Half of Australian households own a dishwasher, and it's not surprising that some people would just about marry theirs. Sure, you still need to load and unload the dishes, but it beats having to hunch over a sink full of dirty water.
A modern dishwasher is also very efficient. It uses far less water than hand washing and because most of the energy used in washing up goes towards heating that water, it can save you money as well as time.
Read on for our advice on choosing the right type and size of dishwasher for your home, how much you can expect to pay, features to look out for and general tips for getting the best out of your machine.
While electricity to run your dishwasher costs money and the elbow grease used in hand washing is free, hand washing uses around six times as much water as a typical modern dishwasher for a pile of dirty dishes. Plus, getting the water in your sink hot enough to do the dishes takes nearly twice as much energy as you'd use running your dishwasher.
Another advantage of dishwashers over hand washing is that you may be able to wait several days for it to be full before running it, further compounding your energy and water savings. That's not always an option when hand washing because of the growing and unsightly pile of dirty plates next to the sink.
How much water does a dishwasher use?
Compared to hand washing, washing your dishes in the dishwasher is incredibly water efficient. Thanks to the WELS star rating system, consumers can easily compare how water- and energy-efficient a dishwasher is, which is a strong incentive for manufacturers to continue to reduce the water consumption of their appliances.
Advances in technology help too. For example, an on-board reservoir to retain the water from the last rinse cycle to use for the first rinse of the next cycle, means modern dishwashers can wash a full load (144 items) using as little as 9L of water vs 103L (on average) for hand washing.
How much electricity does a dishwasher use?
While it might seem counterintuitive, using your dishwasher is significantly more energy-efficient than washing by hand. That's because most of the energy used in washing up is for heating the wash water, and dishwashers use significantly less water.
The dishwashers in our tests use on average just a smidgeon over one kwh per cycle, so if you're running your dishwasher once a week, it'll only add $16.38 to your annual electricity bill. Of course running it more frequently, or running a more intensive cycle, will drive this running cost up, but it's still a small price to pay for the hours of dish drudgery you'll save, and it's significantly less than the cost of heating a sink full of water every day.
So how much does a dishwasher cost to run?
Running your dishwasher on its default cycle every day will cost you approximately $122 a year in electricity and water, but those aren't the only costs. Detergent actually makes up the bigger chunk of your running expenses. In fact, the leading brands can cost a dollar per wash which doesn't seem like much but could add up to $365 every year if you run it daily.
And while the energy star ratings are calculated assuming you're running your dishwasher every day, often you can go several days between cycles, so your actual energy and water consumption will be lower. Selecting an eco-program, only running the dishwasher once it's full and switching to a cheaper (but still top performing) detergent can drastically reduce your dishwasher running costs.
Is a dishwasher better for the environment?
There are three things to consider when assessing environmental impact:
- the resources used in manufacturing
- the resource consumption and pollution during the dishwasher's lifespan
- disposal at end of the dishwasher's life.
On the manufacturing front there's no question about it – a dishwasher uses more energy and resources than a plain old sink. However, it will use significantly less energy and water than hand washing for its 10–15-year lifespan. That means less greenhouse gas from coal fired power stations and less good clean drinking water going down the drain, which is especially important in a dry country like Australia.
Though detergents are strongly alkaline, they're essentially non-polluting, so the planet will thank you for using your dishwasher to its fullest extent.
Can you buy a sustainable dishwasher?
Dishwashers, like anything, consume energy and resources to manufacture, but as stated above they'll consume less electricity and water than hand washing and can mostly be recycled at the end of their usable life.
Do dishwashers use hot water?
Most dishwashers only have a cold-water intake and use an internal heater, which gives them greater control over internal temperatures and is more efficient as there are no thermal losses in your pipes. But what if you want to take advantage of solar hot water? The good news is there are some dishwashers which have both hot and cold-water intakes, so you can take advantage of that free solar energy for sparkling clean dishes.
While using the hot water inlet instead of cold water will slightly improve wash performance and speed, it may also affect other features, such as condenser drying, which may not work as well or at all.
Most of us are looking at filling a dishwasher-shaped hole under our kitchen bench, which means we're looking for a full-sized dishwasher – 60cm wide, 82–85cm tall and 60cm deep (with room at the back for ventilation). If you have a compact kitchen then you might want to think about using a slimline dishwasher that can fit neatly under a benchtop or in a smaller space.
