040: Dishwashers

What style and placement choices make dishwashers most functional? We called on our Design Advisors to find out!

Good Fit Poor Fit
040: Dishwashers
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Show Notes

Countertop Height Dishwasher

Raised Dishwasher

Standard Pull-Down Dishwasher

Single Drawer Dishwasher

Stacked Double Drawer Dishwasher

“Hybrid” Dishwasher: a cross between a drawer and a pull-down (sent to us by one of our DAs!) 

Company that is “perfecting the drawer dishwasher”, according to one of our DAs. 

Drawer Dishwasher General Information

Transcript

Sarah:   You’re listening to Good Fit Poor Fit. A podcast that explores the interaction between people, design, and activity. Good Fit Poor Fit is part of The Universal Design Project, a nonprofit organization with a vision for every community across the USA to have a surplus of homes and opportunities for social participation that are universally and financially accessible.

[00:00:27] Learn more at universaldesign.org. 

[00:00:31] Rebecca: Hello listeners and welcome back. You may remember a few episodes ago, we had asked a group of volunteers called Design Advisors to tell us a bit more about microwaves and what type of features would work best for them. As a reminder, these are people who volunteer with our organization, sharing feedback about designs based on lived experience as an individual with a disability or as a professional or familial caregiver to a person with a disability. 

[00:00:58] Their input really helps us to make sure we’re considering how a wide variety of people could use the spaces we’re designing. And today we’re going to share with you some more of their thoughts and insights, but this time related to dishwashers! We posed three questions to our volunteers and provided accompanying photos, which we can link in the show notes just so you have an idea of what we’re talking about. 

[00:01:21] We asked, what height dishwasher would work best countertop or raised? What type of opening would work best, the typical pull-down style or a drawer? And what are some other things that would be important to consider when selecting a dishwasher and where to place it in a home?

[00:01:39] We heard back from 11 of our Design Advisors, and we’d like to thank them for the majority of content for this episode. So gather your pots, pans, and cookie trays, people. And let’s dive in!

[00:01:52] On the topic of dishwasher height, many of our Design Advisors noted that a dishwasher at countertop height allows users to access the machine from both sides, thus allowing them direct access to the most dishes.

[00:02:05] This also keeps the countertops at an even height, which makes it easier to transport dishes from the sink where you rinse them right into the dishwasher for that deeper clean. The uneven countertop heights that would come as a result of a raised dishwasher was a big concern with our Design Advisors for both aesthetic and functional reasons.

[00:02:28] Another concern with the raised height, as opposed to countertop height, was that they may be hard for individuals to access while seated, or if someone is on the shorter side. That being said, some Design Advisors pointed out the potential advantages of a raised dishwasher as well. What were some of them, Sarah?

[00:02:47] Sarah: Yes for a long time, many people, including myself, who have been advocating for UD discussed the benefits of raised dishwashers for a wide variety of people. The benefits described by some of our Design Advisors for raising it, even in additional six inches from the floor, can be helpful for decreasing the amount of bending that people have to do with a traditional dishwasher to load and unload the dishes and close the door. I know I have even done that little lift with my foot to move the door halfway up so I can reach it to close with my hand. And I’m five foot three if I round up.

[00:03:21] So raising the dishwasher height brings the door up for easier to reach too. Some people who are tall, individuals that have back or maybe knee issues, typically sing praises of the higher dishwasher as well. In fact, when I was grabbing some photos of dishwashers to send as examples to our Design Advisors, many of the traditional dishwashers at countertop height, even from product manufacturers, had some people kneeling down on the ground to load and unload the dishwasher.

[00:03:49] I found this kind of funny because that is definitely not easy for everyone to do. Other Design Advisors felt like it works well for those who are in wheelchairs. So you see, we had some conflicting answers. For those who may struggle to reach down low or sit in a taller power chair or might not have great grip strength or sensation to get their hands, to grab dishes, to bring them in and out from the lower rack. 

[00:04:15] Another Design Advisor also noted that it could make it easier to reach up and put dishes away into higher cabinets because there’s less distance to transport from a lower to a higher surface. I could see where that would be helpful.

