The most common dishwasher problems, and how to fix them

The dishwasher is one of the hardest workers in the modern kitchen, so when it develops a problem, you notice very quickly. A typical dishwasher should last between 7 and 12 years. But dishwashers often malfunction before that time period.

Getting a repair or replacement can be an expensive endeavor, so many people choose to do the repairs themselves. If your dishwasher is giving you problems, you may be able to give it some do-it-yourself love to fix the issue. If you choose to go the DIY route, it’s a good idea to gain a bit of knowledge first. We’ve compiled a list of some of the more common dishwasher problems, and the potential solutions you can try.

For dishwashers more likely to last, you can also check out our guide for the best dishwashers you can buy.

Your dishes come out of the dishwasher dirty or covered in residue

Erika Rawes/Digital Trends

First, check to make sure you’re not doing anything to cause the problem. Are you overloading your machine? Could a utensil be restricting the spinning motion on any of the spray arms? Do you load plates in the machine without scraping food off of them first?

After you check to make sure it’s not something you’re doing, you can then check for problems with the machine itself. Check for any grease, debris, or blockages in the strain screen and door gasket. The culprit could also be your spray arms, so try to spin the bottom and top arms with your hand to make sure they spin easily. If neither do, or if they’re covered in dirt or funk, you may need to clean them. To do so, remove the arms and gently clean them with a toothbrush and a pipe-cleaner. Once replaced, try running a clean cycle, and see if your dishes fare any better.

If your dishes come out covered in water spots, the water from the dishwasher may be staying on your dishes too long. A simple rinse aid may help to solve this problem. If your glasses and plates come out with a white residue on them, you may have hard water. Try using a water softener or a detergent that helps to soften your water.

Your dishwasher leaks onto the floor

Erika Rawes/Digital Trends

First, check your dishwasher door and door gasket. Look for any cracks, damage, or large debris that could be preventing the door from sealing completely. Try cleaning your door gasket with a disinfectant, and if you see any large cracks, you will likely need to replace the gasket.

The float switch — the mechanism that indicates your dishwasher’s water level — may be stuck in the down position, according to Family Handy Man. This can cause your machine to overfill and leak onto the floor. If your float switch is stuck, clean it and remove any plastic, string, or anything else that might be preventing it from functioning properly.

Your dishwasher doesn’t dry your dishes

More often than not, this is a problem with the dishwasher’s heating element. If your heating element is in working order, check the high-limit thermostat (a device that prevents the dishwasher from getting too hot). According to Part Select, a malfunctioning high-limit thermostat can cause the heat to shut off before your dishes are fully dry. You can usually find your high limit at the bottom of the dishwasher tub, directly behind the access panel. You can use a multimeter to check the device. Lastly, check your rinse aid dispenser to make sure it’s not empty and that it’s dispensing properly. Without rinse aid, your dishes will not dry as easily.

Your dishwasher smells bad

Erika Rawes/Digital Trends

Old, wet food is likely the cause of the smell. Look through your machine carefully for any food, and clean your dishwasher’s screen (located at the bottom of your machine). You may be surprised to see just how dirty and disgusting your screen is.

If your dishwasher has a chemical smell, a plastic plate or Tupperware container may have fallen down and melted onto the heating element. That said, it’s a good idea to load your dishwasher carefully and pre-rinse your dishes to avoid unwanted odors.

Your dishwasher doesn’t start

Check the power sources — make sure you haven’t blown a fuse, and ensure the outlet isn’t malfunctioning. Try unplugging the dishwasher and plugging it back in. Your dishwasher door may also be the problem. If it isn’t latched closed, for instance, it may not allow your dishwasher to start. That said, check for any problems with the latch before continuing.

If it sounds like your dishwasher is “trying to work,” but it just won’t run correctly, your motor may be stuck. If so, try spinning the fan motor by hand and see if that gets it moving. It’s important that you turn off the power using the main panel first, however, to avoid electrical shock.

Your dishwasher isn’t draining properly

This problem is obvious because your dishwasher floods the floor with water when you try to open it! First, try running your dishwasher a second time: A dishwasher that was unexpectedly turned off (say, by a brief power outage) could still have water inside because the cycle wasn’t complete. Simply running the cycle again can fix this problem.

This may sound weird, but you should also try running your garbage disposal. The dishwasher typically drains into the same drain the garbage disposal uses. If a problem with your disposal system, like built-up food sediment, prevent proper dishwasher drainage, you get an overflow problem. Running your garbage disposal and keeping it clean can fix this problem. If you just installed a new garbage disposal, the drain plug may still be in place, which means the dishwasher can’t access its drainage. Make sure the drain plug is removed and the dishwasher drain hose is properly connected if you have a new disposal system.

Your dishwasher creates an annoying film on glasses

This is a particularly annoying problem because it can happen slowly over time, and there’s not always a clear fix. However, it’s probably not your dishwasher’s fault: A film develops on your glassware because the water in your location is very “hard” or filled with microscopic minerals like calcium and magnesium, which precipitate out of the water when heated and bond to other surfaces … something that becomes particularly noticeable on your glasses. For this issue, look for a dishwasher rinse agent or additive that specifically mentions it’s designed for hard water.

Your dishwasher starts making a lot of noise

When a once quiet dishwasher starts making a racket, it’s time to pay attention. Take a look at your internal components and see if any are malfunctioning. A bent wash arm can cause a lot of noise. Problems with seals and bearing rings can also cause loud rattling, a sign these seals need to be replaced. If none of this works, it’s time to call in an expert and have them take a look at your pump and motor to see if they can spot anything wrong.

Your dishwasher’s detergent isn’t being applied

This happens especially with powder and pod detergents that are placed in a small, closed compartment prior to washing. When this doesn’t work, check that compartment. It may have become jammed or encrusted, preventing it from opening properly when the dishwasher is on. Also, check the position of plates inside the dishwasher: In some cases, plates can block the detergent compartment and prevent it from opening once the door is closed.

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