Slimline dishwashers are just as tall as a full-sized dishwasher, but are only 45 cm wide. They have comparable energy and water consumption to full-sized models though so on the whole they're not as efficient. Compact dishwashers include benchtop models which are a good option if you're renting as they don't require modification to cabinetry.
As the old adage says, measure twice and cut once – play it safe by measuring the space in your kitchen to make sure that shiny new dishwasher will fit before committing to a purchase.
Dishwashers can cost anywhere from $350 up to $4000.
There are several different dishwasher types or configurations available depending on your needs. Many dishwasher models also come in a variety of colours, finishes and configurations in order to match your kitchen decor.
These come with a worktop and are suitable if you don't have an under-bench space in your kitchen. It's also worth noting that a freestanding dishwasher will typically measure 85cm high, but will have a 5cm high removable worktop so can convert to a built-in model that will fit in a 80cm high cavity.
Designed to be mounted under your kitchen counter, built-in dishwashers do not require top or side panels but must be enclosed and anchored to prevent tipping forward during loading and unloading.
Built-in dishwashers need to be mounted and anchored under a counter.
A built-in model which can fit a panel under the control fascia to match the rest of your kitchen cupboards.
Fully integrated dishwashers
A completely built-in dishwasher, with the whole front panel matching your kitchen and controls concealed inside the door. You won't even be able to tell it's there. While there's no display for the time remaining on a cycle, many fully integrated dishwashers shine a light on the ground to tell you when the cycle's finished, or project the time remaining on the floor.
Drawer or compact dishwashers
Ideal for smaller households, these dishwashers are built in to a drawer or microwave-sized space and take up less kitchen real estate, but also fit less crockery in each load. Double dish drawers are also versatile, giving you the option of only running one or both at once. Bear in mind that energy and water rating stickers may provide figures for only one drawer though, not both, and if you use tablet detergents you're going to need one for each drawer, doubling your detergent consumption.
Designed to sit on top of your bench or counter, benchtop dishwashers can be installed and removed without needing to modify your cabinetry. They're a good option if you're renting and can be popped away in the cupboard if you need extra bench space.
Choose your finish – black, silver and stainless steel dishwashers
These days you're not just limited to boring old white – you can opt for a stainless steel, black, or even brightly coloured retro finish dishwasher. Be aware though that style comes at a cost – you can expect to pay a premium ($50–100) for a stainless finish over a plain white one, and possibly more for exotic finishes.
Do place settings have a place in dishwasher decision-making?
Manufacturers tend to spruik this feature but you can pretty much ignore it. Some dishwasher manufacturers claim you can fit up to 16 place settings in some models, but unless you have a dishwasher Tardis and are using the Australian Standard sized place setting, then you can tell 'em they're dreaming.
Don't go large for the sake of it – go for what suits your crockery. You'll probably find intelligent rack design has a greater impact on usability and real world capacity anyway.
How do you know if your plates will fit in a new dishwasher?
There's no point buying a great new dishwasher if you can't fit your dinnerware in it – different dishwashers come with a variety of internal configurations, so your extra-tall glasses and large dinner plates may not fit easily in all models. If you're unsure then take one of each to the shops with you. Don't be embarrassed – sales people want to sell you that dishwasher and won't mind when you want to make sure that your plates fit.
If you're not sure what you can or can't wash in the dishwasher, see what CHOICE's kitchen experts recommend in our guide below.
Adjustable plate racks
Some models come with fold-down trays – a real advantage if you wash pots and pans.
Height-adjustable top baskets
Look for height-adjustable baskets (usually the top basket) for more versatility when loading. An "easy-to-lift" top basket means you can adjust the height without needing to completely remove it. Some models can even be adjusted when fully loaded.
Cutlery tray or basket?
A tray lets you sort when you stack, a basket lets you sort at the cutlery drawer. Trays are also safer because you won't accidentally stab yourself with a knife or fork while reaching into the dishwasher. Look for optional grids on the cutlery baskets or cutlery trays that separate each utensil. One drawback of a cutlery tray, however, is that it eats into the space available for the top rack.
Tall tub dishwashers
If you're a fan of the cutlery tray then look for a tall-tub style dishwasher. Tall tub models, often identified with a suffix 'XXL' on the model number, offer more height inside the dishwasher, restoring the lost space in the top rack and improving versatility.
Most dishwashers now have some level of anti-flood protection, but an anti-flood hose has an electric cut-off near the water tap connection. This means it stops leaks in the hose, not just in the machine. There are also anti-burst technologies which are located in the machine end of the hose.
