The Best Dish Rack
After performing 70 hours of research, interviewing two industrial designers, winnowing a field of 96 dish racks across four categories, and doing the equivalent of 39 loads of dishes between our original testing and a new round for 2016, we’ve concluded that there isn’t One True Dish Rack™ that’s perfect for everyone. Still, we found that the Polder 4-Piece Advantage Dish Rack System is the best one for a four-person household that cooks at least five days a week and has a single average-size sink. The Polder Advantage will hold a heavy load of dishes, pots, pans, and glassware, while taking up as much space as a standard toaster oven. Plus, this rack’s utensil holder is one of the largest on the market and will stay put no matter how much you pile into one end of it. The rack drains effectively and works with a wide range of sink styles, including most overmount sinks.
The stainless steel and plastic rack is stable, durable, low-maintenance, and reasonably priced. Plus, the Polder Advantage has an additional tray that pulls out for extra drying space and can be neatly tucked away when not in use, which is especially useful if you have an even larger family. The extra drying tray can accommodate items that lie flat, which would make the rack useful for larger households or flexible enough to handle dinner parties.
But the Polder Advantage isn’t perfect—as we’ve discovered, no dish rack is. After watching dishes dry for two weeks straight, we concluded that every dish rack was flawed—some more deeply and/or widely than others. Even the best-performing model, which costs almost twice as much as our main pick, still wasn’t perfect.
If the Polder is sold out or unavailable, or you don’t care for its design, the simplehuman Slim Wire Frame Dishrack is also suitable for a four-person household that cooks nearly daily and has a single, average-size sink. It’s slightly smaller than our main pick and drains out the longer side, so it will take up less space on your counter while holding about the same number of dishes. The simplehuman also has some nice added features, including a bamboo knife block and a five-year warranty. This model almost became our main pick, but fell to the runner-up spot due to the number of user reviews mentioning broken parts and other build quality complaints. The less-open design also means it’s a little trickier to clean and requires slightly more vigilant upkeep.
If you want a dish rack that you’ll never have to replace, you should get the Zojila Rohan. For the steep price, you get a rack made almost completely out of high-quality thick-gauge stainless steel—only the feet are not. It’s compatible with all overmount sinks on the market, even the porcelain ones with the highest lip. The stainless steel drain tray is the most steeply angled out there and drains more effectively than all of the other racks we considered. Amazingly, the rack was completely dry after five hours, while most others, including the main pick, still had a small amount of water remaining after eight hours. The rack works for any sink and comes with a lifetime warranty. It holds the same amount of dishes as our main pick and our runner-up and has a smaller footprint than either of them.
Our budget pick is the lightweight but decent Rubbermaid Antimicrobial Dish Drainer, which you can pair with the Rubbermaid Antimicrobial Drain Board (sold separately). It is smaller and holds less than our other full-size picks, can topple over easily, and is a bit flimsy and not likely to last more than a couple of years with regular use. But as we learned from our tests, it does the job reasonably well and costs half as much as our top pick—so consider it if you need something right now and don’t need it to last forever.
Some homes need a larger dish rack, and the simplehuman Steel Frame is one of the largest we’ve seen. It’s twice the price of our top pick, but that extra cost brings plenty of extra space and sturdiness. In our tests, this rack easily accommodated a dutch oven, its lid, and some plates from dinner without wobbling or tipping. The rack’s drip-free design and simple rotating-spout system should keep your countertops safe from any water spills. But be warned: All that water collection and runoff can lead to mold, which means more frequent hand cleaning than you would need for our top pick.
If you have less than 14 by 14 square inches of counter space to work with or you have a two-person household that cooks most of the week, get the Chef’n Dish Garden, our pick among compact racks. It can be used in the sink or on the counter, holds a ton in a small footprint, drains well, and is well-liked by reviewers. It’s not our main pick because it’s a bit too small for the average-size American family, which currently stands at 2.55 people.
Table of contents
- How we picked and tested
- Our pick
- Flaws but not dealbreakers
- Long-term test notes
- The premium pick
- The budget pick
- For homes with big counters and lots of dishes
- The compact, in-sink option
- The competition
- Care and maintenance
- Wrapping it up
How we picked and tested
The number and variety of products designed to get your dishes dry is pretty staggering. For this review, we decided to stick to racks (also called dish drainers) that are tray- or bin-shaped, made of plastic or metal, and have some kind of draining capability. Aesthetics factored in a little less, since looks are so subjective.
