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The Best Portable Dishwasher

If you can’t install a dishwasher, get the Danby DDW1801MWP. This portable 18-incher hooks up to your kitchen sink when you need it and rolls away on wheels when you don’t. We’ll be honest: You won’t find many portable dishwashers to choose from. But the Danby is actually a good appliance, not just some consolation prize for people who can’t install a dishwasher.

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Last Updated: June 28, 2016
We’ve updated this guide with a new top pick, the Danby DDW1801MWP. A direct replacement of our previous pick, it offers slightly better energy efficiency but is otherwise pretty much the same dishwasher.
Our pick
Danby DDW1801MWP
The Danby DDW1801MWP rolls up to your sink, hooks up to the faucet, runs like any old dishwasher, then wheels back into storage when you’re done.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $360.

Table of contents

Who should get this

If you can install a dishwasher, do so. (We have a buying guide for those, too.) Over time, permanent dishwashers require less effort than rolling around a 120-pound machine before every wash cycle.

But sometimes a traditional built-in dishwasher is out of the question. Older, smaller kitchens don’t always have the right layout. Maybe you rent your home and the landlord won’t pay to have a dishwasher installed.

Portable dishwashers are an alternative to built-in units. They’re on wheels, so they can roll in and out of storage as needed, and rather than using a dedicated water line, they hook up to a faucet and drain into the sink below. (You may also need an attachment for your faucet for the hose to fit properly.) Most models are 18 inches wide, though there are a few standard 24-inch models out there. Apart from those differences, they work like a regular built-in dishwasher.

How we picked

We’ve spent more than 70 hours researching dishwashers over two years, including eight hours looking at portable dishwashers. Although we did most of our fact-finding so that we could pick the best built-in dishwashers, most of the same principles apply to portables, too.

Our expert sources that helped us figure out what makes a great dishwasher include Keith Barry, the editor in chief of Reviewed.com’s appliance sites, who has overseen more than 100 dishwasher reviews during his tenure; Julie Warner, marketing manager at Warners’ Stellian, an appliance-sales powerhouse in the Twin Cities region of Minnesota; and Chris Zeisler, an expert at RepairClinic.com with a few decades of field experience repairing machines.

We weren’t able to test any models for this guide, and none of the appliance testing houses have bothered to review any of them, either. We relied mainly on user reviews, comments, and other testimonials to narrow in on the best portable dishwasher.

Our pick

portable-dishwasher-danby-ddw1899wp

The Danby DDW1801MWP rolls up when you need it and disappears when you don’t (like a certain robot it reminds us of).

Our pick
Danby DDW1801MWP
The Danby DDW1801MWP rolls up to your sink, hooks up to the faucet, runs like any old dishwasher, then wheels back into storage when you’re done.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $360.

The 18-inch Danby DDW1801MWP is the portable dishwasher you should buy. It’s a much better appliance than you might expect for the price, and even though it’s the cheapest dishwasher on wheels, we’d recommend it even if it cost hundreds more. It has all the specs you’d find in a decent $600 built-in dishwasher, including Energy Star compliance for lower energy bills and more efficient water usage, and a stainless-steel tub for long-term durability, quieter operation, and faster drying.

It has all the specs you’d find in a decent $600 built-in dishwasher, including Energy Star compliance for lower water and energy bills and a stainless-steel tub for durability and faster drying.
As of summer 2016, the DDW1801MWP is a new model, so it doesn’t have many user reviews at this writing. But it’s a very similar machine to its predecessor, the DDW1899WP-1, which was our top pick in this guide before Danby discontinued it. We looked through the spec sheets and contacted Danby, and we spotted only two differences: The newer DDW1801MWP uses about 5 percent less energy and has a Glass wash instead of a detergent-free Rinse cycle.  So we think it’s fair to rely on user testimonials about the older model to point out the strengths of this new one while we wait for reviews specific to the DDW1801MWP to become available.

This thing gets your dishes clean. Sweethome editor Ganda Suthivarakom owned an older version of this dishwasher and said that “a full load of dinner party dishes would come out sparkling clean.” The review of the DDW1899WP-1 by Rin76 at HomeDepot.com sums up the sentiments: “It’s a great little dishwasher for 2 people! It cleans everything really thoroughly, even stuck on dishes. It is perfect for our situation (couple in an apartment). It’s counter height, so it adds valuable counter space in our small kitchen. It is also really easy to use and hook up!” Just be sure to brush up on the best ways to use a modern dishwasher.

