Is your dishwasher not cleaning dishes? A simple cleaning of your dishwasher may solve the problem. Follow this troubleshooting guide to cleaning your dishwasher and get it back in working order.

Why Is My Dishwasher Not Cleaning?

Here are some common reasons why your dishwasher isn’t cleaning dishes properly.

  • Debris on dishes—Instead of putting dishes caked with food in your dishwasher, make sure you pre-wash dishes first and remove food scraps that may be hard to dissolve in the dishwasher. Your dishwasher may not be able to effectively remove all of the grime and food debris without a pre-rinse first.
  • Low water temperature—Water that’s not hot enough won’t effectively clean your dishes. To test your water temperature, run hot water in the sink before starting the dishwasher. Fill a glass with the water and use a thermometer to test the water temperature. It should be between 120°F and 150°F. If it’s not, adjust the temperature on your water heater.
  • Wrong type of detergent—If you live in an area with hard water, you may need a certain type of dishwasher detergent to properly clean your dishes. Check the manufacturing manual to determine which type of detergent to use in your dishwasher.
  • Insufficient water in the dishwasher—To determine if your dishwasher is getting enough water, start a wash cycle and then open the door when you hear the machine stop filling with water. The water should reach the heating coil. If it doesn’t, make sure the float valve is operating freely and the inlet valve isn’t clogged.
  • Faulty inlet valve—Inlet valves that are starting to fail will make a hammering noise. If you hear this sound, replace the valve immediately.
  • Clogged inlet screen—Your water valve screen could become clogged from food particles and other debris. If this valve is clogged, replace it as soon as possible. Attempting to clean the inlet valve could damage it even more.

Have you done all you can to get your dishwasher to work with no luck? With a home warranty, your provider can find a local trained service technician for you. You’ll only pay the small service fee to repair your dishwasher and any other covered appliances. To get started, compare home warranty plans, then call to get a free quote.

Best Home Warranty Coverage for Dishwashers

How To Clean a Dishwasher

Before giving your dishwasher an extensive cleaning, consult the manufacturing manual to make sure you’re using the correct liquid or powder detergent, loading the dishes properly, and maintaining the correct water temperature.

Make sure you’re using a high-quality detergent and the detergent dispenser isn’t clogged. When loading dishes, put glasses along sides of the upper rack, small saucers and cups in the middle, and more durable dishes and pots along the bottom rack.

If your dishwasher still isn’t cleaning dishes properly after taking these actions, follow these troubleshooting steps before calling a service technician.

1. Unplug the dishwasher

To prevent electrical shock, either unplug the dishwasher or turn off the power at the shutoff switch. You can find the shutoff switch under the kitchen sink or in the basement. If you need to remove the inlet valve, you’ll also need to shut off the water.

2. Check the spray arms

The spray arms dispense hot water to clean dishes in the dishwasher. If they aren’t functioning properly, they won’t target the dishes effectively. First, make sure the spray arms can move freely and aren’t obstructed by any dishes. Then, gently remove the spray arms from the bottom of the dishwasher to see if they’re clogged with food or limescale, which is more common in areas with hard water.

If the spray arm holes are clogged, use a steel wire or bent wire hanger to unclog them.

3. Soak spray arms in white vinegar

To clean the spray arms even more, soak them in white vinegar to naturally break down any remaining debris inside the holes.

4. Assess the pump impellers

There are two pump impellers in your dishwasher: the wash impeller and the drain impeller. The wash impeller is responsible for circulating water and pressurizing the spray arms while the drain impeller drains the dishwasher. Check the impellers for damage and ensure they’re working correctly.

5. Inspect the food chopper

The food chopper chops up food debris left on dishes so they can easily pass through the drain portion of the dishwasher pump. If these particles aren’t finely chopped, the debris could prevent dirty water from draining and possibly be recirculated throughout the dishwasher. Check the food chopper and see if it’s damaged; if it is, you may need a replacement.

6. Remove debris from the coarse filter

The coarse filter is the mat at the bottom of the dishwasher that catches food particles that could prevent your dishwasher from draining. Use a shop vacuum to remove existing debris.

7. Clean the drain reservoir

Remove the cover of the drain reservoir and take out any debris that has accumulated.

8. Get rid of residue

Mix one part white vinegar and one part baking soda to make a semi-thick paste. Spread this paste onto any residue with a brush or sponge and let it sit for 15–20 minutes. Use a plastic putty knife or steel wool to scrape off the residue. Repeat this process until the bottom of the dishwasher is completely clean.

9. Check the water inlet valve

The water inlet valve, located at the front of the system, allows water to enter the dishwasher. Too much water will cause water to flow out of the dishwasher while not enough water results in poorly washed dishes.

If this valve is damaged or clogged, it may not be providing proper water levels in the tub and could be why your dishwasher isn’t cleaning properly. If the valve is clogged, replace it as soon as possible.

When to Contact a Service Technician

If you’ve tried all of these steps and your dishwasher still isn’t cleaning dishes properly, it may be time to contact a service technician. If your limited warranty is expired and you have a home warranty, contact your provider and set up an appointment with a contractor to come and assess your dishwasher. The technician will determine if a simple repair or complete replacement is necessary.

If your dishwasher needs to be replaced, your home warranty will typically cover the entire cost of the replacement, depending on the warranty limitations and exclusions, and all you’ll have to pay is the trade service fee to the contractor. All warranty plans are different, so be sure to know the terms and conditions before buying a replacement dishwasher.

If you don’t have a home warranty, read reviews on local contractors and hire one to assess your dishwasher. If you need a new system, you’ll need to research dishwasher models and call a service professional to remove your old dishwasher and install a new one.

Dishwashers and Home Warranties

A home warranty can be a great asset when your dishwasher or other appliance breaks down. In fact, with one of these warranties, you may get away with paying only half of the average dishwasher repair cost ($150). This is because service fees for the tops brands run at just $75. Service fees are required for every repair, but the amount can be just a fraction of the cost of larger repairs or replacements.

In addition to your dishwasher, you’re getting coverage for several systems and appliances throughout your home. For example, Choice Home Warranty’s protection plans and optional coverage include 25+ items, such as HVAC systems, ductwork, plumbing, and ovens.

Find the Right Dishwasher Coverage

The next time your dishwasher won’t clean or needs replacing, let a home warranty cover the costs. Today’s Homeowner researches and reviews the industry’s leading home warranty providers. Read our findings and compare plans to select the best home warranty for your needs and budget.

Editorial Contributors
Sam Wasson

Sam Wasson

Staff Writer

Sam Wasson graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in Film and Media Arts with an Emphasis in Entertainment Arts and Engineering. Sam brings over four years of content writing and media production experience to the Today’s Homeowner content team. He specializes in the pest control, landscaping, and moving categories. Sam aims to answer homeowners’ difficult questions by providing well-researched, accurate, transparent, and entertaining content to Today’s Homeowner readers.

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Lora Novak

Senior Editor

Lora Novak meticulously proofreads and edits all commercial content for Today’s Homeowner to guarantee that it contains the most up-to-date information. Lora brings over 12 years of writing, editing, and digital marketing expertise. She’s worked on thousands of articles related to heating, air conditioning, ventilation, roofing, plumbing, lawn/garden, pest control, insurance, and other general homeownership topics.

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