Yvonne Lin, former associate director at Smart Design and founder of design collective 4B, said good dish racks are all about mold management and durability, and the best ones should work for people who are lazy—someone who is not likely to clean the dish rack more than once every few months and who is also not likely to have a dishwasher to throw the rack in whenever it’s gross.
A good rack should hold up to daily usage for at least three years, but ideally five or more. For plastic models, problems with mold or discoloration usually arise over time, while with metal the problem is rust. Good mold managers have round contours and fewer (or no) tight corners or crevices where water or gunk can get trapped—which also means they’re easier to clean.
While bamboo racks have their fans, We eliminated wood models after reading lots of reviewer complaints about mold or rot. Lin also pointed out that constructing a rack out of wood would require drilling a hole to make a joint, and that would create a crevice for mold. Plus, constantly wetting and drying the wood causes it to expand, contract, and eventually crack—and having to oil or wax your dish rack regularly would be more trouble than it’s worth for most folks.
While some dish racks use flat collection trays, others have trays that drain at an angle. Lin got in touch with Smart Design product designer Alistair Bramley, who told her that most drain trays are not pitched steeply enough to make a difference and that the effect was more psychological than anything else. Heeding his advice, we decided to include in our testing three of the very few models that retained water instead of draining it. However, we found that we still preferred the racks with sloped trays. Even if the effect of the angle is only psychological, it’s nice to get a head start on dumping water out.
We eliminated wall-mounted racks (or cabinet built-ins) in the initial stage, too; although they’re common in Europe and a pretty neat solution to the counter real estate problem, they’re not quite common in the US (Ikea sells a couple of metal models and Zojila sells racks that are meant to be installed in standard cabinets).
We looked primarily at dish racks that could be used by one- to four-person households that wash dishes at least five days a week. For most people, the main constraint is counter space. The ideal model holds a lot of different-shaped items while having the smallest footprint and/or lowest clearance. With this in mind, we broke down the categories according to their use of space:
- Full-size, which is big enough for three- to four-person households that eat in every day
- Compact, for smaller households or less usage
- Over-the-sink/in-sink, for those with double sinks
- Collapsible, for those with limited counter space or requiring more flexibility in their setup and because the X-shaped folding model is fairly common.
I didn’t find much in the way of editorial criticism or reviews on dish racks, though there are plenty of slide shows and posts (like the ones from Real Simple and Apartment Therapy) that mention discontinued racks and have questionable picks without transparent test data.
Ultimately, the best source of information for identifying dish racks to test was customer reviews, primarily from Amazon, though we did comb through plenty of reviews on many brands’ websites and other retail-homewares websites. From an initial list of 68 dish racks that fit the categories, and noting the obvious problems that cropped up repeatedly in the reviews or overall negative reviews, we narrowed the field to 28 contenders, pretty evenly divided in each category.
To test the dish racks, we first looked at how much they could hold and how well they did that task. We loaded each with items that were weirdly shaped (sheet pans of different sizes, pie plates, thick-lipped bowls and plates) and fragile (wine glasses). We checked to see if they were stable and balanced if loaded on one side with just heavy glasses. We noted compatibility with overmount sinks, any added features with actual value, and any features or flaws that really stood out.
Most of the racks we considered came with drain trays, some of which were crucial to the rack’s effectiveness, so in general it’s better to buy a dish rack that includes one, rather than try to order a second rack that might not be that compatible. (Our Step Down pick is an exception, since the drain board that’s sold separately is intended to work with that rack.)
To approximate the dish output for dinner for a four-person household, we gathered four full-size dinner plates, a large salad bowl (a 4-quart Pyrex or standard stainless steel bowl), a 4.5-quart Dutch oven with lid, a 10-inch cast-iron skillet, four drinking glasses, three large utensils (wooden spoon, spatula, serving spoon), and four sets of forks and knives, recording the maximum amount we could sensibly (but not that conservatively) load onto each rack.
To assess how well the racks actually dried dishes, we immersed each item from the predetermined maximum load into a tub full of warm water and held it in the air for two seconds before placing it into the rack. We allowed the dishes to sit undisturbed for at least eight hours, checking about halfway through to see how it was going. Many racks didn’t even make it this far; they were eliminated early on for being unstable or not holding up dishes well.
