Few things are more frustrating than running your dishwasher, only to find your dishes aren’t clean afterward. Dishwashers that don’t clean dishes are a more common problem than you think. The good news is that while many things can stop your plates from getting clean, there’s almost always a way to fix it.
Many dishwashers stop cleaning effectively despite still being operational. Various things cause this, including hard water, trapped food particles, and faulty parts.
Once you diagnose why your dishwasher is not cleaning, you can look for solutions. This article explores various reasons your dishes may not get clean despite being washed and offers solutions to those problems.
So, is your dishwasher broken if it’s not cleaning dishes?
Why Is My Dishwasher Not Cleaning Dishes?
There are many reasons you may experience dirty crockery or cutlery after a washing cycle. Some of these include:
- Hard water
- Food debris
- Broken parts
Whatever the cause, it causes inconvenience, especially if the heat bakes residual food onto the plates and creates extra scrubbing. Alternatively, you need to run the dishes through the machine again, but you may be reluctant to do that if that doesn’t work.
Luckily, even if your dishwasher is not cleaning during a wash cycle, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your machine is broken.
Solutions vary depending on your appliance’s make, model, and age. However, a range of solutions is available to tackle everything from clogged food traps to dirty dishes.
But before you try anything complicated, the best place to start is running an almost-empty cycle. Place a dirty glass on the top and bottom dish racks, add soap and set it to an appropriate cycle.
Running the dishwasher this way tells you whether or not your machine is getting water. It will help you judge how clean things get and assess whether the problem is mechanical or something less worrisome, like how you load the machine.
That done, you can start experimenting with other ways to fix a dishwasher that doesn’t clean dishes.
Run a Vinegar Wash
The first place to start is with the machine’s interior. If that isn’t clean, your dishes won’t be, either.
A vinegar wash is an excellent way to do this.
First, remove all visible pieces of food or sludge from the dishwasher walls.
Place a measuring cup with three cups of vinegar in the dishrack and select the normal cycle. Alternatively, you can pour the vinegar directly into your soap dispenser or the machine. The important thing is that vinegar is the only thing in the machine.
The acetic acid in the vinegar will break down debris particles and other residues that may stop plates and glasses from getting clean.
Remember that you need to be careful if you decide to use vinegar to clean your dishwasher. Vinegar has a high pH, making it ideal for cleaning everything from counters to dishwashers.
Vinegar might effectively dissolve accrued grease and debris, but it can also damage parts of your dishwasher. For that reason, you should limit how often you use vinegar rinse to clean your machine.
Clogged Filter, Food Trap or Spray Arm
These days many modern dishwashers have a cleaning filter that sifts debris and breaks it down until it is small enough for your machine to process.
Since that can be noisy, many newer models now feature a removable cleaning filter. If you don’t realize it’s there or don’t stay on top of removing and rinsing it periodically, it may become clogged.
It stops cleaning your dishes effectively, and you start to see food and grease adhering to pots, pans, and even glasses.
Regularly removing food from the food trap can also help with this process. If you don’t know where that is, pull the bottom crockery rack forward until the machine’s interior is visible.
You should be able to see the filter under the spray arm. This may vary depending on your machine.
Keep in mind that residual food can also block the spray arm in addition to clogging the filter. With the lower dishwasher rack pulled forward, look for the holes or nozzles on the arm. On a working machine, these are unobstructed, allowing you to see through to the other side.
On a blocked spray arm, they look covered. Notorious causes of blockages involve foods like:
- Diced onion
To fix a clogged spray arm, start by detaching it. Depending on the model, it may snap free, or you may need to unscrew it.
When you detach the spray arm, dislodge accrued food using a toothpick.
Afterward, run the spray arm under the tap. Ensure that the water is set to high pressure and goes directly into the spray arm’s holes. You want to use the force of the water to dislodge any remaining food.
One of the best ways to lower the chances of clogging the filter or spray arm is by rinsing or scraping food off plates before you wash them.
Removing as much sizeable food as possible helps keep the filter and food trap clear for longer, keeping your dishes clean and your machine efficient.
Consider a Soft Water Filter
Hard water is another notorious cause of dirty dishes. Hard water possesses excessive mineral deposits. The most common are calcium and magnesium.
Hard water isn’t unhealthy or even dangerous. But the excess minerals, especially calcium, cause it to leave residue behind. You notice this immediately in hard tap water because it looks cloudy when you fill a glass.
It’s a problem when washing dishes because instead of swallowing the mineral residue, it coats them with the mineral deposits.
Consequently, even though your machine works as advertised, it can’t clean your dishes.
The best way to solve this problem is by installing a soft water filter. These filters attach to your water line and work by filtering out the excess minerals. Your tap water will clear up, and your plates will be free of mineral residue.
Even if you aren’t bothered by hard water, a soft water filter is worth considering because, in addition to preventing your dishes from washing, it can shorten the lifespan of your dishwasher.
Broken Soap Dispenser
Another frequent problem that stops pots, pans, and plates from cleaning is a broken soap dispenser.
When this happens, either the detergent doesn’t release or enters the wash cycle at the wrong time. Neither is helpful because the soap isn’t accessible. Or the soap gets accessed too late, and the soap turns into a scum that adheres to everything.
This happens regularly to many makes and models of dishwashers. The most common cause of the problem is a jammed spring in the soap dispenser door. To combat this problem, you can gently scrub the door hinges with a brush to release the spring.
If scrubbing doesn’t fix the spring, it may be time to call the repair company and invest in a new part.
And before you do this, try resorting to vinegar. The soap dispenser won’t be hurt by vinegar, and filling the soap tray with a mixture of hot water and vinegar will break down any grease or scum causing the problems.
While doing this, look at the gasket close to the soap dispenser. It may be cracked or damaged. If it’s cracked or damaged, it may need replacement or resealing with petroleum jelly.
However, you may need to reapply the petroleum jelly routinely for effective performance, which can be a hassle.
While rinse aid doesn’t clean like detergent, it brings that appealing shine to your glasses, silverware, and bowls.
If there is still lingering cloudiness after trying the above solutions, ensure that your dishwasher’s rinse aid is full. Since you refill the rinse aid infrequently, it’s easy to forget and let the rinse aid run out.
Another option is to switch rinse aid brands, as some dishwashers may work better with certain rinse aid brands than others.
Does the Dishwasher’s Load Cycle Affect How Clean Dishes Get?
It does. Different cycle settings use different temperatures and run for varying lengths of time, and a full dishwasher needs a different load cycle than a half-full one.
Similarly, the amount of food on the plates also makes a difference. Heavily greased or food-spattered crockery needs hotter temperatures than more gently used items.
Why Won’t the Dishwasher Drain?
If you know that the filter is clean and you checked the spray arm, it’s time to look elsewhere for the cause of the problem.
The drain hose and garbage disposal are often the culprits when this happens. Inspect both, keeping in mind that you will need to unclamp the draining hose to check for obstructions.