When you’re planning a dinner party, it’s not long before you start picturing the pile of plates that will await once your guests depart. Hand-washing your way through pots, mixing bowls, and place settings can take hours. At the prospect of all that drudgery, you might find yourself reconsidering the party. But before you call off your get-together, consider investing in a dishwasher.
Having a machine clean your dishes could save you an estimated 230 hours—that’s nearly 10 days—per year. This guide will explore the important factors to consider when shopping for the best dishwasher and review some of the top-rated options on the market to help you spend less time standing at the sink.
- BEST OVERALL: Whirlpool 24 in. Stainless Steel Top Control Built-In
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Frigidaire 60-Decibel Front Control 24-Inch Built-In
- BEST COMPACT: EdgeStar 18 Inch 8 Place Setting Energy Star Built-In
- BEST HIGH-END: Bosch – 800 Series 24″ Top Control Built-In
- BEST COUNTERTOP: hOmeLabs Compact Countertop Dishwasher
- BEST PORTABLE: Farberware Complete Portable Countertop Dishwasher
Types of Dishwashers
Dishwashers used to be round, bulky tubs that sat on a floor or countertop. These clunky machines made tons of noise, likely dripped or sprayed water on the floor, and often left food residue in the nooks and crannies of your dishes. But dishwasher technologies have come a long way since those early models.
Today, a dishwasher is virtually a kitchen essential, and there are many available types. Users can choose from conventional built-in units to compact or countertop models, suitable for apartments or tiny houses. There are even portable units to take “on the road” in an RV or camper.
The most prevalent, best-selling models are conventional built-in units designed to fit under a standard countertop. Compact units are also designed to be built in but can fit into smaller spaces, such as underneath sinks; these units also accommodate lower counter heights for ADA-compliant homes.
Portable units are popular among renters, travelers, and people living in smaller spaces, while countertop units sit on the counter while in use and then easily stow away. Some of the newest options are drawer dishwashers available in single- and double-drawer configurations that fit underneath a cabinet or kitchen island.
Today’s conventional dishwashers are built-in models designed to go underneath a countertop. They usually are situated near the kitchen sink, due to the necessity of a plumbing connection, but some dishwashers are built into a center island. Built-in models come in two sizes: standard and compact. A standard size dishwasher measures 34 inches tall by 24 inches wide and between 24 to 28 inches deep. These models typically handle between 8 and 12 place settings per load, though some can accommodate up to 16 settings.
Compact built-in dishwashers are also known as “18-inch dishwashers”; a typical compact unit measures 17 to 18 inches wide and 22 to 26 inches deep. The height varies from 32 to 34 inches, with the lower height accommodating ADA requirements for lower kitchen countertops. These units typically handle 6 to 10 place settings per load.
Portable dishwashers are fairly similar to the original vintage models, but are much more efficient and far less messy. They are popular among renters or people with smaller kitchens. These units are usually on wheels and easily stowed in a closet when not in use.
Portable units typically measure 20 to 25 inches wide, 27 to 30 inches deep, and 34 to 38 inches high. Some taller models feature an integrated countertop to provide extra kitchen prep space while in use. But even these smaller, more maneuverable units can be pretty handy to have around and don’t require installation. Most portable dishwashers accommodate between 8 to 12 place settings.
Countertop dishwashers are similar to portable dishwashers in that they are smaller and easy to stow away when not in use. As the name implies, countertop dishwashers are designed to sit on a counter. The water intake hose connects to the kitchen sink faucet (or bar sink faucet, if the dishwasher is an entertaining accessory), and a drain hose releases the dirty water into the sink. You also will need a nearby electrical outlet to provide power.
Countertop dishwashers have a smaller “footprint” than most built-ins, taking up roughly twice the size of a microwave oven. Typical countertop units measure from 20 to 24 inches wide, 22 to 24 inches deep, and 25 to 28 inches high. They typically hold from six to eight place settings. One advantage to countertop models is that they are very water- and energy-efficient.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Dishwasher
Even if you already own a dishwasher, there is a lot to gain by purchasing a new model. Today’s dishwashers use at least 40 percent less water than similar appliances manufactured 20 years ago. Besides conservation, there’s a compelling financial reason to upgrade: An Energy Star-rated dishwasher could save you more than $40 per year.