In general, metal performed better than plastic because plastic racks typically require a more enclosed shape, which prevents air circulation and means standing water evaporates less easily. Plastic parts that are thin or protruding (as in dish slots or fins on a drain board) tend to be harder to clean because they have tight corners. And if the quality control is poor, plastic models will have flash (the excess bits of plastic from leaks in the injection molding) or burrs that can trap moisture and mold.
Metal wire, even in a thin gauge, has the added benefit of being able to support a lot of weight. One thing we did not expect, however, was that stainless steel might be too hard on dishes and pots. The thicker the gauge, the less flexible it was, which meant that wire slots could potentially chip or scratch enamel or scratch dishes. Rubber-coated steel was gentle on dishes but unfortunately tended to be slippery.
What was clear at the end of that battery of testing was that no dish rack was perfect. The results were pretty dissatisfying. Even the best-performing dish rack had issues, and for about $90 you would expect no issues, so that clearly couldn’t be the top pick. The next best one cost about $30 less but had received a substantial number of complaints about rusting and parts breaking. That one would work for a runner-up but not as the top pick. So we went back and took another look at two models that had been eliminated early on because of reviews. In re-testing, we found our top pick and a basic option worthy of consideration.
For our early 2016 update, we looked at 28 new dish racks and tested five of them head-to-head with our reigning pick, the Polder. We loaded just the utensil holders and stacked one side with heavy glasses to test balance before subjecting them to a variety of item-specific capacity and stability tests, including wine glasses, half and quarter cookie sheets, a heavy cast-iron Dutch oven, and thick-rimmed glass bowls. We also tested to see how well they could hold an estimated standard dish load (four sets of utensils, four plates, four drinking glasses, a glass serving bowl, large wooden spoon, two spatulas, a 12-inch skillet, and a 2-quart saucepan). We then rinsed that same set of items and set them up to dry in each rack to see how well air circulated and where the water either drained or pooled. We didn’t let each load sit for eight hours this time, since all the racks that made it to the drying round will dry your dishes eventually, and focused more on any spots that looked like they would hold water and create possible mold issues.
In a field crowded with underperforming or overpriced dish racks, the Polder 4-Piece Advantage Dish Rack System came out on top not because of outstanding performance on any particular metric, but because it didn’t have any major flaws among the qualities we looked at, and it offered a great overall balance compared with the competition. It was durable, did what it was supposed to do reasonably well, and didn’t cost a (relative) bundle. According to a reader survey we did for our 2016 update, the major complaints people have about their current dish racks are low capacity and lack of mold resistance, and the Polder should have no issues with either.
The Polder Advantage can hold all the dishes a four-person household would use if cooking regularly, as well as odd-shaped items like baking pans, pie plates, and fragile wine glasses, while not taking up that much counter or vertical space. It drains effectively, works with a wide range of sink styles, and is stable, durable, and low maintenance.
Counter real estate is hard to come by for many, so if you’re going to dedicate any of that precious space to what amounts to a holding area, it better be used efficiently. As far as footprint, the Polder Advantage, at 19 by 14 inches, fell pretty squarely in the middle of the pack, but among the best performers, it had the lowest profile (about 6 inches, along with the Rubbermaid Antimicrobial). We had to work harder to maneuver wet plates into the simplehuman Wire Frame (our previous runner-up, measuring 21 by 16.5 by 8.5 inches), and the Zojila Rohan (18 by 13.5 by 7.5 inches) since we have lower cabinets.
To stave off mold, the rack needs to minimize the amount of standing water it holds. The Polder Advantage’s drain tray is angled steeply enough and has sufficiently high sides so that most of the water drained immediately into the sink. The channel was wide enough not to be overwhelmed by a large flow and also not so wide that controlling the direction of flow was a problem. After eight hours, the rack still had about a tablespoon of water left in it, and although the other racks from the final cut performed better, this was an acceptable result.
Many reviewers found it frustrating that their models wouldn’t drain properly because the spout didn’t make it over the lip of their overmount sink, but the Polder Advantage gives you about 0.75 inch of clearance, which works for many sink styles.
The last thing you need when you’re wrangling fragile glasses or heavy pots is for your dish rack to collapse or topple over. Although our pick has a relatively lightweight open-wire frame, it stayed put even when the cup holders on one end were loaded with heavy mugs. And because the utensil holder’s clip attachment spans the entire width of the rack, holding it flush against the side, it stays stable even if you pile your weightiest silverware into one end.
