How to Choose the Best Dishwasher

Considerations Before You Buy a Dishwasher

The Spruce / Michela Buttignol

Once only a luxury, dishwashers have evolved into must-have, time-saving kitchen appliances. They are easy to use and will conserve about 4,000 gallons of water over their lifetime versus washing dishes by hand.

Dishwasher prices are mainly affected by capacity and special features, choice of finish, and if it is made mainly of stainless steel instead of plastic. Performance is influenced by the number of washing levels and how and where water jets are distributed during the dishwashing cycle. Dishwasher models have energy-saving options, steam capabilities, and many features. To help you decide what features you need, read on for tips and considerations you should review when buying a dishwasher.

Before Replacing Your Dishwasher

If your dishwasher is on the fritz, some issues are easy to check on your own, and others might require a professional. Or, it could just be time for a new dishwasher. But, you might not need to replace your unit if repairs can solve the problem.

If it's not turning on, check the breaker box to ensure that the breaker hasn't been tripped. Is the machine filling with water? Check the water supply line and make sure it has not been disrupted. Also, take a close look at the filter and jets for clogs. And, if you have a high-efficiency model, too much soap can damage your dishwasher. To see if that's the problem, cut back on the detergent, and use a rinse aid to get your dishes squeaky clean.

Signs that your machine might not be fixable:

  • The door does not latch
  • The dishwasher does not drain
  • Loud or unusual noises coming from the machine
  • The dishwasher is not heating

The life span of a dishwasher is about 10 years. However, some can last up to 16 to 20 years. Depending on the age of your machine, consult a repair person before buying a new dishwasher.

Buying Considerations for a Dishwasher


If you have a small kitchen, the decision to get a dishwasher comes at a higher price: space. By opting for a dishwasher, you give up valuable space on your countertop, under the counter, or your kitchen's footprint. When allocating space in your kitchen, you will need to put the dishwasher near the sink since it shares the same water supply line and drain. Also, it makes sense to transfer dirty items in the sink to the nearby dishwasher for convenience. If you have a tiny kitchen, consider an ultraslim model.

You need to keep in mind some other space considerations: The dishwasher opening needs to be far enough from the sink wall to allow room to stand in front of the sink with the dishwasher door open. Corner locations need at least 2 inches of space between the side of the dishwasher door (when open) and the wall or cabinet.

When measuring the space under a cabinet, measure the space opening width from cabinet to cabinet. Allow for a few inches on each side; you don't want too tight a fit. The height is measured from the floor to the lowest point of the countertop. Remember that kitchen flooring may not have been installed under the dishwasher and could add more height to your opening. On the other hand, if your kitchen has two flooring layers, you may have less height than a standard dishwasher opening. As for the depth, measure from the back of the opening to the front of the cabinets. Keep in mind the dishwasher door will extend past the cabinets. Ensure there are at least 27 inches of open space in front of the dishwasher for loading and unloading. 


The major components of a dishwasher are steel and plastic. The racks that hold the dishes are also made of steel and are usually coated with powder polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or nylon to prevent them from scratching dishes. The inside tub is often made of stainless steel or plastic.

Stainless steel withstands heat better than plastic. A stainless steel dishwasher washing arm will not rust and be more durable. The water temperature can reach up to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, killing bacteria efficiently and making items clean. Stainless steel retains heat, dries faster, and uses less energy. A heating element and a stainless steel tub only need 450 watts, compared to 600- to 750-watts for a plastic tub. Stainless steel tubs are also much quieter than plastic tubs. Even when manufacturers install extra insulation layers around a plastic interior, the noise is still apparent. Stainless steel is also more durable than plastic and resistant to staining, giving the dishwasher a longer life span and reducing replacement costs.

The plastic used for dishwashers is inert and won't react with detergents. Many other parts, including the basket for cutlery, containers for detergent, and the wash tower and spray arms, are also usually plastic. Plastic is more susceptible to cracking over time.

The door finishes are polished stainless steel, white, black, beige, and slate. And, keep in mind, you can also get a matching panel front to match your cabinetry to hide your dishwasher if you want.


The standard size for a built-in dishwasher is 24 inches wide by 24 inches deep by 35 inches high. Many models designed to fit into a standard space also have adjustable legs so that the height may vary by up to a few inches. Many manufacturers offer a slimmer model that measures 18 inches wide. In comparison, others offer larger models that measure 30 or 36 inches wide that keep the standard depth and height. A dish drawer dishwasher is tiny, usually about 24 or 36 inches wide and only about 19 inches tall.