[00:04:28] Rebecca: Sure. Sure. And that all makes sense. Now, one last thing I want to mention before we move on from the dishwasher height debate. One of our Design Advisors noted that lower dishwashers are an option as well. This can alleviate some of the issues with the uneven countertops created by a raised dishwasher and can make the appliance easier for little people and those who are seated. 

[00:04:51] Sarah: Yeah, that’s true. There are some people who would struggle with a raised dishwasher based on their height or ability to reach. And lowering it within the cabinetry underneath the countertop would fit their needs better. So, yes, there is definitely debate on the height of dishwashers.

[00:05:06] That’s why I find the feedback from our Design Advisors so interesting. I think understanding the wide variety of functional needs is definitely important on this height issue. And that’s why builders and designers need to think about how the kitchen can be constructed with flexibility in mind, to meet the needs of their clients.

[00:05:23] If there is a client already in mind for the home being constructed, basing the height of the dishwasher on their needs is obviously a must. But what if there isn’t a homeowner already? I think the best option would be to make sure the surrounding environment could support the buyer’s choice and the height and style they’d want their dishwasher to be.

[00:05:43] Rebecca: Yes, I couldn’t agree more. And these are conversations that we have in our organization all the time, because if we’re designing homes that are supposed to work for a wide variety of people, meeting a wide variety of needs often brings the idea of flexibility into play. So I’m glad that you mentioned that Sarah.

[00:06:02] So the next question that we asked, whether a typical pull-down style or a drawer dishwasher would work better, was probably the most varied and intriguing of the information that we gathered, by my take. There were a lot of opinions, so we’re just going to share a few ideas that came up and stuck out most.

[00:06:22] So let’s break this down, Sarah. What did people have to say about pull-down dishwashers in general? 

[00:06:29] Sarah: Well, typically most pull-down dishwashers hold more than the drawer dishwashers. Although capacity has increased over the years for the drawers as one of the Design Advisors pointed out. So the racks in the traditional pull-down type of dishwasher allow you to arrange the dishes in a variety of ways, and you can access the dishes from the sides and the front of the machine versus the drawer., you really just have to reach down into it and be able to use your hands to grab and pinch items. One con of the traditional pull-down dishwasher was that it can be hard to maneuver around the door when it’s open. I can attest to this. If there isn’t enough floor space to get around that door when it’s open, people get stuck on one side or the other while the other person is working on the dishes. We have this happen all the time in our house. That’s why I also advocate for extra floor space around the area so someone can get around that door even when it’s open. 

[00:07:29] Rebecca: Yes. I can definitely understand the frustration of maneuvering around the door. With a dog who really likes “helping”, in other words licking, the dishes while they’re being loaded into the dishwasher. It can certainly get dicey moving around that door when there’s so much going on and you just want to clean up the dirty dinner plates. So for that, and other reasons, some of our Design Advisors posit that drawer dishwashers can be more functional.

[00:07:58] They can be easier to handle as it may be less effortful to slide a drawer open as opposed to pull a door out and down. Especially if the drawer has large handles, which can be manipulated with a hand or a full fist. The recessed handles that many pull-down dishwashers feature can be really tricky for people with dexterity challenges.

[00:08:20] Sarah: Yes, that’s a really good point. We actually have a quote-unquote, “ADA dishwasher”, like it was labeled ADA dishwasher. We have one of those in our apartment that fits under a lower countertop and my husband, Scott, actually can’t open it. He operates things with a closed fist and sometimes he can get his little finger in there, but it doesn’t really have enough grip, strength, or power to pull it open.

[00:08:44] So not only does it need to be in a functional location, but yeah, those handles need to be easy to use too. 

[00:08:51] Rebecca: Yeah, I definitely think some of those ADA appliances leave a bit to be desired still.  According to our Design Advisors, drawer dishwashers actually function best in pairs. Now I know what you’re thinking, this is getting complicated, but try and stay with me. 

[00:09:08] Picture a dishwasher that is of the drawer style. It may be hard to reach into a drawer, to load and unload. As Sarah mentioned earlier, that’s a lot of reaching over and down, which can be really taxing on the body. Also, as we mentioned, drawer dishwashers are typically not quite as large or flexible in their loading capacity as typical pull-down models.