For durability—which for metal racks mostly involves rust, though weak or broken joints or deformation are also possibilities—I relied on the reviewers to assess how the rack handled frequent use over a longer period. There are a few complaints of rust, but that’s actually true of all metal racks. Design expert Yvonne Lin explains that quality control is a problem for every manufacturer, especially since nearly all of these products are made in China: “The factories aren’t making very much money, so if they want to make a profit, they’re going to have to cut corners as much as they can.” The rust complaints about the Polder made up just a small fraction of total feedback; this was true of all the highly rated racks.
There were also complaints about standing water leading to mold and gunk buildup, but they were few—and a few, we suspect, were the result of putting the rack on top of the drain tray (which messes up the angle) instead of placing the tray where it’s intended to sit, right above the feet.
The ribs on the Polder Advantage’s drain tray do have some tight corners, but the ribs are quite short and the tray is mostly an open expanse that gently curves up to the rim, which makes for relatively easy cleaning.
The Polder Advantage comes with an additional tray, which can be used for glasses, bowls, or anything else that dries well lying flat. It stows below the drain tray when not in use. It also has a draining side, so if you’re also using the rest of the dish rack, it may take some creative arranging to get both trays to drain into the sink at the same time. Also, the extra tray’s very slight angle may need a little jerry-rigged boost at one end to drain properly.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
While our main pick is relatively low maintenance, the utensil holder is not. It’s basically shaped like a long plastic trough, with a couple of built-in dividers. The bottom does slightly slope down toward the drainage holes, but some water definitely pools and has a tough time drying completely since the piece is so enclosed. To promote drainage and airflow, you could—as some Amazon reviewers have done—drill additional ⅛-inch holes in it.
Also, because the opening is narrow and there are tight corners where the ribs inside are connected, cleaning this thing is a challenge. The flash (those dangly bits of excess plastic that result from imperfect injection molding) doesn’t help either. However, the holder’s stability and generous capacity more than make up for the inconvenience.
Because water does pool occasionally and because the tray is dark gray, if you live in an area with hard water, you’ll likely end up with water spots. Those are easy enough to wipe off but annoying nonetheless.
Also annoying: The cup holders on the end of the rack are meant to hold six glasses but are spaced so closely together that they can really hold only three regular-size cups or mugs. This is actually a pretty common issue among dish rack designs—but that doesn’t make it any less of a head-scratcher. Fortunately, there’s plenty of room for your extra cups to go on the rack, or you can pull out that handy-dandy extra tray that’s intended for these exact circumstances (provided you have the counter space to use it).
A handful of reviewers complained that small items fell out of the sides because there were no rails there. In the current model, that open space lies on the narrower section of the rack, on one side of the dish slots. If you place your smaller items on the other, wider side—where they’ll likely go anyway if you’re drying a full load—the railing there keeps them safely on the rack. We contacted Polder to confirm the differences in design between the old model and the current model but did not receive a response.
No reviewers mentioned the feet, but we noticed that they were somewhat slippery and that the rack had a tendency to slide around a little while being loaded. The amount of sliding was not enough to be a dealbreaker, and once loaded, it stayed put unless we really gave it a push.
The drain tray can be oriented in only one direction—short side along the sink—so if counter space is limited, you might consider going with our runner-up pick or our compact option.
The Polder also doesn’t seem to have a formal warranty of any kind, and Polder defers handling of refunds to the retailer you bought the dish rack from rather than handling them itself.
Long-term test notes
We’ve been using the Polder in the Sweethome offices to mixed reviews. Our operations assistant, Thais Wilson-Soler, finds it large and unattractive, and said it’s annoying to put back together after taking it apart for cleaning.
However, collectives editor Michael Zhao has one in his home, and said, “It’s pretty amazing how many dishes you can squeeze into it if you try. Better than anything I’ve used in the past. And then you can also pull out the secondary tray for even more capacity. It’s great for pots and pans. I’ve also noticed it gets gross at a slower rate than other ones I’ve used. It might be because it drains more effectively?”
If the Polder Advantage is sold out, you don’t care for its look, or you need a rack that can be oriented so that the long side drains into the sink, get the simplehuman Slim Wire Frame Dishrack. It currently costs about $10 less than our top pick, and you also get a five-year warranty (versus the Polder’s lack of one), smaller countertop footprint (247.7 square inches to the Polder’s 266), and a bamboo knife block. In our tests, we found that it drained well, held plenty of dishes—as much as the Polder—and the plastic slots were gentle on enamel and fragile plates. Our previous runner-up pick, the simplehuman System, has been discontinued by the manufacturer.
