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How to choose the best dishwasher features

26 January 2021

Everything you need to know about the most important dishwasher features when choosing the best model for you.

Woman loading a dishwasher
Find out which dishwasher features are essential before buying the perfect model for you

Not only does a dishwasher save you from the time-consuming chore of hand washing your dishes, it does so far more hygienically and economically too. Choosing the perfect dishwasher from a vast number of dishwashers on the market can be daunting. Here’s how to figure out what features are essential and which you can live without.

Best dishwasher features to look for

Adjustable racks Get the most from your dishwasher by opting for a model with upper racks that can be removed or moved up and down. That way you can reconfigure the interior of the dishwasher to suit your load so you can wash taller items in the lower rack.

Extra rack Some models come with a third rack that’s perfect for larger utensils like whisks, tongs and measuring cups as well as small items such as espresso cups. For even greater flexibility, some dishwashers allow you use just a section of this rack to accommodate other taller items placed on other racks.

Flip-down tines Dishwasher tines are the prongs that section your racks to hold plates and dishes in place. The ability to fold these down flat gives you more space so you can wash large pots and odd-shaped items. Choose a dishwasher with fold-down tines in both the upper and lower racks.

Directional spray head Most dishwashers have one or two spinning spray arms that distribute water in a circular manner, like a garden sprinkler. Some models come with a third spray arm attached to the roof. This concentrates the water in one direction – useful for washing very dirty, greasy items such as a roasting tray.

Full-width spray arm Samsung’s WaterWall dishwashers have pioneered a new type of full-width spray arm that moves back to front along the bottom of the tub, creating a wall of water that claims more thorough cleaning.

Delay start Many dishwashers have a delay timer so you can set the dishwasher to start its wash cycle several hours later.

Child lock A common safety feature that prevents the door from being opened mid-cycle, avoiding the risk of scalding a child. It also prevents changes made to settings while the dishwasher is in use.

Anti-flood device Sensors detect water in the base of the machine and stop the dishwasher from filling further, preventing flooding should the dishwasher develop a fault.

Cycles Look for a dishwasher with a range of wash cycles including a speed wash for less dirty plates and a half load or upper rack-only option, which is perfect when you have smaller dish loads.

Extra rinse or rinse/hold When you haven’t enough in the dishwasher to run a full cycle, this 5- to 10-minute rinse cycle prevents a stuck-on mess that can be tough to clean up later.

Dirt sensor: More expensive dishwashers have sensor technology that detects how dirty your dishes are and adjusts the wash temperature and length accordingly.

Other considerations

Size and type

As with washing machines and fridges, you can buy both freestanding and integrated dishwashers – the latter are designed to be hidden behind kitchen cupboard doors, and tend to be more expensive.

There are three standard size options: full-size, streamline (which are slightly narrower) and compact. Compact dishwashers are roughly the size of a large microwave and are designed to sit on a worktop rather than the floor.

Program options

The best dishwashers have a number of washing programs that can be selected based on what you need to be cleaned.

For example, a glassware program is suitable for glasses and other lightly soiled crockery – it has a shorter wash cycle and uses less energy.

Energy-efficient programs take longer than normal but use water heated to a lower temperature, thus keeping a lid on your gas or electricity bill.

Check also whether the dishwasher has a delay-start setting, which can be useful if you have cheaper electricity at night.

Care and maintenance

Dishwashers need to be regularly replenished with dishwasher salt and rinse aid. If you don’t keep salt levels topped up, limescale can build up inside the machine and could stop it from working effectively.

Sensors on your dishwasher should indicate when levels of either substance are low.


Your dishwasher should reduce your energy bills as long as you ensure it is only run when full. Use the energy-efficient program when you can, and avoid rinsing dishes with the hot tap before you put them in the machine. This should not be necessary with a decent dishwasher, and doing so means you are using more hot water than you need to.

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Tips for using your new dishwasher

Does it matter how I stack the dishwasher?

Yes, for both safety and efficiency.

The most important safety consideration is to point knives, forks, and other sharp items downward in the utensil basket. Separate knives, forks and spoons into their own compartment of the utensil basket and it will be much quicker to sort the clean cutlery.

For crockery that’s more likely to be clean after the cycle, it’s suggested that you load the bottom rack with dinner plates and pans, with mugs and glasses at the top.

At the end of the cycle empty the bottom rack first, to avoid stray drips.

Are dishwasher salt and rinse aid treatments essential?

Yes. Depending on your machine and hardness of water, you may need to top up on a monthly basis. Most dishwashers have indicators showing when this is needed. If you let it run out, you might start to notice white streaks on your glasses, meaning that you'll have to wash them again, or wash them by hand in the sink - wasting you more time and money.

Do you need to clean the dishwasher filter?

Yes. Check the filter regularly. Consult the cleaning method described in the instruction booklet but as a rule the inner filters can be cleaned under the tap with a soft brush. The outer metal filter just needs rinsing with hot water.

Can I open my dishwasher door mid-cycle?

Surprisingly, yes! Many homeowners are scared that gallons of water will pour out like a waterfall on to their kitchen floor if they do this. This cannot happen as only the bottom of the dishwasher tub (below the level of the door) fills with water.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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