Transform Your Small, Crappy Apartment With a Countertop Dishwasher

The perfect gift for the messy, dishwasher-bereft small-apartment dweller.

Photograph: Courtesy of SPT; Graphics: Vicky Wasik

Over the last decade, I've been lucky enough to rent successively nicer, fancier apartments—by New York City standards, at least. Now my living room has a window (!), my stove runs on gas (!!), and my building even has a washer/dryer unit in the basement (!!!)*. But the one thing I have yet to find (or afford) is my holy grail of small-apartment living: a dishwasher.

Though let's be stove—and my fridge, for that matter—is half the size of a standard one, and the washer/dryer setup has been out of commission for months. But man, that window would be great if it got more than a couple of hours of sunlight each day.

I wish I could say I'm the sort of person who never goes to bed with dishes in the sink. But if there's one thing I've learned living without a dishwasher for most of my adult life, it's that I'm a throw-'em-in-the-sink-and-let-'em-stew kinda girl, and no amount of guilt-tripping and self-denigration is going to change that. I hate doing dishes, and I'll go to great lengths to put it off until the last possible, smelly moment—which is usually when my husband steps in and stoically does them for me.

If, like me, your shame of the dish situation hasn't been sufficient to motivate you to, you know, do them with any regularity, I have but one question for you: How much would you pay to become a new, better, sparkling-clean version of yourself? Because the $250 my grandma spent on my very favorite wedding present (sorry, everyone else) feels like a bargain.

I first learned of countertop dishwashers from a friend who shares my aversion to dish-washing. She swore by hers, so I took a gamble and added the same make and model (the SPT SD-2213S Countertop Dishwasher) to my registry. Since the moment I received it two years ago, it has changed my life for the better.

I can cook a big meal for company without the prep bowls and extra plates taking over my kitchen for weeks days! I can live a normal life of cooking and eating without a stack of shame taunting me from the kitchen sink! I love my countertop dishwasher so much that I've now written an article that reads very much like advertising despite being nothing of the kind. (And truly, I don't care whether interested parties buy the countertop dishwasher I happen to own and recommend, or a different brand entirely. There are probably fancier versions out there with more settings and options; all I know is that this one works, it's worked well for just over two years, and it's reasonably priced compared to its competitors.)

Sunpentown Energy Star Compact Countertop Dishwasher

But let's talk practical matters, since whenever I'm waxing rhapsodic about my favorite piece of equipment, I get the same set of questions.

  • How big is it? It's big! It weighs almost 45 pounds, and the dimensions are roughly 22 by 20 by 17 inches. So...
  • How do you fit it in your tiny New York City apartment kitchen? The actual footprint of the dishwasher is pretty much the same as a large dish rack. I keep a small wire dish rack and an absorbent pad on top of the dishwasher for anything that isn't dishwasher safe (ahem, please stop putting these things in the dishwasher), so I don't feel like I'm out much square footage, though it's admittedly not as easy to set aside if I need extra counter space. For me, it's worth it! I've heard of others who keep theirs on a wheeled cart in order to maximize work surfaces.
  • How many dishes actually fit in there? The product description on the dishwasher claims that it can accommodate about six standard place settings. I think that's a bit optimistic, though you can certainly pack in four or five cereal bowls, a half dozen plates, a ton of cutlery, and six-plus glasses along with a couple miscellaneous items if you're up for some Tetris-ing. One thing I like is that there are some removable inserts, so if you want to wash something larger, you can clear out the space. Think of it as a roughly half-size version of the bottom rack of a standard dishwasher.
  • So how does the plumbing work? Isn't it complicated to set up? The dishwasher's water source is actually your kitchen sink. What this means, practically speaking, is that you'll need it positioned near your sink (perhaps where your drying rack currently lives?) to run it. A hose runs from the back of the dishwasher and attaches to the nozzle of your sink (it comes with a little attachment for this, though we had to buy an additional adapter due to the unusual faucet in our sink). To run the dishwasher, you just add dish soap, snap the hose in, choose your cycle, and turn on your hot water. The rest of the time, our hose just kinda hangs out in the sink or we coil it up and stick it behind the unit.
  • What are the downsides? There are definitely a few cons to this whole setup. For one, you can't use your sink while it's running (the normal cycle lasts about an hour and 20 minutes). You also have to deal with removing and reattaching the sink adapter if you like to keep your sink outfitted with a different attachment, such as a spray nozzle or water filter. We just keep our attachment on at all times—precisely because we're the sort of lazy people who let dishes pile up in the first place—but it does increase the intensity of water flow somewhat significantly. Running a countertop dishwasher every couple of days isn't very green, and it obviously adds to your energy and water bills—though a built-in dishwasher would do the same. And it's obviously limited in what it can fit. Plates larger than 10.5 inches in diameter are a no-go, as are sheet pans and other larger pieces of cookware. Finally, I'd say that my glassware can look a bit streaky after the drying cycle. You'll also need to clean the filter a bit more regularly, but it's simple to do.

In sum, this dishwasher isn't necessary if you like doing dishes or even if you're diligent about doing them. It's probably a poor solution for a big family. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who owns their apartment and could theoretically have a REAL dishwasher installed.

Instead, this countertop dishwasher is for the person in your life—maybe it's you!—who's always lamented the lack of a dishwasher; who needs a leg up keeping their kitchen tidy and clean; the new parents who need a break from hand-washing every bottle and plate; a household of one or two who like to entertain but hate to clean up; the couple who didn't realize just how much their differing dish-washing habits would drive them crazy.

Give the gift of peace of mind and clean of sink this holiday season—or don't, and check out more gift guides here.