However, the simplehuman Slim Wire Frame Dishrack ultimately didn’t get top ranking after we looked into some of the issues brought up in its Amazon ratings (though it maintains a respectable four stars across 108 reviews). There are a number of complaints about the plastic drainage gutter underneath the tray breaking or falling off, as well as about its collecting mold and gunk. However, it sounds like the drainage tray used to be attached to the main plastic tray, which is no longer the case; the complaints about it falling off may still be applicable, but it’s now detachable and easier to clean. And any breakage should be covered by the warranty, though you will have to deal with sending it back and living without a dish rack while you wait for your replacement.
The dishes can also drip over the edge onto your counter a bit depending on how heavily you load the rack due to the open design, and the drainage spout is very close to the edge of the rack so may not be able to get all the way into your sink if the sink has a substantial lip.
As with our previous simplehuman pick, many reviewers like the bamboo knife block, which protects both knife edges and fingers, but it’s not deep enough to fully hold a standard 8- or 10-inch chef’s knife (though we don’t recommend drying those in a dish rack anyway). A few Amazon reviewers say that gunk builds up pretty quickly in the block, and it’s hard to clean. The utensil holder and cup hooks aren’t fixed and can be moved to wherever is easiest for your kitchen arrangement. This rack also has only two cup holders, but they’re spaced far enough apart that both can be used at once, and you can make room on the rack itself for additional cups.
The premium pick
Rusting, broken parts, and rapid mold growth due to poor drainage are common grievances about the vast majority of dish racks out there. One of the few that tackles these problems head-on is the Zojila Rohan. Yes, spending nearly 100 bucks on a dish rack is a no-go for many people, but if you are sick of dealing with the usual shortcomings or can’t find a rack that will work with the raised lip of your sink, the Zojila is the way to go. It works for any sink.
This dish rack is made of very thick, heavy-duty stainless steel wire, and it’s the only rack that has a solid stainless steel drain board. In fact, the only part of this rack that’s not stainless steel are the little rubber feet. The drain board is pitched at the steepest angle among the racks out there for the most effective draining. And because it retained significantly less water during our testing, the Zojila also dried in half the time as the other racks. The rack also comes with a lifetime warranty.
As with all of the other dish racks, there are downsides. It didn’t make top pick because of the price, above all. Also, the Zojila’s thick-gauged steel wire might be a little hard on some dishes—it flaked off a little of the enamel on a Le Creuset pot (but that’s not an item we would generally dry in a dish rack, we should note) and scraped a bit unpleasantly against some plates, but that didn’t seem to be an issue for most users leaving reviews.
A few reviewers complained about smaller items slipping out the sides, since there’s no railing that wraps around the rack, but on balance, this seems like an issue that can be anticipated so as to be avoided. If you live in an area with hard water, you will have to deal with some water spots, and fingerprints also show, but mold and gunk should be far less of a problem. (Fingerprints can be prevented, too, with a super-thin coat of mineral oil, as described in our kitchen trash can guide.) If you can ignore the water spots, you could probably get away with cleaning this thing once or twice a year.
Reviewers also like that the divider in the utensil holder can be removed for easier cleaning, and that the utensil holder can be placed anywhere on the rack, inside or out.
The budget pick
The Rubbermaid Antimicrobial Dish Drainer is a well-liked dish rack according to user reviews, but with the $9 Rubbermaid, you definitely get what you pay for. The footprint is among the smallest in the full-size racks we looked at, and consequently holds somewhat less than the Polder—we couldn’t get all four glasses onto the Rubbermaid rack when it was loaded with as many dishes; some had to be placed on the side cup holders.
While the Rubbermaid’s coated thin-gauge wire is noticeably flimsy—the wire bends easily—the cup holders do support heavy glasses and mugs and are placed far enough apart so that they can all be used at the same time. However, because the rack is so lightweight, it was inclined to tip over when we placed more than two glasses on one side. The coated wire is gentle on dishes, but the dish slots are angled in such a way that it may be hard to put pots or other large items within them—they may have to rest on top instead, or the slots need to be bent. Thick-lipped plates and bowls stand up well, though.
If you need a drain board, the Rubbermaid Antimicrobial Drain Board is designed to work with this rack. The combination is still a bargain at half the price of our main pick.