The market features abundant options, from plain-Jane models with few frills to pricier, fully programmable smart models that do everything but load and unload automatically. If you’re not sure where your needs fall in the spectrum, we’ve laid out a handful of key considerations to keep in mind when choosing the best dishwasher for your specific needs and available space.
Size and Capacity
Dishwashers usually come in two sizes. Standard built-in dimensions are 24 inches wide by 34 inches tall (34 inches being the height of most countertops and base cabinetry). Compact models are 18 inches wide by 34 inches tall, though some are designed for shorter 32-inch countertops found in handicapped-accessible kitchens. A standard washer is usually fitted with two or three racks, while a compact unit holds one or two racks.
A dishwasher’s capacity is generally measured by the number of place settings it can hold in one load. Standard dishwashers typically accommodate from 8 to 12 place settings, with some handling up to 16 settings. Compact dishwashers typically accommodate 6 to 10 place settings per load.
In any case, adjustable upper racks and removable baskets earn bonus points, as either feature provides extra space for awkwardly shaped or larger items. Dishwashers in custom sizes are available by special order, but be prepared to pay more.
The number and variety of cycle selections will vary from dishwasher to dishwasher, and finding the ideal combination for your needs will often be the deciding factor in a purchase. A typical dishwasher usually features three settings: a normal wash cycle that runs from 90 to 135 minutes, a heavy cycle for pots and pans, and a light (also known as delicate) cycle for stemware.
Pricier models offer additional options, including a programmable or “smart” mode, pre-rinse option, “quick wash” function, “rinse and hold” cycle, a delicate china cycle, and a heavy-duty sanitizing cycle.
Some dishwashers also offer different drying cycles, including heated drying, quick drying, and “eco” mode. Many units feature a programmable delayed start option, allowing you to run the dishwasher after guests are gone and the family is in bed or after leaving for work in the morning.
As required by law by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), today’s dishwashers must use no more than 5.8 gallons of water per cycle, substantially less than older models that required as much as 10 gallons of water per load. The EPA’s ENERGY STAR program incorporates water efficiency and usage data into its certification criteria: Standard ENERGY STAR-certified dishwashers must not exceed 3.5 gallons of water usage per load, and compact dishwashers must not exceed water usage of 3.1 gallons per load.
According to the EPA, “Replacing existing dishwashers with ENERGY STAR-labeled models reduces water use by up to 65 percent and reduces energy use by more than 10 percent. A new ENERGY STAR-certified dishwasher will save, on average, 3,870 gallons of water over its lifetime.” Some upscale dishwashers even include an “eco” cycle that utilizes less water, while others have a sensor that determines how dirty the dishes are and adjusts the water usage and cycles automatically.
DishwasEnergyhers on the market today are required by law to carry an “Energy Guide” label that estimates the annual power consumption and estimated yearly operation cost based on national average natural gas and electricity prices. Look for the ENERGY STAR logo, which indicates that the unit exceeds the federal minimum standards for efficiency and quality. According to the EPA, a new standard ENERGY STAR-certified dishwasher costs about $35 per year to run. Using an Energy Star model helps reduce the use of fossil fuels, helping to reduce air pollution and protect the climate.
The last thing you want to do while relaxing after dinner is to shout over the noise of the dishwasher. Dishwasher noise is rated in decibels: the louder the noise, the higher the decibel level. Newer models boast thicker insulation, resulting in noise levels around 45 decibels. For reference, 50 decibels is roughly equivalent to the volume of a conversation.
Most dishwashers have a noise level between 46 and 50 decibels during normal operation. For a quieter dishwasher, look for a model at or below 45 decibels. Some whisper-quiet dishwashers clock in at 30 decibels, which means you most likely won’t hear them even in the kitchen, but expect to pay a premium for this peace and quiet.
Dishwasher technologies have come a long way in recent years. A popular extra is a third rack, typically a narrower rack that sits above the top rack and may have a separate wash arm. Other extras include adjustable-height racks, racks with foldable tines, innovative spray arms to move wash water more efficiently, stemware clips, spray nozzles, special cutlery racks, programmable controls, and child locks.
Some models feature integrated and multistage water filtration to remove food particles from the wash water as well as fan-assisted or heated drying. Others incorporate adjustable rack designs, which include specialized “zones” to improve cleaning performance on some of the toughest grease and grime.
You can also find dishwashers that integrate soil sensor technology to determine how dirty the dishes are and automatically adjust the cycle to optimize cleaning while minimizing water and energy use. Several of the newest models boast smart-home technology and Wi-Fi connectivity and are programmable via a computer or smartphone.
