If you're sick of having a standoff with your partner or flatmate about the washing up, a dishwasher might be the answer to your domestic woes. Or perhaps you're kitting out a motorhome or caravan and can't bear the thought of having to wash up every night when you're supposed to be enjoying your retirement.
If you're renting, your landlord might not be too happy about the idea of you cutting up the kitchen cabinetry. And it can be hard to make space for a full-size dishwasher in your RV.
Does that mean a dishwasher is out of the question? Perhaps not! Instead of resigning yourself to hand washing your dishes every night, consider a benchtop dishwasher.
Not to be confused with a drawer or compact dishwasher, a benchtop dishwasher is literally that: a small dishwasher that you can put on your benchtop.
They fit fewer dishes than a full-size dishwasher – a benchtop dishwasher fits around six place settings, whereas a traditional dishwasher fits up to 16. Make sure you check the size of your plates before you start shopping for a benchtop dishwasher; you don't want to find out the hard way that your plates are too big to fit!
Like a regular dishwasher, a benchtop dishwasher needs to be connected to a water inlet via a hose. A second hose comes out of the dishwasher to drain the dirty water into the sink. The dishwasher heats up the water to wash the dishes itself.
Benchtop dishwashers are very niche products; a lot of people aren't even aware that they existAshley Iredale, CHOICE dishwasher expert
And just like a full-size dishwasher, a benchtop dishwasher also dries your dishes. Basically, the crockery heats up from the hot water in the machine, then it holds onto that heat, which helps it to dry. (Although the benchtop dishwashers we've tested in the past haven't performed especially well for drying – particularly the Omega ODW101W from our most recent dishwasher review.)
"Currently, benchtop dishwashers are very niche products," says CHOICE dishwasher expert Ashley Iredale. "The vast majority of manufacturers don't have one in their range. I suspect a lot of people aren't even aware that they exist."
If you're shopping for something space-efficient, should you expect to forfeit some performance? Not necessarily – but you should do your research to make sure you're getting a good product.
"One would assume that a small benchtop appliance wouldn't hold a candle to a full-sized, 'proper' dishwasher, but you might be surprised," says Ashley. "Some of them punch well above their weight, easily holding their own against conventional dishwashers."
How to connect a benchtop dishwasher
Connecting a benchtop dishwasher is pretty easy: place the dishwasher on the kitchen bench, plug it into a power point, connect it to the kitchen tap, and run the drain hose into the sink.
When you're installing a new full-size dishwasher, you'll generally need to use licensed tradespeople to build or adjust the cabinetry, and install a new power point, drain and water supply. It can be quite a process!
A benchtop dishwasher is generally more straightforward to install because you'll be able to use your existing power point, kitchen sink and tap, and you won't need to modify your kitchen cupboards.
Do you need a plumber to install a benchtop dishwasher?
You can generally connect a benchtop dishwasher to your existing kitchen tap yourself by using an adaptor, but it's wise to check that your kitchen tap is a standard size before you buy.
"To connect the dishwasher to the water, you'll need a threaded tap connection, which you could have installed, or you can just buy a screw-on adaptor," says Ashley.
It's far and away quicker, easier and cheaper than installing a conventional dishwasher, and it's rental-bond friendlyAshley Iredale, CHOICE dishwasher expert
"For the screw-on adaptor, you'll need a spanner, but that's about it, and you can remove it again when you move. Even with that, it's far and away quicker, easier and cheaper than installing a conventional dishwasher, and it's rental-bond friendly."
If you'd like to make it look a little more streamlined, you could connect the outlet hose directly to the drain under the sink, and perhaps even have a separate tap installed to connect to the benchtop dishwasher.
In most cases, no. However, it's important to check whether the dishwasher is correctly earthed – this can help avoid electric shock if the dishwasher malfunctions or breaks down.
As long as the power point you're plugging the dishwasher into was installed correctly by a licensed electrician, this should be fine.
If the wiring in your house is old or if you're not confident that it's been installed properly, have a licensed electrician check it for you.
(Read our article on how to install a dishwasher for more detail.)
They're relatively cheap to buy and run
Small dishwashers can mean smaller costs. In terms of upfront costs, you're looking at $350 to $900 for a benchtop dishwasher, compared with $400 to $3200 for a full-sized one.
