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Benchtop dishwashers: pros, cons and need-to-knows

These compact dishwashers are good for rental properties and small spaces

benchtop dishwasher on blue
Last updated: 23 September 2020

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 sick of having a standoff with your partner or flatmate about the washing up, a dishwasher might be the answer

But before you buy a dishwasher, there are a few things you should consider. Full-size dishwashers will require some kitchen modifications at the very least. And if you're installing a dishwasher from scratch, you'll need an electrician and probably a plumber to help you get it installed. (Read our article on how to install a dishwasher for more detail.)

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 handwashing your dishes every night, consider a benchtop dishwasher.

What is 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. 

Installation is pretty easy: it can just be placed on your kitchen bench, plugged into the power point and connected to a tap to run. You won't need to ask permission from your landlord or engage any tradespeople – and you can even take it with you when you move! 

"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."

How well do benchtop dishwashers perform?

If you're shopping for something that's small on space, 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."

Benchtop dishwashers: pros

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 $600 for a benchtop dishwasher, compared with $450 to $2500 for a full-sized one. 

Running costs are also lower. "The Kogan KABNCHTPDWA benchtop dishwasher we've tested costs $481 to run over 10 years, compared with up to $1901 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."

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 handwash your dishes

This is the most obvious pro. A benchtop dishwasher will free you from having to handwash 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 handwashing. Rats!

Little installation needed

To install a benchtop dishwasher, it's 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! 

"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. 

To install a benchtop dishwasher, no kitchen modifications are necessary!

"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."

Of course, 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 the benchtop dishwasher to. 

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 type 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!

Kitchen tidiness

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. 

Benchtop dishwashers: cons

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 increase your hand washing tasks – not exactly what you expect when buying a dishwasher. 

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. 

Fewer features

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. 

Endless explaining

Benchtop dishwashers aren't exactly common, so when you have guests, expect questions about the big white box sitting on your bench. (This isn't exactly a huge drawback, but it could get annoying!)