This thing gets your dishes clean. Sweethome editor Ganda Suthivarakom owned an older version of this dishwasher and said that “a full load of dinner party dishes would come out sparkling clean.”

During our research, we noted that user ratings for the DDW1899WP-1 were higher, on average, than for other portable dishwashers, and we imagine that the ratings for the DDW1801MWP will be, too. According to Google Shopping, the older machine now averages about 4.1 out of five stars based on 201 reviews (although if you add up scores from each individual retailer’s website, the average rating is closer to 3.9 stars, which is still a cut better than the scores for competing models). That’s a bit on the low side, and a notable drop-off from the average score of 4.5 when we first recommended the older machine in late 2014. But many of the complaints concern the retailer’s customer service rather than the dishwasher itself, or the inconveniences of using a portable dishwasher in general. We expect the DDW1801MWP to earn a similar average rating after it’s been out for a while, and we’ll keep this guide updated with those figures.

portable-dishwasher-danby-ddw1899wp

At just 18 inches wide, the Danby still manages to wash a lot of dishes—about two-thirds of what a standard 24-inch built-in can handle.

The DDW1801MWP runs at a reasonable 55 dB, according to the spec sheet. (Manufacturers generally provide accurate decibel ratings, for what it’s worth.) That means it’s quieter than most built-in dishwashers at this price, some of which are rated to hit 60 dB. You’ll have to raise your voice a bit if you’re standing next to the DDW1801MWP while it’s running, sort of how you have to speak up in a restaurant. But if you’re in another room, you probably won’t have to turn up the TV. (For the sake of comparison, our favorite dishwasher runs at 44 dB, so quiet that you won’t notice it’s running even if you’re standing next to it.)

For such a cheap dishwasher, the racks on the DDW1801MWP are better than we expected. The top rack has a set of folding tines as well as two folding mini-shelves for cooking tools. Of course, since it’s only 18 inches wide, the machine holds about one-third fewer dishes overall than a typical 24-inch built-in dishwasher, but that’s just part of the deal.

If you’re shopping for a dishwasher for a vacation home or if you live in an area with hard water, the DDW1801MWP could be a good fit in part because it has a tray for water-softening salts. It gives you some flexibility if you’re in an area with mineral-rich water, which is known to hamper cleaning performance. This is not a common feature, even among built-in dishwashers.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

In almost every case, the dishwasher will be sitting awkwardly in the middle of your kitchen whenever it’s in use.
The hose on the DDW1801MWP is pretty short—just 3 feet, so you need to put the dishwasher right in front of the sink whenever you run a cycle. But a longer hose isn’t a great option, either. Portable dishwashers drain into your kitchen sink, which means they have to pump the wash water uphill. Pushing water up through a long hose is harder, so more wash water would get left behind in a longer hose between washes, which could lead to a buildup of bad smells and a greater likelihood of spills. A shorter hose is better.

The bigger problem is that the power cord is only 5 feet long. If you don’t have an outlet within 7 feet of your faucet, you’ll probably need to buy an extension cord (which Danby doesn’t recommend). And in almost every case, the dishwasher will be sitting awkwardly in the middle of your kitchen whenever it’s in use. But that’s the story of all portable dishwashers.

The DDW1801MWP is not the top-rated portable dishwasher in the latest roundup at Reviewed.com. Reviewer Matthew Zahnzinger writes that dishes on the top rack of the DDW1801MWP “had some issues” getting clean. We’re not too concerned about the result. The top-rated model in that roundup, the SPT SD-9241W, is almost the same dishwasher as the Danby—their interiors are just about identical, and according to their product manuals, they run many of the same wash cycles, down to the water temperature and amount of detergent. If we had to guess, they’re made in the same factory. Now, the new Danby is about 5 percent more efficient than the SPT model, and it might have lost some cleaning power in order to achieve those gains, but we doubt that. More likely, the result has something to do with testing variance. And either way, Reviewed.com editor-in-chief Keith Barry once told us that the tests use “filthy, filthy dishes—filthier than you would ever see in your own home.” With typical amounts of leftover food (and proper use), the Danby should work just fine.

