5 common problems with your dishwasher and how to fix them

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Some of us rely heavily on dishwashers to do our dirty work, but when the machine breaks or malfunctions, our home can quickly turn into a scene from The Walking Dead. A typical dishwasher should last between seven and 12 years. However, about one in five dishwashers will break within three or four, according to statistics published in the Huffington Post.

If you’re lucky, you may be able to get your dishwasher repairs covered by a warranty. However, many warranties only offer limited coverage and still might come with an associated cost. Consumer Reports surveyed nearly 30,000 people in 2013 and found that when their products malfunctioned, only 15 percent were able to get repairs covered by a manufacturer’s warranty. Moreover, for those people whose warranty offered a repair or replacement, the customer often was still stuck shelling out around $150 for repair costs. That’s on top of the cost for the extra warranty coverage.

Because getting a repair or replacement can be such an expensive endeavor, 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. This can save you money upfront, though you do run the risk of further damaging your machine.

If you choose to go the DIY route, it’s a good idea to gain a bit of knowledge first. Here, we’ve compiled a list of some of the more common dishwasher problems and potential solutions.

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

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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 a “you problem,” 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

common dishwasher problems solutions door gasket
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

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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.

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