Learning CenterDishwasher Buying Guide

Dishwasher Buying Guide

Your quick guide to the different types of dishwashers available and how to choose the right one based on features.

Frigidaire Dishwasher in a white kitchen.

The best dishwashers are the appliances you don’t know are there. They work quietly in the background of the kitchen to keep your family healthy and your home clean, providing sparkling dishware with every load. These dishwashers are within easy reach when you know what to look for. Dishwashers don’t just make meal clean-up a breeze; they also use less water per cycle than you would waste by washing and rinsing dishes by hand. So really, you’re saving time and making an environmentally friendly choice all at once. Let’s break down how you can choose the best dishwashers for your kitchen.

Types of Dishwashers 

The kind of dishwasher that is right for your family depends on how often it will be used and what dishes you wash. For instance, a family of four would use their dishwasher differently than a business office break room. Consider the type of dishwasher that will best fit how it will be used.

Built-In Dishwashers

built-in dishwasher, white with rose gold handle. Drawer dishwasher

The most common type of dishwasher is the built-in dishwasher. Built-in dishwashers are designed to fit in an open space in the kitchen countertop cabinets. They are available in standard 35” heights to fit under the countertop, and variable widths to match the space in the room.  

  • Standard Size: A standard built-in dishwasher is 24’’ wide and can wash anywhere from 12 to 16 place settings in a single load, making it ideal for a family or avid home chef with a lot of dishes to wash. 
  • Compact Size: Smaller kitchens call for a more compact design. These full-height dishwashers measure only 18’’ wide and can clean between 8 and 10 place settings per load. 
  • Drawer Dishwashers: When accessibility is important, drawer dishwashers provide an innovative solution for washing dishes. Drawer dishwashers measure the standard 24’’ wide but only half the height, allowing you to integrate them in among lower cabinetry. The slide-out design can be loaded up with around 7 place settings.

Portable Dishwashers

Three portable dishwashers with wheels.

Portable dishwashers are fully enclosed, compact dishwashers designed to be moved where they are needed when the kitchen size might not allow for built-in installation. Portable dishwashers have a wheeled base to make them easier to move where needed and they use a standard power source, such as a wall outlet. They connect to the kitchen faucet and drain to sink in order to operate. The smaller size means they can wash 8 to 12 place settings per load.

Countertop Dishwashers

Countertop dishwasher, with digital controls on door.

When you’re renting your home, or even looking to make clean up quicker in the office break room, adding a built-in dishwasher may not be an option. When that’s the case, shop for countertop dishwashers to conveniently clean your dishes. They boast a compact design that sits right on top of your countertop, eliminating the need to alter your cabinetry. Typically, countertop dishwashers can accommodate up to 6 place settings per load.

Choose the Best Dishwasher Design

Stainless steel dishwasher built-in, white cabinets, modern cabinet pulls

Unlike the centerpiece appliances such as the oven, or even the kitchen sink, dishwashers are intended to hide away under the countertop, unseen. As you shop for the best dishwasher for your kitchen, you’ll have to consider both the aesthetics of the design and the functionality of the dishwasher itself. The right one will fit your space and wash dishes to a sparkling clean.

Tub Material

Dishwasher with stainless steel tub interior.

Dishwashers are available in two tub types: either stainless steel or plastic tubs. Both offer durable, long-lasting quality. Stainless steel tub dishwashers provide a more stain-resistant interior that retains heat from the wash cycle to help heat the drying cycle, saving on energy usage and helping to prevent mold and mildew.

Dishwasher Finishes

Dishwashers in black stainless, white and stainless steel finishes

The key to a beautifully designed kitchen is to make sure the appliances you select coordinate with one another, as well as with the overall design of the space. Built-in dishwashers are available in a wide range of colors, making it easy to match the new appliance to the others you already have in place. Keep it classic with black, white, or stainless steel. When you’re looking for something more daring, check out the more eye-catching finishes, such as greens, oranges, and reds.

Panel-ready dishwasher with white cabinet front matching kitchen

There are even panel-ready dishwashers that you can customize with the same cabinet fronts you use for your kitchen. Panel-ready appliances are perfect for concealing these useful elements of your kitchen and getting that professionally designed look.

Dishwasher Handles

Dishwashers with a bar handle and pocket handle

Getting access to your clean dishes is all about the handle design. Dishwashers allow different styles of door handles. Choose from the easy-to-clean recessed or pocket handles, or the more traditional look of the bar across the top. Be sure the bar handle doesn’t stick too far out into the walkway.  

If you want to customize the look of your new built-in dishwasher, look at the collections you used for your cabinet hardware for larger appliance pulls that match the hardware you already feature in your kitchen.

Control Options

The lights and buttons that make the dishwasher operate everyday make up the control panel. The control panel can be found in a few different styles.   

Fully-integrated dishwasher and semi-integrated control panel
  • Full-console and semi-integrated control panels on the front offer displays to show the time, the cycle, or when the door lock is engaged. Semi-integrated control pads take up a few inches across the upper portion of the door. 
  • Fully integrated control panels, or top-control dishwasher controls are hidden along the top edge of the door, inside the door-seal. They make the dishwasher door easier to clean and provide a uniform look with other appliances, such as stoves, coolers, or refrigerators.
Fully integrated dishwasher, red light alert glowing on kitchen floor

While fully integrated controls don’t provide displays on the front of the door, some do incorporate lighted alerts along the lower edge to show when the cycle is complete, and the door can be safely opened.

