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Dishwasher Sizes and Styles

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Nobody likes doing dirty dishes. Dishwashers help, sure, but rinsing a sink full of dirty plates, bowls and silverware isn’t generally thought of as a good time. But it used to be a lot worse. Before Joel Houghton patented the first dishwashing device in 1850, the only way to get dishes clean involved hands, rags, water and soap. Early devices were slow to catch on until Josephine Cochrane’s automatic dishwasher was a hit at the 1893 Columbian Exposition. Since then, the dishwasher has become an indispensable appliance for millions of households.

Though the dishwashers of yesteryear were pretty basic, today’s machines come in a variety of styles and sizes. The conventional, or built-in, dishwasher is called such because it’s permanently installed underneath a counter in your kitchen and connected to a hot-water pipe, a drain and electricity. These dishwashers are traditionally 34 inches high, 24 inches wide and 24 inches deep, though some European models may be slightly smaller and a few American brands offer machines in larger sizes. Conventional dishwashers can cost anywhere from $200 to $1,200, depending on the brand and options you choose.


Compact dishwashers are usually a better fit for small kitchens. The units provide the same power as conventional dishwashers but are smaller in size, averaging 32.5 inches high, 18 inches wide and 22.5 inches deep. Compact dishwashers typically cost between $200 and $400.

Portable dishwashers are conventional or compact-sized units you can move around on wheels. They’re ideal for older homes that don’t have the infrastructure to connect a built-in dishwasher. Portable dishwashers get their water from the kitchen faucet, and they range in price from $250 to $600, making them less expensive than standard units. However, because they connect to the faucet instead of the plumbing, not all portable models are as powerful as conventional machines.

Those who are extremely low on space or don’t wash many dishes may want to opt for a countertop dishwasher. Like portable units, countertop models connect to the kitchen sink. They’re about 17 inches high, 22 inches wide and 20 inches deep. These machines tend to cost between $250 and $350.

The newest technology on the market is the dish drawer. These machines feature either a single or double drawer that slides out to facilitate loading. With two-drawer models, you can run different wash cycles at the same time. A double drawer dishwasher is approximately the same size as a conventional unit. A one-drawer machine costs between $500 and $700, while a two-drawer unit can set you back as much as $1,200.

With all these choices, how do you know which dishwasher is right for you? Read the next page to narrow your options.


Finding the Right Dishwasher Size and Style

Since most dishwashers last about 10 years, make sure you’ve chosen a model that suits your needs. One thing to consider is how much it’ll cost to run the unit. Many modern dishwashers meet the U.S. government’s Energy Star qualifications for energy savings. These specifications mean that the machine uses less electricity and water, which will save you money on your utility bills. When shopping, look for a yellow label that specifies the amount of energy required to run that particular model. If you want to cut your costs even more, choose a machine that has an air-drying option to prevent using additional electricity to run a drying cycle.

Capacity should also factor into your buying decision. A conventional dishwasher will hold up to 12 five-piece place settings. If you’re single, have a small family or don’t eat at home much, you might want to consider a compact washer, which will hold around 8 place settings. Countertop models and single dishwasher drawers hold about half the maximum load of conventional machines, which is about six place settings.


When you own your home, you can choose whatever dishwasher you’d like, provided it fits into your kitchen. Renters don’t have that luxury. If you rent and want a dishwasher, a portable or countertop unit might be the best solution, especially if your landlord isn’t open to the idea of installing a conventional machine.

Of course, homeowners have to worry about costs too, and today’s dishwashers have a plethora of special features that can help clean your dishes. For example, while most washers have four basic cycles that correspond to the dishes’ level of grime (Heavy, Normal, Light and Rinse), some advanced models have options designed especially for scrubbing pots, sanitizing cups, bowls and plates and washing crystal or china. Soil sensors detect dirt levels and can adjust how much water to use during different cycles. Some models even have quiet motors, so running a midnight load won’t wake up everyone in your house.

However, all these options come at a price. High-end units can cost hundreds more than basic machines. But no matter how much you pay, you’re still going to have to rinse and load your dishes into the machine. Upscale models will do more of the work for you, but no dishwasher is going to clean a sink full of dirty dishes without your assistance.

Phosphates make dishwashing detergent more effective, but they’re not good for fresh water systems. They stimulate algae growth, which threatens plants and fish in the ecosystem. In July 2010, 16 states put a limit on how much phosphorus could be included in dishwasher detergent, which forced manufacturers to reformulate their products.


Lots More Information

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Abt Electronics. “Buying guides: Dishwashers.” (Oct. 3, 2011) http://www.abt.com/about/Buying_dishwashers

Better Homes and Gardens. “10 Things to Know About Dishwashers.” (Oct. 3, 2011) http://www.bhg.com/home-improvement/kitchen/appliances/what-to-know-about-dishwashers/?page=1

Better Homes and Gardens. “Selecting a Dishwasher.” (Oct. 3, 2011) http://www.bhg.com/kitchen/appliances/selecting-a-dishwasher/

CNET. “Dishwasher buying guide.” Dec. 8, 2009. (Oct. 3, 2011) http://reviews.cnet.com/2719-17903_7-404-1.html?tag=page;page

Consumer Reports. “Dishwasher Guide.” (Oct. 3, 2011) http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/appliances/kitchen-appliances/dishwashers/dishwasher-buying-advice/dishwasher-getting-started/dishwasher-getting-started.htm

Consumer Reports. “Getting started: Dishwasher detergent guide.” (Oct. 3, 2011) http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/appliances/laundry-and-cleaning/dishwasher-detergents/dishwasher-detergent-buying-advice/dishwasher-detergent-getting-started/dishwasher-detergent-getting-started.htm

Consumer Reports. “New Detergents Arrive.” Sept. 2010. (Oct. 3, 2011) http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine-archive/2010/september/home-garden/low-phosphorous-dishwasher-detergents/overview/index.htm

Consumer Reports. “Phosphates and algae.” Sept. 2010. (Oct. 3, 2011) http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine-archive/2010/september/home-garden/low-phosphorous-dishwasher-detergents/phosphates/index.htm

ENERGY STAR. “Dishwashers for Consumers.” (Oct. 3, 2011) http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=find_a_product.showProductGroup&pgw_code=DW

Hilpern, Kate. “The Secret History Of: The dishwasher.” The Independent. Oct. 29, 2010. (Oct. 3, 2011) http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/features/the-secret-history-of-the-dishwasher-2119320.html

Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. “Encyclopedia of Kitchen History.” Taylor & Francis. 2004. (Oct. 3, 2011) http://books.google.com/books?id=D7IhN7lempUC&pg=PA320&lpg=PA320&dq=columbian+exposition+dishwasher&source=bl&ots=HF8v05Hap_&sig=-0kLtgT2ckV4__hD96cDMZO_5iE&hl=en&ei=nD-KTpDTJ83KsQKv8dH2CQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=8&ved=0CFgQ6AEwBw#v=onepage&q=columbian%20exposition%20dishwasher&f=false

U.S. Energy Information Administration. “Residential Energy Consumption Survey.” 2009. (Oct. 3, 2011)

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