[00:09:32] But, what if instead of one big drawer, it was instead two little drawers? Many of our Design Advisors suggested this was a widely accessible option. Each drawer will be lighter, thus reducing the burden to pull it open and push it closed. The two smaller units will also decrease the amount of reaching over and down into a deep drawer.

[00:09:55] Plus, the fact that there are two typically leads to equivalent loading capacity of the typical pull-down models. This double-duty dish drawer or could work for a lot of people, I learned. Some people like to stack them, but also some people have them placed on either side of the sink, thus notably reducing the time bent over while loading and unloading.

[00:10:17] That’s good for everyone. If you’re unsteady on your feet, you have back troubles, or you really just want to promote long-term mobility, the less bending, the better. This setup also means two machines with shorter wash cycles, which can lead to less wasted energy and water. Two-drawer dishwashers can be an eco-friendly choice because you can run just one if you only have a few dishes.

[00:10:42] One of our Design Advisors even shared that they know some people who designate one for clean and one for dirty dishes, which they cycle through and swap over and over. So they don’t ever really have to completely unload. One final note about this double drawer dishwasher situation is that this type of configuration would really work well in homes that keep kosher.

[00:11:06] With two separate machines, these families could separate their dishes using one drawer for dairy and milk dishes and the other for meat and chicken dishes. So, if you’re listening to this long monologue about drawer dishwashers and wondering why you’ve never seen one, you’re not alone. I thought the same thing when I was sorting through the Design Advisor’s feedback.

[00:11:27] This type of appliance isn’t really all that common at this time, but it is becoming more popular. It’s not the choice for everyone as it does require some specific planning and careful design of the kitchen space around it. But clearly, it’s a good choice that improves functionality for many. I personally am not sure if I think this is the most universal option, but it shouldn’t be discounted.

[00:11:51] And if you’re designing a home, it might be worth some exploration. Just remember to always think about how you and your loved ones will use your space and make your decisions accordingly. Speaking of which, let’s wrap up with some general dishwasher shopping wisdom from our Design Advisors. What should we consider most when picking these appliances, Sarah? 

[00:12:15] Sarah: Yeah. Our Design Advisors gave some really good tips for people to consider. So consider who is going to be using this space the most. Some families consider dishes a family effort and want to get everyone involved. Some people have lost the ability to use their arms and hands, and they don’t participate in this task anymore.

[00:12:36] Keep in mind who will do the task and what they’ll need. Also, consider hand dominance or the ability to use one hand over another. Maybe someone has an amputation on the left side of their body, and it’s easier to use the right. Maybe placing the dishwasher on the right side is preferred. I actually really like your idea of dishwashers on both sides, Rebecca.

[00:12:56] And so this could help with that hand preference too. It’s also important to think about the flow of the kitchen, the dishwashing process, and how the dishwasher can be placed in a logical location. This includes how far it will be to bring dishes back to the kitchen from the dining area and prep area as well.

[00:13:16] Another thing our Design Advisors also wanted to share was they felt it was important to keep the dishwasher close to the sink and close to where the dishes will be stored. Who wants to rinse the dishes and then have to take several steps to put something in the dishwasher this is incredibly difficult for those who use mobility devices to have to push or walk with wet hands to load something that’s too far away.

[00:13:38] I know a friend that uses forearm crutches and she finds it really frustrating if she can’t complete a task all in one place. So for her, if the dishwasher was a few steps away, she’d have to scoot the rinsed dish over the counter toward the dishwasher, dry her hands, because she doesn’t want them to slip off of her crutches while she’s holding on to them, hop over to the dishwasher, and then put the dish in the dishwasher.

[00:14:05] If it was right by the sink, it would make it much easier for everyone. Don’t forget to consider where your dishwasher detergent and other soap supplies are going to be stored too. It makes sense for there to be a logical storage place for them close to the dishwasher. 

[00:14:19] Some Design Advisors considered either having the dishwasher at the end of a row of cabinets or next to an open space under the cabinetry, probably the sink. So it would be useful for someone using a wheelchair to roll up next to the dishwasher and use it. 

