. You may need to compromise on features, though.

Go to our shortlist of the Best cheap dishwashers for 2021

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.

Consider repairing your dishwasher instead of replacing it

All may not be lost just because your dishwasher isn't draining properly or turning on. Many common problems can be fixed by yourself or with the help of a professional.

Read our full repair guides to find out if you can keep your current dishwasher for longer.

Any repairs that require dismantling your dishwasher or fiddling with the electrics should be carried out by a professional. Choose a Which? Trusted Trader to ensure you'll be dealing with a qualified repairer you can trust.

Repairing will not only save you money but also save your dishwasher from the scrapheap, reducing the environmental cost of recycling and producing a new one.

How to dispose of a dishwasher

When buying a new dishwasher, you may need to sort out what to do with your old one. Fortunately there are plenty of options. Every item that has either a plug, a charger, batteries or carries a crossed-out wheelie bin logo can be recycled, and that includes dishwashers. 

If your dishwasher is still in working condition and you want or need a new one, you can sell it second-hand (more on that below).

Many retailers, including John Lewis, Currys and AO.com, offer to remove your current dishwasher when installing a new one, although you will have to pay extra for this, typically around £20.

Another option (which may not cost anything) is council pick-up of large items. Many councils let you dispose of one large item per year for free, charging for any more in that year. Search your local council's website for large item collection for more information.

If you've already disposed of a large item this year and want to avoid being charged for another item, you can take your dishwasher to a local recycling centre yourself. Most of these will have an area especially for waste electronics. 

In some cases, you may need to obtain a permit before dropping off broken items, so check this on your local council's website before you travel anywhere.  Find your nearest recycling location (including stores and council sites) using Recycle Now’s electrical recycling locator.

Buying and selling second-hand dishwashers

When buying second hand it's worth knowing the difference between key terms. Used will mean it's been in someone's home and hasn't undergone any kind of refurbishment. Ex-display or graded will mean that it comes from a store so will have been used minimally. Refurbished means it's been used but has undergone a full check and repair where necessary in order to be as 'like new' as possible.

In general, we recommend buying a dishwasher new rather than second-hand as there is less risk of safety problems.

That's why when buying second-hand you need to ask whether a PAT test (Portable Appliance Test) has been carried out to ensure the appliance is safe for your home. Equally, if you are going to sell second-hand, make sure you get the dishwasher PAT tested before selling.

Also check whether the seller offers a guarantee, particularly useful for third-party sellers and marketplaces, such as Amazon and eBay. This will give you more security in case the dishwasher goes wrong quickly, or in case there is a safety problem with the product.

Buyers should also check if a product has been recalled before purchasing. You can use the Electrical Safety First website for this.

Features and programs to look for

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.

Dishwasher adjustable racks

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 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.

dishwasher cutlery tray

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.

Dishwasher extra settings

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

Smart dishwashers

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 items in your dishwasher all day. There's no need to time a wash to be done for just as you get home.

Black, silver, stainless-steel dishwashers

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. 

Go to our dishwasher reviews and filter for black, silver and stainless-steel dishwashers