The Rubbermaid can also be used as an in-sink dish rack, which solves a few of its shortcomings—you don’t need a tray beneath it, it can’t tip over, and letting your heavier dishes rest against the rigid sides of the sink make the rack’s flimsiness less of an issue.
The Rubbermaid is also one of the most widely available dish racks and sold at hardware and discount stores.
For homes with big counters and lots of dishes
For large families or for households with very active chefs who need more drying space than most, the simplehuman Steel Frame is one of the largest dish racks we’ve come across. Two Sweethome editors, Christine Cyr Clisset and Ganda Suthivarakom, chose this rack for its extra-large capacity and drip-free drainage system. In their homes, this rack easily accommodates large pots and pans or a sinkful of dishes for a family of four without wobbling or tipping.
“I love this dish rack because it’s so roomy with absolutely no drips on the counter,” Ganda said. “It’s very satisfying to watch all the water slowly gather and a few seconds later form into a steady rivulet that pours directly into the sink from the single spout.”
Although it’s twice the price of our top pick, it’s only about 1.5 times the size, measuring roughly 22 by 20 by 15 inches. It has room for almost everything. The simplehuman Steel Frame has a natural-bamboo knife block with different-size openings to securely hold sharp knives (though we wish it offered more than one slot for a large chef’s knife), a removable wine-glass holder for four extra-large wine glasses, and two large utensil compartments that you can remove for holding pots and pans. Just about nothing else we tested even came close to holding all that.
The rack comes with a swivel spout, which means you can orient it in any direction in regards to your sink, so you’re not forced to position the rack in a way that might not be optimal for your specific setup.
“For a long while we tried to use a very small Polder dish rack to fit our small kitchen,” said Christine, “but it never held enough, so we’d put out drying mats, which were always wet. And mold started growing on the counter. So this has been a great solution for a small kitchen.”
Flaws but not dealbreakers
The Steel Frame is very expensive, though we’ve seen the price fluctuate on Amazon by almost $30. It’s also enormous, so it isn’t for everyone.
The Steel Frame’s insistence on catching and funnelling every single drop of water is great for keeping your countertops dry, but it almost certainly makes easy evaporation difficult. Because of this design, Christine noted, this model had a tendency to trap mold during long-term testing. Frustratingly, the rack’s design also made it tricky to take apart, even as it needed to be cleaned more frequently than our other picks. But the small headache of more frequent cleanings is worth enduring for the Steel Frame’s durability and countertop capacity.
The compact, in-sink option
If you don’t have much or any room on your countertop, get the Chef’n Dish Garden. It won’t be able to handle all the dishes from a four-person household, but it’s just right for a two-person household. Though its circular shape might seem like a wasteful use of countertop space, it actually holds more than the other compact racks of similar size because of the cup holders around its circumference.
The Chef’n holds plates upright with tall plastic prongs, which allows you to set dishes in it any which way. (It does take a little practice to figure out the best configuration.) The cup-holding prongs do a good job of keeping stuff in but also leave longer items hanging out. That can be a problem for countertop use, with water dribbling everywhere, but it’s a bonus for in-sink use. Unlike hanging-basket models, you can actually fit larger and odd-shaped items into it. Because it sits in the sink instead of hanging over it, you also don’t end up with wasted space beneath it.
The Chef’n comes with two utensil holders that can be placed anywhere on the rack, which adds to this rack’s flexibility.
The base is almost as steeply angled as the Zojila’s tray, so the rack drains very effectively. A little water does end up puddling around the spout, but the rack’s open design combats typical air-circulation problems and water is able to evaporate more quickly. Another bonus of the Chef’n: The spout flips up to close, so you can pick up the rack and move it around without worrying that any lingering water will leak. The textured exterior also prevents glasses from suctioning themselves to the plastic, a problem we found with lesser plastic racks.
Those prongs throughout the rack could make the Chef’n a little harder to clean, but there were no complaints among reviewers about upkeep. In fact, the only complaints among the reviewers, who gave it a very favorable review overall, was that the rack is small—which is pretty much what you’re looking for in a compact.
The Sakura 2-Tier Compact held a remarkable amount for its very compact frame, with an additional removable tier that can hold even more small items, such as glasses, and can drain from the short or long side. It did well in testing initially, but reviewers’ complaints about leakage are true—the rim wasn’t high enough at the corners of the tray to prevent water from emptying all over the counter.
