Everything You Need to Know About Portable Dishwashers (the Most Magical Invention of All Time)

published Jan 6, 2023
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

If you’re like me and you moved out of your parents’ house (that had a dishwasher you took for granted) and into multiple apartments in high-cost-of-living cities, none of which came with a dishwasher, you may have come to think of a dishwasher as an out-of-reach luxury. I know I had just about resigned myself to the time-consuming daily chore of washing my dishes by hand. Then, upon hearing one of my many complaints, a friend suggested I look into a portable dishwasher.

A portable dishwasher? I didn’t even know such a thing existed. (Don’t dishwashers need to be hooked up to your plumbing? How portable can a dishwasher be?) But when I looked into it, I found that portable dishwashers do indeed exist — and I decided I needed to get my hands on one, pronto. Once I did, I couldn’t believe the change it made.

For starters, my dishwashing time got cut in half. Cloudy glasses that I thought were clean came out crystal clear. And apparently, I was saving water. I only wish I had invested in one sooner — which is why I’m writing this guide to portable dishwashers. Ahead, everything you need to know about portable dishwashers, including how to get one at an affordable price.

What Is a Portable Dishwasher, and How Does It Work?

Portable dishwashers, also called RV dishwashers, work by drawing water from your sink faucet through an intake tube, heating it, and washing your dishes like a regular dishwasher. There’s also an outlet tube that empties the the dirty water back into your sink. 

They come in two categories: countertop and on wheels. Countertop dishwashers are what they sound like — they sit atop your counter next to your sink. They have a smaller capacity than rolling dishwashers. Some countertop dishwashers, like this one from Farberware, do not even need to be connected to the faucet and instead have a water reservoir, much like a Keurig coffee machine. This type of machine is great for small kitchens and if you only need to wash a few dishes at a time or need to sanitize items like baby bottles.

Rolling dishwashers usually come in two widths — the standard 24-inch and a slimmer 18-inch. I went with an 18-inch model from SPT, which fit perfectly as an extension to my counter and accommodates a productive day’s worth of dishes perfectly. 

What You Should Know Before You Buy a Portable Dishwasher

Before you dive straight in and buy one, portable dishwashers come with a few considerations.

Some faucets are not compatible with portable dishwashers. Because the dishwasher’s intake hose only attaches to a threaded faucet spout, certain faucets with built-in sprayers are not compatible with most portable dishwasher hookups.

Rolling portable dishwashers are incredibly heavy. Mine weighs over 100 pounds — a fact I only discovered once I already had it in my possession and was faced with the daunting task of getting it up the stairs and into my house by myself. Definitely plan to have help and moving equipment.

Portable dishwashers may be prohibited in your lease. If you’re a renter, check your lease to make sure you’re allowed to have a portable dishwasher.

Where to Get a Portable Dishwasher

If I’ve successfully inducted you into the cult of portable dishwashers, you’re now wondering where you can get one. If you’ve already done a quick search, the sticker shock might be setting in. New countertop dishwashers can start at around $250, and rolling portable dishwashers start at about $600. But don’t despair! Try searching on resale sites like Facebook Marketplace, Offerup, and Craigslist for used dishwashers in good condition.

I found my portable dishwasher on Facebook Marketplace for $60. I like to check near the end or beginning of the month, when people are moving into new apartments with built-in dishwashers. May we all be so lucky to join their ranks someday. But until then, the portable dishwasher will get us through.