Concealed heating element
A concealed element protects items from damage if they fall through the basket, and food from being burnt onto the element and causing a bad smell. Luckily, exposed element dishwashers are a rarity these days.
This helps you identify simple problems, such as an empty rinse-aid dispenser or blocked spray arms, and avoid unnecessary service calls. It also warns you of serious problems that do require a service call.
Check that the filters are easy to remove and clean. Cleaning filters is unpleasant enough at the best of times without needing to disassemble half your dishwasher to get at them.
Fans and auto opening doors
Some models now come with fan-assisted drying or heated elements for faster drying, though this can increase running costs. Some models even automatically open when they complete the cleaning cycle, which helps with drying. Also available is the push-to-open door, which might save your dishes if you're trying to open and load your dishwasher with both hands full.
The specifications will tell you if models like this Fisher & Paykel support fan assisted drying.
Salt dispenser for softening hard water
Australia has relatively soft water but water hardness varies a lot by region. If you live in an area with hard water (if you're unsure you can check with your water supplier) then your detergent might not work as effectively. Look for a dishwasher with a salt dispenser which will make the water softer for a better wash.
Attached to the cutlery basket, anti-nesting grids help prevent cutlery bunching together (spooning). Look for removable or fold-away anti-nesting grids for more flexibility.
Intensive wash zones
Some dishwashers feature a special intensive wash zone for heavily soiled pots and pans, with extra water jets to better circulate the wash water and shift baked on food.
Built-in Wi-Fi or smart features
Wi-Fi-connected dishwashers can be monitored and controlled by an app on your phone. This means you can download firmware updates when available, and keep track of when a cycle finishes, or detergent levels for auto dosing systems, but you'll still need to physically load and unload the dishwasher by hand, so we don't feel it's a feature worth paying a premium for.
Auto dosing detergent
We've had washing machines which automatically dose detergent from an onboard reservoir for some time now, but similar technology is now available in some dishwashers. Automatic detergent dosing means less mess and risk of spilling detergent, and means one detergent top up can last many washes – both great things for elderly people or those with accessibility issues.
They also allow the dishwasher to determine the optimum detergent dose for better wash performance, but they do come at a cost, and you may be limited to the manufacturer's proprietary (read: expensive) detergent. You can of course dose each wash with your regular detergent too but why pay for a feature you're not going to use?
Hot or cold?
Check whether a cold or hot connection is recommended for the machine. If you'll be connecting to hot water (a good option if you have solar hot water), check the recommended maximum hot water inlet temperature – you may need a tempering valve if the water in your pipes is too hot, and some features like condenser drying, which uses a jacket of cold water around the tub to cool it, may not work as effectively.
Look for child-safe door locks, control locks and detergent dispenser locks to keep curious little fingers out of harm's way. Keep in mind that you'll need to store those dishwasher tablets somewhere safe as well, as sometimes they can look like lollies.
Common dishwasher programs
Eco, economy or bio wash
Washes more economically with less water, or at a lower temperature – about 50°C is good for an enzyme-based detergent.
Washes lightly soiled or rinsed dishes more economically in a faster cycle.
Half load option or load sensing
The half load setting adjusts the water and program times for a smaller load, while load sensing adjusts them according to the number of items and soil. While half-load settings do use less energy and water, they'll still use around 85% as much as a full load so you're probably better off waiting until your dishwasher is full before running it. Of course, a double dish drawer is the epitome of half-load capability.
If your dishwasher's relatively new or only has a minor problem then repairing rather than replacing it can save you money and reduce your environmental footprint by keeping another appliance off the scrap heap. And depending on the nature of the fault, it could be something you can repair yourself (though anything that involves fiddling with electrical wiring should be left to the professionals).
If you're replacing a still working dishwasher then start by running the first few seconds of a cycle to pump out any remaining water in the sump. This means fewer drips and less mess during the rest of the removal process.
If your dishwasher's not draining the first step is to look for a blocked filter. Take the plates, baskets and racks out of the dishwasher and reach into the soupy depths to pull out the filter. Then give it a good scrub under the tap. You should also reach into the bottom of the tub where the filter goes to clear any large food particles that could be causing a blockage. Put it back and try running another cycle to see if this has fixed the problem.