The simplehuman Compact Dishrack has many fans, but others complain about water collecting around the drain in the center and sitting in the spout. We found this issue to be true during testing; to get the water off the spout, you have to press down on it. The tublike design keeps air from circulating, so the remaining water doesn’t readily evaporate. Some reviewers found the utensil holder too small, and a few say the rack rusted.
The Polder Spring has a promising, high-capacity yet compact design, but it falls a bit short on execution. Polder has elected to exclude cup holders, which means cups that could otherwise hang on the outside cut into the already small interior rack space. Drainage was poor, too—water that should flow into and out of the central drainage spout pools in the collection ribs more often than not.
The Ikea Ordning required pretty annoying, fiddly assembly. During testing, it wouldn’t sit flat on the counter, it required extraordinarily high clearance, and it couldn’t handle large items. The bottom sheet of stainless steel with punched holes means the rack also requires a mat underneath it. The Ikea Bestående was eliminated because it was an even smaller version of the same basic design.
The Black+Blum High&Dry’s intriguing collapsible design did hold heavy items better than some reviewers claim, but it drained poorly, and the cup holder tines were too flexible, leaning in such a way that glasses ended up wedged riskily against large items. The rack also had a tendency to topple over if only glasses were loaded.
The Sakura Compact feels flimsier than the two-tier Sakura. It holds less and has a much larger footprint than the Chef’n Dish Garden.
The OXO Good Grips Dish Rack has a refreshingly simple design and is inexpensive, but it couldn’t support thick-lipped plates or bowls or sheet pans. Water from larger items dripped outside of the tray, and plates tended to roll out the sides since there wasn’t anything to hold them in. This rack is designed to retain water in its tray, and the prospect of having to put dishes away more frequently in order to dump out the water, or of the tray not having tall enough sides to contain the water, eliminated this rack from consideration.
The DAZZ Folding rack is a typical X-shaped collapsible, which got categorically eliminated because dishes always felt very precariously situated, liable to roll off the sides, squeeze out through the open spaces, or just fall over because the slots were too slippery. Its tray is also designed to retain water instead of draining.
Another X-shaped collapsible, the Better Houseware Folding Rack, does not come with a drain board. Also, while the rubber-coated wire is gentle on dishes, in practice the coating was a little too effective: Dishes slipped out of the slots, and the catch mechanism that was supposed to hold the rack open would slip out as well, causing the whole thing to collapse.
The RSVP Endurance X-shaped collapsible held dishes in place relatively well in testing, but a substantial number of reviewers talk about stability problems, so quality control seems to be an issue for this rack.
Plastic in general did more poorly than metal—because most of them are basically basin- or tub-shaped. The more enclosed the rack, the more slowly it dries, presumably because of poor air circulation, which was the issue with the Umbra Basin. While this rack did manage to hold all of the big stuff, there was no room for more than one glass, and the large openings along the sides allowed small items to slip out easily. The spout also is not compatible with many overmount sinks, and the smooth plastic feet slid around on the counter.
The Umbra Tub drains through an opening, not a spout, so it would also not work for many overmount sink. Its high sides not only hold everything in, but also allow for stacking. They don’t do much to promote air circulation, however. Unlike the Dish Garden’s pebbly exterior, the Umbra tub has a slick surface that may form a seal when wet glasses or bowls are placed upside down on it. Like the Umbra Basin, the Tub could also use grippier feet to keep it from sliding around on countertops.
The United Solutions 2-Piece and other similar plastic racks are commonly found in discount and hardware stores. It has a drain tray with an opening, but it isn’t angled enough to actually drain much water, and if you have an overmount sink with any kind of lip, it’s almost certainly not going to drain at all. Water retention is definitely a dealbreaker, since all that standing water eventually gets slimy and disgusting.
The Sterilite 2-Piece is another rack in the same mold (almost literally, if you look at them side by side) and also drains poorly because the tray isn’t angled enough.
Nearly all of the in-sink and over-the-sink options were found wanting. Of the ones that weren’t, the RSVP In-Sink tested well and held up plates securely enough to not require a close fit in the sink for support. But it has no cup holders, and that’s one of the Chef’n Dish Garden’s most worthwhile features.
The Umbra Sinkin also needed a close fit in the sink for support. While the Chef’n has very sturdy utensil holders, some reviewers say the one on the Umbra Sinkin is unstable. The slots also aren’t compatible with some types of dishes.