 Noise Level 

All types of dishwashers can be loud, from the splash of the water from the jets to the grinding of the debris in the hard food disposals. Noise is measured in decibels, and the lower the decibel, or dBA, the quieter the noise. Dishwashers can be as loud as 80 dBA, or as quiet as 40 dBA.   

The model you choose has an impact on the noise level. The amount of sound that can be heard in the kitchen depends on the quality of the construction and the materials used to insulate the tub. To have a quiet kitchen, look for a dishwasher with a decibel level between 40 and 50 dBA.

Dishwasher Features to Look For 

The best dishwasher for your household will depend on the design and capacity, certainly, to ensure the right load size and keep up with the regular demand for clean dishes. Another important consideration is the dishwasher features. The right selection of cleaning cycles or having the freedom to program the timing of the wash can make all the difference in the effectiveness of your home routines. Here are a few features to keep in mind as you shop for a new dishwasher.

Interior Features

Placing dishes in top rack of open dishwasher.

At the end of the day, the dishwasher you choose is going to be loaded up with your dishes at night. No matter which type of dishwasher you selected, make sure it meets your dishwashing needs by checking out the interior design features of each option. 

  • Soil sensors determine the length of time in a cycle, using more or less energy as needed to clean the dishes thoroughly.  
  • Specialized washing zones allow targeted cleaning for larger dishes and items such as pots and pans. Some models even feature bottle cleaners. 
  • Water filtration systems help ensure that dishes are washed and rinsed with clean water.  
  • Hard food disposers keep food debris from sticking to clean dishes or clogging up the plumbing.

Cleaning Cycles 

There are a variety of cycles and sensors to help clean even the fragile dishes your household uses, on your schedule. The names may change between brands and models, but the function will be similar.

Select cycle controls, water bursting up through dishes and silverware
  • Rinse & Hold: When there aren’t enough dishes to justify a full load, Rinse & Hold allows you to set a quick, 5-10 minute rinse-only cycle to keep food debris from sticking to the dishes.   
  • Delayed Wash: Set the dishwasher to run during off-peak hours, or while the household is less likely to be disturbed by the noise.  
  • Quick Wash: Also called Eco-Wash, it uses less water and has a shorter wash cycle.  
  • Pots & Pans: Targeted water jets and hot water offer a scrubbing action to clean away leftover food grime from cooking.  
  • Steam Clean: Offers a way of “soaking” stuck-on food debris with directed hot steam.  
  • Sanitizing Rinse: Utilizes hot water and heating elements to kill germs and bacteria with heat after cleaning away food debris.   
  • Crystal & Glass Care: Lower water pressure, and cooler-temperature cleaning and drying cycles allow fragile dishes, such as crystal glass and china, to be washed in the dishwasher.  
  • Drying Cycles: Utilizes heat from internal fans or from the rinse cycles to dry the dishes.

Smart Dishwashers

Holding phone, using app to connect smart dishwasher

When you have utilized the benefits of a Smart Home system, consider choosing a smart dishwasher. These dishwashers can connect to your smart phone, allowing you to adjust the automatic detergent dispensing system, begin a cycle, schedule start times and detergent deliveries, and more.

Optimized Water & Energy Usage 

Even with the full selection of features, ENERGYSTAR® certified dishwashers help you save money as they get the job done. An ENERGYSTAR dishwasher uses 14 percent less energy and saves 23 percent more water. Some models may even qualify for rebates, so check local regulations.

Measuring for Your Built-In Dishwasher 

Built-in dishwashers are installed under the counter, along with your lower cabinetry. To ensure a great fit, take a moment to measure the height, width, and depth of the open space you have available. Write down those measurements to reference as you look at the dimensions of the dishwasher you’re considering. 

  • Compare the dimensions of the dishwasher to the measurements of the space you have available, making sure to allow a little extra room for the water connections and electrical supply. 
  • Make sure there’s enough room for the dishwasher drawer to open fully without hitting any other obstructions in your kitchen, such as other appliances or cabinets. 
  • If you have limited space, try narrowing your search by looking for compact dishwashers that are more likely to fit within the area you have available.

Tips for Dishwasher Use & Maintenance 

Once you’ve chosen the right dishwasher for your household, it’s important to keep it working at its best. You can even prevent common leftover dirty-dish problems with just a little change in the daily habits.

Woman removing clean dishes from dishwasher

Here are a few proven tips to make the familiar chore a little easier:  

  • Scrape food-debris off the dishes before loading them.   
  • Don’t overload or overlap dishes. Leave extra space between the dishes to allow the water jets to more effectively clean, and to provide plenty of room for the water to roll away during the drying cycle.  
  • Load silverware individually and be sure they don’t stick together.  
  • Use dish detergent within a few months of purchase and store it in a dry place. Moisture ruins the effectiveness of even the best detergent.  
  • Use a rinse aid to help the dry cycle more effectively, to reduce spots and water rings on the cleaned dishes.  
  • Open the door promptly after the completion of the last cycle to let the heated air dissipate rather than pool on the dishes.  
  • Unload the bottom rack of the dishwasher first. This will help keep them dry as they are put away, rather than risk items from the top rack dripping water down.