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 pack and unpack, but it beats having to hunch over a sink full of dirty water.
Modern dishwashers are also very efficient. They use far less water than hand washing and because most of the energy used in washing up goes to heating that water, it can it save you money as well as time.
Video on how to find the best dishwasher
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). But if you have a compact kitchen then you might want to think about using a drawer, compact or slimline dishwasher that can fit neatly under a benchtop or in a smaller space.
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. If you're worried about difficulty reaching or using your dishwasher, you might also want to check out our guide to dishwasher accessibility.
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 do not have an under-bench space in your kitchen. Freestanding dishwashers can generally be built-in as well. $379–$2400
A built-in model which can fit a panel under the control fascia to match the rest of your kitchen cupboards. $730–$3800
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. $600–$3350
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. $700–$3500
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. $700–$2000
Just as tall as a full-sized dishwasher but around 45cm wide rather than the conventional 60cm. $680–$2000
Designed to sit on top of your bench or counter, benchtop dishwashers can be installed and removed without needing to modify your kitchen, so they're a good option if you're renting. $500–$1000
All dishwashers are labelled with water and energy ratings. The star ratings will give you a general idea of how well your dishwasher performs, but the labels will also include raw figures on the kilowatt hours per year and water usage per wash. You can use these figures to get an estimate of your running costs.
Look out! Complex maths part
For example, let's say your energy costs 30 cents/kWh and the dishwasher uses 100kWh per year. 0.30 x 100 = your dishwasher is going to cost you around $30 a year to run. You can use the same sort of calculation for your water cost, using $2 per 1000 litres.
Hand washing – counting the cost
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 to wash up a typical pile of dirty dishes, and 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. Often not an option when hand washing because of the growing and unsightly pile of dirty plates next to the sink.
We regularly ask our members about the reliability of their own dishwashers 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.
Manufacturers tend to spruik this, but you can pretty much ignore it. Some dishwashers claim to be able to fit 12 to 15 place settings, but unless you have a dishwasher Tardis and are using the Australian Standard sized place setting – both extremely unlikely – then you can tell 'em they're dreaming. Don't go large for the sake of it; go for what suits your crockery.
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, so feel free to bring in your items to make sure they 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, what can I wash in the dishwasher?
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. If you're a fan of the cutlery tray then look for a tall-tub style dishwasher - the extra tub height compensates for the lost real estate.
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.
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, which 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.
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.
Fans and auto openening doors
Some models now come with fan-assisted drying, and 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.
Salt dispenser for softening hard water
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.
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.
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 candy.
- Do use a good detergent. Your dishwasher is only as good as the detergent you put in it – check out our dishwasher detergent reviews and see what's best for you.
- Don't place the dirtiest items in the corners of the baskets as they're less likely to be cleaned properly. Check out our guide on how to load a dishwasher and stack like a pro.
- 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 – here's how to keep the sparkle alive.
Dishwashers can cost anywhere from $350 to $4000.