How Stuff Works: Portable Dishwasher


Portable dishwashers are small, compact machines that do the work of a larger dishwasher but take up less space. These machines are favorites with owners of small homes and apartment dwellers who can't install a regular size appliance. While portable dishwashers are smaller than their full-size relatives, they still work in much the same way. Understanding how a dishwasher operates can help homeowners make the right decision about their appliance purchase.

Motor and Pump

  • All dishwashers have one or more motors attached to a pump. This pump forces water up and into the main dishwasher chamber through a set of rotating sprayer arms. The water moves over the dishes, removing food residue, and falls back down to the bottom of the dishwasher. During the drain cycle, the pump pushes water out of the dishwasher and back down the drain pipe. Some high-end dishwashers have separate motors for draining and washing, but most portable models use only one.

Float Switch

  • Portable dishwashers contain a float switch to keep them from overfilling. This switch is attached to a floating object, which rises as the water level does. When the float reaches a preset level, it activates the switch, cutting off the water flow and keeping the washer from overfilling. If this switch goes bad, the dishwasher may overfill and spill water on the floor or counter.

Water Inflow

  • Unlike under-the-counter models, which are usually hooked directly to a water pipe, portable dishwashers have no permanent water connection. Most models use an adapter to connect directly to the kitchen tap, which means homeowners must connect and reconnect their dishwashers for each use, but it allows these portable models to roll out of the way when they aren't needed.

Water Outflow

  • Portable dishwashers also have no dedicated drain. Most come with an attached hose, which must be placed in the sink or another receptacle. The motor pumps dirty water out of the dishwasher and through the hose. When draining a dishwasher into the sink, keep a filter in the drain to trap any food particles that might block the drainpipe.


  • Since portable dishwashers are usually considered budget models, most don't come with timers or other complicated features. Portable models are normally very basic but should provide the same cleaning quality and efficiency of their larger cousins -- just in a smaller package.

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  • Photo Credit dishwasher product image by Alison Bowden from
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