A variety of exterior options can complement the look of a kitchen, including ever-popular stainless steel, mirrored finishes, and colored finishes. Some dishwashers can even be outfitted with insert panels to match and blend in with cabinetry. Fingerprint-resistant finishes are popular to help keep the exterior as sparkling clean as the dishes inside.
Our Top Picks
Even with a checklist of ideal features in hand, finding a dishwasher that fits the bill in such a crowded market can be overwhelming. This list includes some of the best dishwashers available today to help simplify the search. These top picks consider the abovementioned factors in addition to overall quality, price, and ENERGY STAR certification.
This 24-inch built-in dishwasher from Whirlpool offers a host of bells and whistles to make washing dishes a breeze. A tall tub design and third-level rack provide up to 37 percent more space for large or odd-shaped items. An in-door silverware basket also frees up rack space while folding tines can be used to secure dishes during the wash cycle or folded down to create space for larger items.
The sensor cycle automatically selects the proper wash and dry settings for a load. The TotalCoverage spray arm cleans with over 20 jets and an innovative sequence of spray patterns from multiple nozzles. This dishwasher also offers a 1-hour wash cycle to clean lightly soiled loads in half the time as well as a full range of heavy, normal, and light cycles. A Sani rinse option sanitizes dishes by eliminating 99.99 percent of food and bacteria. The stainless steel construction features a fingerprint-resistant finish and top controls.
Individuals looking for upscale features at a budget-friendly price won’t go wrong with this Frigidaire built-in dishwasher. This standard 24-inch model can handle up to 14 place settings in one load. A removable top rack, adjustable rack heights, and removable silverware basket all accommodate large or odd-shaped pieces.
The three separate spray arms make sure all of the dishes come out clean, and the heating element reduces drying time. The unit features a 4-hour delay start timer and a self-cleaning filter to eliminate food particles. While this dishwasher is a bit noisier than more expensive models, at 60 decibels, it offers a great combination of features at an affordable price.
This powerful, compact built-in dishwasher from EdgeStar is just 18 inches wide but offers a range of features found in larger built-in models. It boasts six wash cycles: heavy, normal, eco, glass, rapid, and rinse as well three dry options, including sanitize, hi-temp, and heated. The 32.5-inch height fits in ADA-compliant kitchens.
The dishwasher can comfortably hold up to eight place settings. An included leakage sensor automatically shuts off water flow if a leak is detected to protect the kitchen from water damage. The attractive stainless steel construction is designed to coordinate with many other popular kitchen appliances. This unit is on the noisier side at 52 decibels while in operation.
The Bosch 800 Series packs just about every performance measure into one standard 24-inch, built-in dishwasher, including durable stainless steel construction, intuitive top-mounted touch-button controls, an LED display, and an EasyGlide rack system for quick loading and unloading. The unit can handle up to 16 place settings in one load and includes a third rack to hold even more items.
This ultraquiet dishwasher, with EcoSilence technology, clocks in at 42 decibels during operation. A full range of cycle settings allows users to customize the wash cycle, including half load, delicate wash, normal, auto, rinse, eco wash, heavy wash, sanitary, and 1 hour. The innovative CrystalDry option transforms moisture into heat to get dishes, including plastics, 60 percent drier.
Clean dishes on the countertop and then stow this portable unit out of sight in a cupboard or closet when finished. This hOmeLabs portable countertop dishwasher measures just 17.2 by 19.6 by 21.6 inches yet can handle up to six place settings per load and includes a silverware basket and a rinse aid dispenser. The unit features a simple-to-use control panel with six cycle options, including heavy, normal, eco, glass, speed, and rinse for a variety of dishwashing needs.
As a portable unit, this dishwasher features quick connect assembly with the included inlet and drain hose and faucet adapter.
No hookups are necessary for this convenient, self-contained countertop dishwasher from Farberware, which features a built-in water tank for use in campers, dorm rooms, or boats. The included water hose allows for direct water hookup to a kitchen faucet in apartments or small kitchens. The unit, which measures 17.3 by 16.5 by 17.3 inches, provides both lower and upper spray arms, despite the small size. The unit offers five wash cycles, including normal, rapid, fruit wash, baby care, and glass.