If that doesn't solve things then you're going to need to bail the dishwasher out by hand. Grab some kitchen sponges or cloths, some towels and a cup, bowl or other vessel you can use to bail out the water. Put a towel down on the floor to soak up any spills, then start bailing the contents of your dishwasher into a sink or bucket. Once the water levels are too low to bail, use the kitchen sponges and towels to soak up the remaining liquid then scoop any residual solids out by hand.
Now you can start disconnecting the machine but remember, there's probably still water in the drain hose, so be careful pulling that out. Once you're done, mop up any spills with your towels and throw them straight into the washing machine for a well-deserved wash – they've earned it.
The good news is, installing your new dishwasher is a relatively simple job, especially if you're replacing an existing dishwasher as the cavity, plumbing and electrical sockets are already in place. Benchtop dishwashers are even easier, as there's no cabinetry work required.
A virgin installation's a little more involved as you'll need to remove a cupboard to make room for it, modify your plumbing and possibly even have a power point installed, so you may want to leave it to the professionals. You will need access to water and drainage, which means locating your dishwasher adjacent to your sink. Also bear in mind that the power point must be located under the kitchen sink in the adjacent cabinet, not directly behind the dishwasher, to reduce the risks of electric shock in the event of a leak.
How to dispose of your old dishwasher
If your dishwasher still works, consider selling it rather than throwing it away. On the other hand, if it's shifted its last lasagna stain then many councils will collect and dispose of old appliances for you. Depending on your council you may have to either book a collection or wait for a bi-annual clean-up date. Some will also take it for free if you're able to haul it down to the tip. Alternatively, scrap metal dealers might give you a few dollars for the metals contained.
Retailers may also be happy to take your old one away when your shiny new model arrives. It's always worth asking as they may provide this service for free or a low cost. In any case, the good news is most of the components of your dishwasher are fully recyclable so provided you dispose of it correctly (i.e. you don't yeet it into the nearest river), much of it can be reused and very little will go into landfill.
Which dishwashers are most reliable?
We regularly ask our members about the reliability of the dishwashers they own and publish the results in our dishwasher reliability survey – the results are based on the real-world experiences of thousands of consumers, so check out the best brands before you buy.
How does a dishwasher know how dirty the dishes are?
Dishwashers with an auto mode contain a device called a turbidity sensor. This sensor measures the amount of soil contained in the first rinse cycle to determine how dirty your plates are, then adjusts the wash program accordingly. That's why shouldn't pre-rinse your plates – with fewer food particles in the rinse water your dishwasher can think your plates are cleaner than they actually are, so it won't wash them as well.
How often should you run the dishwasher?
Dishwashers love to be run. Leaving a dishwasher unused for long periods of time can cause hoses and seals to dry out and crack, and grease and grime to harden and block the delicate pipes inside. You may also incur an insect infestation, so you should run your dishwasher regularly – not to mention using a dishwasher over hand washing will save you time and money too. That said, for best efficiency it's a good idea to wait until your dishwasher's full before running it, though of course if its contents are getting a bit whiffy then it's definitely time to turn it on.
Will a dishwasher sterilise baby bottles?
Dishwashers are great for cleaning baby bottles and dummies, but there's a difference between cleaning and sterilising. If your dishwasher doesn't have a sanitise or steam setting then you'll also need a separate way to sterilise bottles after you've washed them, particularly for the first three months of your baby's life if it's premature or immuno-compromised.
To wash your baby's bottles, take them completely apart, separating all parts (nipples, caps, rings etc.), rinse them under running water and pop them in the dishwasher (small parts should be placed into a mesh laundry bag so they don't get lost), and run a hot cycle. Be sure to wash your hands with soap and water before removing them from the dishwasher and allow the parts to air dry – tea towels are vectors for all sorts of germs – before putting them away.
How do I get the most out of my dishwasher?
- Do use a good detergent. Your dishwasher is only as good as the detergent you put in it.
- Don't place the dirtiest items in the corners of the baskets as they're less likely to be cleaned properly.
- Do check the spray arm won't be blocked during the cycle – it needs to move freely to rinse the dishes.
- Don't pre-rinse – just scrape and go. Dishwashers have advanced considerably and are now designed so you don't need to rinse before you wash. If you keep up your pre-rinsing habits, you're washing the savings from owning a dishwasher down the drain, so to speak.
- Don't put anything wooden in your dishwasher. It's not a good idea because they'll fall apart from the detergent.
- Do deep clean your dishwasher. Giving it some love will improve performance and reduce that dirty dishwasher smell.