[00:14:37] It’s important to pick the style of dishwasher that’s really going to meet your needs. And hopefully our discussion today has helped with some additional things to consider. It may also be helpful to go into the store and try them out and determine the best style and height. Plus, manufacturers are coming out with a lot of interesting things that could be useful in combining the things that people love about some of these different options we’ve mentioned. 

[00:15:01] One Design Advisor even shared a unique dishwasher that combined a drawer dishwasher that has a pull-down door on the front of it as well. I’ve never seen one of these in-person, but I’d be interested to see it and put it to the test. I can share a picture of that in our show notes if you’ve never seen it either. 

[00:15:20] Additionally, it’s important to consider different brands and prices and get people’s opinions on service. Many don’t want to have a lot of service issues or have to replace their appliance after a few years. Doing your research and checking reviews and consumer reports are a must when you’re picking something new.

[00:15:40] Rebecca: Yes. I definitely agree. And those are all really great points that I noted as well. I also think it was keen that a few Design Advisors mentioned it can be helpful to have a dishwasher that can be operated with just one hand. I know I mentioned it briefly before, but large handles that you can loop your hand through if you have poor grip, strength are a great option that worked for many. 

[00:16:02] Also think about the type of buttons that your machine has. Are they easy to press or do they require a lot of force? Is it easy to read what’s on the buttons? Do they have high contrast? These are just some other questions to consider and ask yourself.

[00:16:16] Sarah: Yes. And on that topic, I’ve seen some dishwashers that don’t have a display on the front of the dishwasher anymore. That’s actually not really easy for folks who have difficulty with their hearing. If someone can’t hear and all of the controls to alert you, if the load is complete is on the inside, then you could open the door and disrupt the cycle, not even knowing it. Keeping those controls on the front and not hidden helps people see what’s going on inside.

[00:16:43] Also, keep a lookout for how you can deactivate these controls with a child lock if you’re worried about a child pushing the buttons. 

[00:16:51] Rebecca: I was going to say, is that perhaps from personal experience, Sarah? 

[00:16:56] Sarah: Yes. Yes. 

[00:16:58] Rebecca: Also consider the flexibility of the racks. One defining characteristic of universal design is flexibility in use, which I know that we already mentioned earlier. But think about the different ways that the racks can be configured and if it would work well for the items that you most often put in the dishwasher. 

[00:17:17] For example, I drink a boatload of water and I use my Instant Pot a lot. So if I were picking a new dishwasher, I’d want to be sure there was plenty of space for these tall and bulky items. Finally, think about the sensory presence that a dishwasher may have in your kitchen.

[00:17:34] Will it bother you if it’s very loud? Is it perhaps near your bedroom? If so, try to find a lower decibel, quiet dishwasher. Perhaps even one that you can change the volume and sound of the tones when it’s finished a cycle, or if there’s a malfunction. This can be useful in that it won’t disrupt other activities and conversations going on in the space.

[00:17:57] Sarah: Oh, yes, those finished cycle buzzers, especially on washers and dryers sometimes really scare me when I’m not expecting them. But yes, I would definitely agree with those points, Rebecca. Oh, we recently had our dishwasher replaced and I was amazed how quiet it was compared to the older model. We don’t have to turn up our TV anymore when the dishwasher is running. Sometimes I actually now forget that it’s running. 

[00:18:25] Rebecca: And what a great problem to have! As we wrap up, I just want to leave you with one final innovative dishwasher thought posed by one of our Design Advisors. She suggested a bottom dishwasher drawer that could be pulled out and then raised up. So that someone could load and unload from a more comfortable height without bending down. What a great idea!

[00:18:48] This is the kind of creativity that I love about universal design. What are your thoughts on the most functional dishwasher styles? If you have any, we would love to hear them at [email protected] Otherwise, we’d like to thank our Design Advisors that contributed to this episode and to our listeners for tuning in.

[00:19:09] We’ll talk to you again soon.

[00:19:10] Sarah: Thanks for listening to Good Fit Poor Fit. I’m your host Sarah Pruett, Program Director and Occupational Therapist at The Universal Design Project. Learn more about our work at universaldesign.org, and find more episodes and links to subscribe at goodfitpoorfit.com. If you have questions or topics you’d like to discuss, email us at [email protected]

[00:19:41] Thanks for fitting us into your day!

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