Running costs are also lower. "The Omega ODW101W benchtop dishwasher we've tested costs $467 to run over 10 years, compared with up to $1607 over 10 years for a conventional dishwasher," says Ashley.
"That's because their smaller capacity means less water and therefore less electricity to heat it. But if you're a small household you probably don't need a massive dishwasher anyway."
Benchtop dishwashers are very water efficient, which is good news in a dry country like AustraliaAshley Iredale, CHOICE dishwasher expert
They don't use much water
"Benchtop dishwashers are very water efficient," says Ashley. "The models we've tested only use about seven or eight litres of water per wash – that's good news in a dry country like Australia."
They're good for small kitchens
If you're working with a small area such as a studio or a motor home, kitchen space is at a premium. Installing a conventional dishwasher generally means sacrificing a cupboard or two, which may not be the best use of available space.
A benchtop dishwasher will take up bench space, but it won't be at the expense of highly prized cupboard space.
You won't need to hand wash your dishes
This is the most obvious pro. A benchtop dishwasher will free you from having to hand wash the plates and arguing about who does it. But bear in mind that they're not big enough to take pots and pans, so you'll never be completely free of hand washing. Rats!
Little installation needed
Installing a benchtop dishwasher is as simple as connecting it to a water supply, plugging it into the power socket and placing the drainage outlet into the sink – no kitchen modifications necessary!
They're perfect for small households
Benchtop dishwashers can typically fit around six place settings, which is plenty for a couple, single or small share house – particularly if you're a minimalist who has only four of everything.
You can take it with you when you move
Things not going well with your housemate? If it's time to move on, you can take your benchtop dishwasher with you. Having a BYO benchtop dishwasher will also make you more appealing as a prospective new housemate – bonus!
Instead of having a jumble of plates and bowls piled up on your draining rack, they'll either be hidden away in your benchtop dishwasher or stacked away in the cupboard.
They take up a lot of bench space
You won't lose any cupboard space by opting for a benchtop dishwasher, but you will have to give up some bench space.
For the dishwashers we've tested, you're looking at about 50cm x 55cm of space, and you'll need to put it near the sink to hook it up to water and drainage – prime real estate in a kitchen!
They don't have a lot of capacity
Although they're perfect for singles and couples, you'll only be able to fit about six place settings into a benchtop dishwasher, which just won't be enough for a larger household.
They also can't fit larger plates or crockery, which will leave you with plenty of hand washing tasks – not exactly what you expect when buying a dishwasher.
Some benchtop dishwashers don't perform as well as traditional dishwashers – particularly for dryingAshley Iredale, CHOICE dishwasher expert
They don't always do as good a job as traditional dishwashers
"Some benchtop dishwashers don't perform as well as traditional dishwashers – particularly for drying, as they don't have the thermal mass of a full-sized one," says Ashley. "But some of them do hold their own against conventional dishwashers."
Make sure you check our expert dishwasher reviews to avoid buying a dud.
Benchtop dishwashers often don't have the same features as conventional dishwashers. This means you could miss out on multiple programs, adjustable baskets, delayed start, half-load options, foldable plate racks, anti-burst hoses and the like.
"Some of them will have these things, but you're less likely to find them on a machine like this," says Ashley.
A benchtop dishwasher is quite a niche product that won't be suitable for every household. But for some people it'll be a great addition to their kitchen.
Here are some reasons why a benchtop dishwasher might be right for you:
- You have a small household of one to two people.
- Your kitchen is small and doesn't have enough room for a full-size under-bench dishwasher.
- You have enough bench space to fit a benchtop dishwasher.
- You're renting and can't install a dishwasher, and would like to take it with you when you move out.
- You're looking for a dishwasher for a motorhome or RV.
Who sells benchtop dishwashers?
A range of manufacturers produce benchtop dishwashers, from lesser-known brands like Devanti through to bargain online retailers like Kogan and even premium brands like ILVE.
We have only tested one model that is still currently available – the Omega ODW101W benchtop dishwasher – as benchtop dishwashers are such a niche product. The Omega is one of the most popular brands in the category.
Here are some of the brands currently on the market:
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.