Dishwashers have quickly become standard household appliances—so much so that when kitchen cabinets are built, a space for a dishwasher is often already planned for. Manufacturers produce dishwashers with standard sizes on which the measurements of these spaces are based.
But understanding how the appliance works and what suitable space is needed around it is important because not all dishwashers are the same size. Let’s have a look at why the gap is necessary for optimal dishwasher activity and how to make that gap less of an eyesore in your kitchen.
Unless the manufacturer states otherwise, a gap between the dishwasher and countertop is not mandatory. However, it is advisable to have a ½ – ¾" gap between the dishwasher and your countertop allowing for proper airflow.
What Does the Manufacturer Say?
When installing a new dishwasher into a cabinet space in your kitchen, it is quite standard to have a “clearance” or gap between the top of your dishwasher and the bottom of your countertop.
Most dishwashing manufacturers actually advise people to have this gap in their instructions for installation. Most—not all will mention a clearance space in their installation specs but this doesn’t mean that it is not important.
Why Would the Gap Be Necessary?
One of the main elements involved with the dishwashing process is heat. Whether it is water being heated to effectively wash the dishes or heating the air inside to dry the dishes, there is a build-up of heat in and around the dishwasher within the small and partially enclosed space under your countertop.
If there is no clearance, the build-up of heat could cause the circulation motor (which collects water and distributes it to the spray arms) to overheat because airflow will be restricted and will damage the appliance.
Heat and moisture can also build up between the dishwasher and the cabinetry surrounding it, which can cause the wood panels to warp and rot.
You may be asking why is the gap needed at the top of the dishwasher and not on the sides? It’s more effective for heated air to escape the enclosed space in this case because hot air rises. Also, by adjusting the feet of your dishwasher, it makes it easier to adjust the appliance to its desired height.
Issues With Gap Between Dishwasher and Counter
Although this clearance is necessary, it is also an open invitation for the accumulation of dust around your appliance. And believe me, removing a dishwasher to clean its partially enclosed space can be tricky, especially if you need to re-connect electrical and plumbing systems.
If your kitchen is made up of wooden cabinetry, steam that escapes from opening your dishwasher or from the vent on its door can collect within the clearance space and cause a steam burn. This creates a white film on your wooden furniture leading to damaged cabinetry that may need replacing in the future.
However, as mentioned in the previous section, you also have this issue without a gap.
You can read more about how moisture can cause issues in my article on Reasons Why Having No Ventilation in a Bathroom is Terrible.
Although most modern dishwashers don’t make much noise, some older models may and can be heard more prominently when there are gaps around the appliance.
How Much Space Between Countertop and Dishwasher?
The clearance required between a dishwasher and countertop may vary with the different brands of a dishwasher. The standard dimensions of a dishwasher are about 30 to 42″ wide, 24″ deep, and 35″ high (oversized dishwasher), and 18″ wide, 24″ deep, and 35″ high (compact sized dishwasher).
The standard height of kitchen cabinets is approximately 34.5″ (excluding the 1.5″ countertop) on top of your finished floor. It may be better to install a dishwasher once the floor is done and the extra inches are taken into consideration.
Overall, the standard clearance size is about ½ – ¾ inches. Floors may need to be removed or appliance feet adjusted to create this gap.
How to Hide Gap Between Dishwasher and Countertop
Raising Your Dishwasher
If you want to close the clearance or gap and your dishwasher feet have already reached their maximum height, you may want to look into raising your appliance instead. Like a lady who turns to heeled shoes, you can also give your dishwasher a boost by adding a sheet of plywood underneath the appliance.
The thickness of the plywood depends on the current gap height and the length and width depend on the base size of the dishwasher.
If your dishwasher is equipped with a toe kick (space under the dishwasher for your toes) a new panel for that toe kick will need to be installed considering the height added.
Plywood is a very durable material that can cost from $5 to $55 for a 4×8 sheet depending on the thickness. Your ideal thickness and price can be found here.
If you know the measurements you need, you can get Home Depot to cut the plywood to size.
Create a Frame
You would need to remove the dishwasher and create a wooden frame around the appliance and the frame needs to be attached to the cabinet’s sides and not the dishwasher. The thickness of the wood needs to be the same as the gaps around the dishwasher.
This may be better suited if a new dishwasher is much smaller than the previous one and gaps are present on both sides and the top.
Dishwasher Filler Strips
Installing dishwasher filler strips involves measuring the gap and cutting a piece of wood accordingly (or getting Home Depot to do it as mentioned previously).
The piece of wood should be painted, preferably the same color as the surrounding cabinetry.
The dishwasher must be removed, and the wood panel placed underneath the countertop and on top of the dishwasher, secured with L-brackets (brackets attached to the appliance and which are screwed into the countertop).
There aren’t too many videos that focus on specifically installing filler strips in the dishwasher and countertop gap, but there are some that show the basics of how filler strips are installed in cabinet gaps, like the one below.
Before you seal your dishwasher into the cabinet in any way, first make sure that there are no gaps or spaces around the electrical and plumbing lines that could lead to the development of a cold draft. If you discover the draft after getting your dishwasher nicely set behind its frame, it will be very frustrating.