If all you want is clean dishes, a decent model with few features will still be sufficient for your needs. However, some added conveniences make the chore a little easier.

  • Adjustable Dish Racks: Racks that can be reconfigured or that have adjustable tines make your machine's interior work better for your needs.
  • Cutlery Tray: The position of the silverware tray is a matter of preference and does not affect washing performance. Some are compact and sit on the bottom rack. Others prefer a model attached to the inside of the dishwasher door, giving you more room for larger items on the rack. 
  • Soil Sensor: The dishwasher can adjust its time and water use based on how soiled the items are, potentially saving water and energy.
  • Rinse and Hold Cycle: This cycle works well if you have a half load of dishes and don't want to run a complete cycle yet, but you also don't want food to cake on your dishes or odors to start.
  • Wash Zones: Your machine can have designated zones allocated for items that need heavy-duty cleaning.
  • Hard Food Cycle: If you do not like to scrape, pre-wash, or rinse your dishes before loading them into the dishwasher, this feature eliminates food residue and grime during the initial rinse cycle, so it does not swish around your clean dishes during the final rinse cycle.
  • Filter Type: The filter catches all the food debris. A self-cleaning filter has a grinder attachment, like a garbage disposal that pulverizes the debris, flushing it down the drain. It can add to the noise level. A manual-cleaning filter needs cleaning regularly to avoid odors and does not add to the noise level.
  • Washing Cycle Options: Most dishwashers have three cycles: light, normal, and heavy. However, some machines have specified wash cycles for pots and pans, china, and steam cleaning. Steam cleaning will go beyond 140 degrees Fahrenheit, but you shouldn't need to go beyond that temperature for sanitizing benefits.
  • Heated Dry: If you want your dishes to come out entirely dry after a cycle, heated dry can circulate heated air to dry them; besides costing a little more as a feature, it will require a little more energy to run.
  • Hidden Control Panel: The button controls have been moved to the top edge of the door to keep the front of your dishwasher looking sleek. The downside is you have to open the dishwasher to see the control panel.
  • Child Safety Lock: A lock is an important feature if you have small children.


Though manufacturers state the average decibels of their machines, it can be misleading since they give an average decibel of all of the machine's cycles, including drying, which is usually silent. Most devices are in the 50-decibel range. The loudest models are about 60 decibels, the equivalent of a plane flying overhead, while the quietest is about 38 decibels. For a frame of reference, 38 decibels is similar to the sound level of being in a library.

If having a quiet model is important to you, then lean toward stainless steel interiors over plastic. Stainless steel absorbs sound, so if your model has a stainless steel tub, it will be quieter than a similar plastic tub model. They produce up to 10 decibels less noise than those with plastic tubs.

Types of Dishwashers

Your choice to buy a built-in, portable, or countertop dishwasher will depend significantly on whether you are renting or own your home, the size of your home, and the size of your household. Each dishwasher model has its benefits and constraints. Drawer types are another built-in style to consider if you have little space or prefer the convenience of a drawer.


When it comes to price, the most economical are countertop models. The countertop models are small (about 18 to 22 inches in width, height, and depth) and may not be sufficient for a large family, but if you are renting an apartment and have limited space, this may be the best option for you. It may be small, but a countertop dishwasher remains a time- and energy-saving solution for getting rid of those piles of dishes.

Most models sit on the countertop next to the sink and are hooked up to the faucet. You do not need a professional to install them. Some have built-in water tanks, so you can use your faucet while the dishwasher is being used. Most can wash about six place settings of dishes and glassware and have multiple cleaning cycles and heating elements with folding shelves, flatware holders, touch controls, detergent dispensers, pull-out racks, and more.


Portable models do not require professional installation and are usually smaller than built-in units, about 18 inches wide, 24 deep, and 36 inches tall. One of its most significant benefits is it's easy to take with you if you move. If your kitchen doesn't have enough room for a dishwasher, you can store it in another room and roll it to the kitchen when you need to use it.

Roll the dishwasher near the sink and an electrical outlet when you're ready to use it. Hook up the dishwasher hose to the faucet and start a cycle. It has a smaller capacity than a built-in dishwasher but might be sufficient for a small family if used daily.


Prices for built-ins, higher-end portables, and drawer dishwashers are influenced by style and features. If you forego the bells and whistles, you can still find many economical built-in and portable models. If you are renting and plan to take the dishwasher with you if you move, then a portable model is better than a built-in model. Unless you're handy, installing a dishwasher requires a plumber or professional installer to connect the unit to your plumbing system if the connections don't already exist.