The Rapid cycle cleans dishes in just 40 minutes. Steam generated during the baby-care cycle sanitizes baby bottles and gives glassware a sparkling-clean finish. The included fruit basket permits easy cleaning of fruits and vegetables, ensuring they are ready to eat directly from the dishwasher. Engage the air exchange function with any wash cycle to improve the drying performance. This dishwasher also features easy-to-use LED digital controls and an automatic water level indicator.
FAQs About Dishwashers
Dishwashers have become a standard accessory in modern kitchens, but even with nearly ubiquitous use, there are still some tips that help users gain the most benefit from this handy kitchen helper. Here are several of the most frequently asked questions about these convenient appliances.
Q. How do you install a dishwasher?
Dishwasher installation can be a DIY project, but given the fact that it involves both plumbing and electrical connections, you might want to call in a professional. For those determined to go it alone, installation will probably take anywhere from 90 minutes to 2 hours.
- Read the manufacturer’s instructions and gather the requisite tools: tape measure, hose clamps, wrench, electrical tape, screwdriver, and a dishwasher installation kit containing the supply lines and other components.
- Before you begin, turn off the power and water to the area.
- Determine the unit’s placement based on the availability of plumbing and electrical connections. You will need a water intake connection and a drain connection, which is why most dishwashers are located near the kitchen sink.
- Drill a hole through the sidewalls of the cabinetry to run the water, drain, and electrical lines.
- Connect the drain line and the water line. You will need a fitting called a “dishwasher 90” for the water line; this is a 90-degree angled elbow that allows the water line to lie flat rather than bending at an angle.
- Secure the electrical connections, and test the dishwasher for power.
- Level the unit using a wrench on the “legs” underneath the dishwasher, and secure it in place with the screws that came with the unit.
- Run the unit, checking for leaks; you may need to reclamp the hoses if there are any leaks.
Q. How long does a dishwasher last?
Several variables impact a dishwasher’s lifespan, including how often you run the unit and how well you clean and maintain it. The average household runs about four to five loads per week. Dishwashers will typically last anywhere from 9 to 16 years, with an average life expectancy of about 12 years. Dishwashers with stainless steel tubs and spray arms usually last longer than units with plastic components. Professional maintenance and regular cleaning, such as wiping down the door seals, cleaning the food trap and filter, and pre-scraping or rinsing dishes, can extend the lifespan.
Q. What certifications should I look for in a dishwasher?
ENERGY STAR-certified dishwashers reduce water use by up to 65 percent and energy use by more than 10 percent over non-ENERGY STAR models. The CEE Rating is assigned by the Consortium for Energy Efficiency, a group that works with manufacturers to build appliances that reduce energy consumption. There are three tiers for CEE ratings, and a higher tier equates to a higher level of energy efficiency.
NSF-certified dishwashers have an optional “sanitizing” feature that allows them to run at a very high temperature to kill 99 percent of bacteria. ADA-compliant dishwashers are designed to accommodate the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Q: How do you get rid of the bad smell in the dishwasher?
Sometimes, even the cleanest kitchens will be the source of funky smells. The dishwasher is often a likely culprit since food residue, grease, and grime can build up over time. To keep bad smells at bay, regularly clean the filter and food trap. Use a damp microfiber to wipe down the inner surfaces, spray arms, and racks. For a deeper clean, fill a glass with 1 cup of distilled white vinegar, and run the dishwasher through a single cycle using the hottest water possible. Repeat every few months to keep your dishwasher squeaky clean and odor-free.
Q. Which is better: dishwasher pods or powder?
The question of pods versus powder comes down to a few variables, but for maximum dishwasher performance, you need to use the correct amount of detergent. Because pods are premeasured, it takes some of the guesswork out of the process. Pods also are convenient, which is one reason they are so popular, with more than 70 percent of dishwasher detergent now sold in pod form. Pods are, however, pricer than powder.
Q: Are pods better than liquid?
Similar to the question of pods versus powder, measuring your dishwasher detergent is important. Some people use far too much liquid detergent, creating too many suds and leaving a cloudy film on dishes. Pods deliver a combination of convenience, cleaning power, and reliable measurement, but again, they cost more than liquid detergents.
Dishwashers are a modern convenience that make an unavoidable task much easier to manage. Even when you’re on the go, a portable unit can simplify your life and make entertaining more enjoyable without all of those dirty dishes to clean. Running a full load in a dishwasher is an environmentally friendly choice, saving time and energy and conserving water over hand-washing dishes, which is a win-win for both you and the planet.