The ClosetMaid Over the Sink Drainer was the most promising of the over-the-sink models in terms of quality of materials and construction—a handful of reviewers write that it lasted seven years or more before the coating wore off and it started to rust or otherwise fall apart. Unfortunately, it’s too small to be useful for a household with two or more people and just a smidge too big for two to be used together in a double sink. It does not come with a utensil holder.
The Muji Slide Basket takes up the same amount of space as the ClosetMaid but offers even less usable volume than the latter and has no utensil holder.
All the in-sink and over-the-sink racks could handle heavy items, but the ones that were basket-shaped, such as the Polder Expandable In-Sink, filled up fast and weren’t versatile in what they could hold. We couldn’t safely put glasses in it with large, heavy items—and, in general, putting any glasses in this kind of rack seemed like a bad idea, since there was nothing to hold them securely in place. While this rack came with a broken plastic foot, it did not come with a utensil holder, and laying utensils in the basket proved both frustrating (they fell through the mesh) and dangerous (sharp edges and pointy ends everywhere). Heavy items caused the extendable arms to bow out and scrape against the sink, since the plastic sleeves don’t extend all the way around, and most of the weight ends up being borne by those points of contact.
The Better Houseware Adjustable also did not come with a utensil holder, though there’s a small one sold separately by the manufacturer. It just didn’t hold as much as the Chef’n Dish Garden.
The WalterDrake Over the Sink, which had virtually the same design as the Better Houseware Adjustable, did come with a utensil holder, but it was small and unstable, and therefore not useful.
The Polder 3-Piece Compact Dish Rack System was similarly flimsy, because of the thin-gauge wire they’re all made of. And though the Polder 3-Piece Compact comes with a large utensil holder and a tray for countertop use, the holder hangs on the rack in such a way that it pools water instead of draining it.
The Progressive International Collapsible Dish Rack is a popular model and unusual among the hanging-basket types because it’s all plastic. Unfortunately, reviewers say the plastic eventually cracks. The utensil divider is also flimsy and doesn’t always stay in place, and the dish slots don’t work well with thicker plates and bowls.
The Rubbermaid Antimicrobial In-Sink Drainer is widely available, popular, and very affordable, but it tended to flip over if loaded on one end, and while its footprint is nearly the same in area as that of the Chef’n Dish Garden, it didn’t have space for glasses once the large items were in.
The Joseph Joseph Connect has a cute design and adjustable trays for more or less capacity and counter space. Unfortunately, the low edges make it difficult to stack things for those large loads of dishes, and its all-plastic body traps water, especially in the utensil holder. The spikes also don’t come out, which could make cleaning it a challenge if you ever spilled anything in it.
We wanted to love the Joseph Joseph Extend. Its design is clever, it looks nice on the counter, the tray can slide into a manageable 12.5 by 14.25 by 6.25 inches or extend for an additional 8 inches of space, and the wire frame comes out for easier cleaning. You can also choose to let water run out the spout or cover the opening with the included drain cap if you’d rather just let it air-dry or the orientation doesn’t work for your counter. Unfortunately, that option means the drainage area is full of small nooks and crannies that look like they’re just begging for a new mold colony, which knocked this out of the potential first-runner-up spot. There aren’t many reviews yet to see whether anyone has had this issue, but we’ll be long-term testing this model to see if we want to change our minds.
The frameless design on the Rubbermaid Deluxe Kitchen Drainer seemed promising for mold resistance and holding unusual items. While it was useful for large, flat items like cookie sheets, it was hard to build a stack on due to the lack of edges for support, so it can’t hold as much as other models.
The Ikea Frossare also extends, but the plastic construction feels flimsy (our model arrived with a slight crack), and the spacing of the support ridges makes it difficult to fit glasses or anything with a thicker edge than a plate—and likely difficult to clean as well.
Care and maintenance
Unless your MO is to use a dish rack until it’s so disgusting that it has to be thrown out, occasional cleaning is necessary no matter what model you have. Models with lots of corners and crevices like the simplehuman will need a thorough scrub more frequently—maybe once a month, at least—and will also be more of a pain to clean. A cleaning-only toothbrush helps. For water spots, try a little vinegar and water.
Wrapping it up
There is no perfect dish rack, but the Polder 4-Piece Advantage Dish Rack System performs almost as well as the best rack available and costs barely half as much. It can hold all of the dishes that a four-person household might regularly use and takes up the same amount of counter space as a standard toaster oven; it should last for years, and it’s compatible with many kinds of sinks.
Originally published: February 25, 2016