They usually hold about 12 to 14 place settings. They are good for use in kitchens designed for homes with two or more people and will handle most, if not all, of the dishes at once. They fit in nicely in the kitchen, fitting under countertops. They do not take up countertop space, do not need to be stored elsewhere, and do not need constant hookups like portable or countertop models.

A single-level dish drawer dishwasher is another built-in option that is an excellent solution for small kitchens. If you like the drawer style and have a larger home or household needing more dish space, double dishwasher drawers fit a standard dishwasher opening. 


The average cost for a new built-in or portable dishwasher is from $400 and $700. A top-end built-in dishwasher with all the bells and whistles can go up to $2,000. The average cost to install it is $150 to $200. Countertop dishwashers are some of the least expensive options, ranging from $250 to $650.

How to Choose a Dishwasher

It might be easiest to make a checklist of your must-haves with a new dishwasher. Take note of which things are deal-breaker. Some people have little tolerance for loud dishwashers. Other common concerns are water and energy consumption. Read the fine print on the model you like before you buy.

How Important Is the Noise Factor?

Quiet models will cost you considerably more than a standard model. You can expect to pay $1,000 to $1,500 for a quieter model. Some people choose to run the dishwasher in the morning when everyone leaves the house. Others choose to run it at night after dinner, and everyone goes off to bed. However, if you can hear the dishwasher from your bedroom, it may not be the last sound you want to hear as you go to sleep. If you have a countertop or portable unit, they are exposed on all sides and not encased by cabinetry that muffles the sound.

What Other Features Are the Most Important?

Energy and water consumption are essential for an eco-friendly world, and they can affect your wallet. Today's dishwashers have become much more efficient to operate, but cycles have become longer. Some dishwashers have low water features or quick wash options, which are handy for metered water use. A dishwasher that displays the Energy Star symbol or is certified by the Consortium of Energy Efficiency will save you energy dollars compared to non-qualified dishwasher models. Another energy saver is a delay start option if your electricity usage is calculated on time-of-use rates—you can set the dishwasher to wash later when energy is cheaper.

  • Fits more items

  • Has more advanced features

  • Might require professional installation

  • Can use sink when running the dishwasher

  • Quieter; surrounding cabinetry muffles noise

Countertop or Portable
  • Requires hookup to the sink each use

  • Takes up counter or storage space

  • Countertop units are least expensive

  • Can fit in smaller kitchens

  • Easier to take if you move

Where to Shop

Shopping in an appliance store with many models might give you a good idea of what you like in terms of aesthetics. You can see the configurations of the trays and racks and ask a salesperson about the features. Shopping online, your variety is much more vast, and the prices may even be better, but you don't get to see what you're getting. Whether you go online or to a store, make sure you choose a place that offers a good return policy. If it arrives or you start using it, and it's not what you want, you don't want to live it for 10 to 15 years.

Buying In-store

If you feel strongly about seeing the item before you buy, plan to visit an appliance store, home improvement center, or department store. Depending on where you go, you may have many models to compare against and decide. Appliance stores should have informed salespeople who can assist with questions about the models. Also, talk about delivery options, removal costs of your old unit, and installation fees with the salesperson. Make sure you know all the final costs.

Buying Online

Some people love to find great deals, compare, and research everything before buying. Dishwasher reviews and customer comments are great ways to find feedback about the machine you are considering. Next to the return policy, check the warranty information, and inquire about delivery fees and installation options. Also, if you don't get installation, do they deliver it inside? Or do they leave it at the door?

Where to Buy a Dishwasher

Buying a dishwasher shouldn't be a difficult proposition. Portable and countertop dishwashers are wonderful for apartment dwellers and can be purchased online and at the store. You'll have the most options looking at built-in dishwashers, like Bosch dishwashers, which offers the quietest dishwasher at 38 decibels.

  • Is it worth fixing a dishwasher?

    On average, dishwashers typically last 10 years. If your dishwasher is over 10 years and giving you hassles, it's probably time to get a new dishwasher. At some point, it's no longer worth the headache.

  • Can I install a dishwasher myself?

    Yes, replacing an existing dishwasher should be relatively easy since you will be using the same connections, but you need to make sure that you have measured everything correctly. The machine size you are swapping out should be the same size as the old one.

  • How long does it take to install a dishwasher?

    It can take a professional about one hour to install a dishwasher if they do not have to make any significant kitchen modifications. Doing it yourself with no prior experience will likely take two to three hours to do the same job.

Article Sources
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  1. Energy Star. Dishwashers.

  2. Efficient Dishwashers. Energy Star.