On the older DDW1899WP-1, the normal cycle could take about three hours from a cold start, which was three hours in which you couldn’t use your kitchen sink. That’s a long time. According to the manual, the DDW1801MWP should take a maximum of two and a half hours. We’re not sure whether this claim holds up in the real world. Either way, here’s a good trick: Before you hook up the hose to your faucet, run the tap until the water comes out hot. Since the dishwasher won’t have to heat the water as much, this step should cut the cycle time by about a half hour.

The DDW1801MWP does not have a heated-dry cycle, so if you want dry dishes, you’ll need to use rinse aid. (You should use rinse aid anyway, because it helps clean your dishes, too.) Even then, some plastic items may not dry fully, but that’s something you’ll have to get used to. It still beats washing dishes by hand. Also, the DDW1801MWP has a food filter instead of a grinder; you’ll need to rinse the filter under your faucet about once a month.

One other conceivable drawback is that, well, Danby isn’t as big a brand as Kenmore or Whirlpool or Bosch, so getting parts or service might not be as easy. But we don’t think that’ll be a problem. Danby is a Canadian company and has had an office in the US since the early 1990s, so at least some service infrastructure is in place. The company makes all sorts of small appliances, too. The DDW1801MWP has a one-year warranty like most other cheap dishwashers, and for what it’s worth, we haven’t heard many complaints about reliability.

The competition

Admittedly, there just aren’t many portable dishwashers, period—we counted eight, a few of which look like rebadged versions of the same machine.

As we mentioned above, the SPT SD-9421SS (or SD-9421W) is similar to the Danby DDW1801MWP and just about identical to the older Danby DDW1899WP-1. It’s made in white and stainless steel finishes, and each version costs at least $100 more than the new Danby. If you want a white finish, just get the Danby. If you want a stainless exterior, grab the SPT. (Just remember, you’ll need to move this thing, which means lots of fingerprints and smudges on the finish.) That said, Home Depot lists this model as a discontinued product, and it’s going out of stock at many other retailers as well, so you may not be able to get it for much longer.

We thought about recommending the 18-inch Kenmore 14659 instead of the Danby, because the cycle takes only 90 minutes. But it’s more expensive, it’s available only through Sears, and it has no water-softener feature, which means correcting performance issues in certain areas will be harder. This Kenmore appears to be a rebadged version of the Frigidaire FFPD1821MW, which is also more expensive than the Danby, but with fewer user reviews available.

Midea sells an 18-inch portable, the M18DP9239WW. It looks a lot like the Danby and SPT models, but we didn’t see enough user reviews for us to draw strong conclusions, and it’s also just about impossible to find. Walmart is the only retailer that lists it, and it’s perpetually out of stock.

Then there are the 24-inch portables: the Kenmore 17159, the Whirlpool WDP350PAAW, and the GE GSC3500D. They have plastic tubs, which is a surefire sign of lower quality. They all run in the 60 dB range, louder than a window air conditioner. The GE doesn’t even have a wash arm for the upper rack—to paraphrase a user reviewer, it’s a toy masquerading as a serious product. Even if you could use the extra space of a 24-inch portable, you’re better off getting the 18-inch Danby—it does a better job of cleaning dishes and will last longer, too.

(Photos courtesy of Home Depot.)

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Sources

  1. Keith Barry, Appliances editor at Reviewed.com, Phone interview, 2014
  2. Julie Warner, Marketing manager at Warners' Stellian Appliance Co., Phone interview, 2014
  3. Chris Zeisler, Appliance expert at RepairClinic.com, Phone interview, 2014
  4. Dishwasher Ratings, Reviewed.com
  5. Dishwasher Ratings & reliability, Consumer Reports
  6. Chris Knud-Hansen, Historical Perspective of the Phosphate Detergent Conflict, Conflict Research Consortium at University of Colorado Boulder, February 1994
  7. Phoung Ly, Washing Their Hands of the Last Frontier, Washington Post, October 8, 2005
  8. Matthew Boyle, Will More Britons Buy Dishwashers?, Bloomberg Businessweek, March 22, 2012
  9. Residential Dishwasher Introduction, Alliance for Water Efficiency
  10. New detergents arrive, Consumer Reports, September 2010
  11. Elizabeth Shogren, Dishes Still Dirty? Blame Phosphate-Free Detergent, NPR, December 15, 2010
  12. Mireya Navarro, Cleaner for the Environment, Not for the Dishes, The New York Times, September 18, 2010

Originally published: May 10, 2016

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