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Home /  Home Maintenance / The Ultimate How-To Guide To Common Dishwasher Problems
last_updated_date Last updated: December 14th, 2023

The Ultimate How-To Guide To Common Dishwasher Problems

A Woman Frustrated Due to Frequent Dishwasher Problems

In the modern home, the dishwasher is nothing short of a hero. This trusty appliance swoops in after every meal, taking on the arduous task of ensuring that our kitchens remain clean and our lives more convenient. 

But, like any hero, even the mightiest of dishwashers can face their share of challenges, requiring a helping hand through maintenance and repair. These problems range from poor cleaning results and leaks to drainage problems. 

As we discuss the common issues that dishwashers encounter, it’s important to recognize that taking good care of your dishwasher is vital. As per the survey of CR, Americans spend an average of $150 to $300 annually on dishwasher maintenance, and replacement rates have climbed to 15% in recent years.

Hence, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to tackle common issues and present straightforward solutions, ensuring your dishwasher operates seamlessly.

Common Dishwashers’ Problems and Their Root Causes 

A recent 2021 survey conducted by Consumer Reports (CR) found that approximately 68% of users with malfunctioning dishwashers attempted to repair them. Hiring a professional technician proved successful for many, but not always. 

Of those who sought professional help:

  • 73% found a solution with their first attempt
  • 18% succeeded after subsequent tries
  • Regrettably, 9% remained unable to resolve the issue

These findings highlight the prevalence of dishwasher problems and their varying degrees of success in resolving them. It highlights the need to understand the common issues and their root causes.

Common Dishwashers’ Problems And Their Root Causes



Troubleshooting tips

A leaking dishwasher

  • A malfunctioning gasket. Due to this, water may come out of the dishwasher door during rinse cycles.
  • The malfunctioning water pump system may cause water accumulation at the bottom.
  • This system includes hoses and clamps designed to collect and remove wastewater from the dishwasher. Water can spill over the appliance’s sides and onto the floor if these components deteriorate.
  • If the filter is filled, water may overflow, spilling out from the bottom of your machine.
  • A faulty water inlet valve can pool water under the dishwasher. Dishwashers use a float and switch to regulate water levels.
  • The float rises with the water during cycles; the switch should stop it at a specific level. If the switch is damaged, water may accumulate beneath the dishwasher.
  • Examine the gasket for potential flaws. This may be accomplished by lifting the appliance door and inspect it for cracks, holes, or filth. If the gasket is broken or loose, it must be replaced. If it’s only filthy, a towel will suffice.
  • If your water pump system is busted, you can fix or swap it. Just ensure the repair cost is under half of what a new one would be. If it’s pricier, think about changing the drain pipe on your dishwasher.
  • A handy tip is to clean your filter regularly. With proper maintenance, most filters can last up to five years.
  • If the water inlet valve is leaking, it’s crucial to have a professional replace it. Delaying the fix could worsen the leak.
  • If you think the switch might be the issue, it’s best to contact a professional for assistance.

Dishwasher that is not cleaning dishes properly

  • Is your dishwasher leaving behind food residue or making your dishes feel gritty? The culprit might be a dirty or clogged filter.
  • Keeping the filters clean by regular cleaning is essential for optimal dishwasher performance.
  • Locate the filters at the bottom center of your dishwasher, as they can get clogged over time with regular use.
  • Use of the wrong detergent for the dishwasher.
  • Improper dishwasher loading can prevent spray arms from reaching your dishes effectively.
  • Overlapping or incorrectly angled dishes may block water flow, resulting in inadequate cleaning.
  • For heavily soiled dishes, consider using a more robust dishwasher cycle. If your dishwasher has an autocycle, it can detect soil and adjust accordingly.
  • Opt for a high-temperature cycle, especially for items like burnt pans that need extra cleaning.
  • For optimal dishwashing, ensure the water entering the dishwasher is around 120°F.
  • If it’s too cold, your dishwasher might leave residue; if it’s too hot, removing food particles could be tougher, and some detergent ingredients may not work effectively.
  • Clear the filter.
  • Opt for a suitable detergent and use the proper quantity.
  • Select the appropriate dishwasher cycle.
  • Load the dishwasher correctly.
  • Confirm the proper water temperature.

Dishwasher not draining properly

  • Clogging of drain line as it was designed to move out water, not food. It’s better to rinse excess food off dishes before putting it in the dishwasher.
  • Your dishwasher’s drain pump can get clogged with food debris, affecting drainage and effectiveness.
  • Clearing a clog from the drain pump or line typically costs around $200 for a repair. To save money, ensure you thoroughly scrape and rinse your dishes before loading them into the dishwasher.
  • Grease poses a significant challenge for dishwashers. Accumulation inside the appliance can lead to drainage issues and other operational problems.
  • To start, disconnect the dishwasher by unplugging it or turning off the breaker.
  • Position a bucket under the pipe, then loosen the clamp to release the drain line. If the clog persists, employ a soft-bristled bottle brush for manual clearing.
  • For more stubborn clogs, it’s best to seek professional help to prevent potential damage to the line.
  • To access most dishwasher drain pumps beneath the filter basket, turn off the power, manually drain any water, and remove the top filter basket. Consult your user’s manual for model-specific guidance.
  • With gloves on, reach into the filter area, gently remove the pump cover, and check for debris. Be cautious, as the obstruction might be sharp. Follow your manual to replace the pump cover.
  • To clear simple grease clogs in your dishwasher, disconnect it from the power source. Remove as much water as you can manually, then unscrew and lift out the filter. Mix equal parts baking soda and white vinegar, pour the mixture into the dishwasher drain, and let it sit for approximately 15 minutes. Finally, flush the drain with hot water.

The dishwasher has become louder

  • The dishes could have been loaded too close, banging against each other and making loud noises.
  • A blocked spray arm can obstruct a dishwasher from freely spinning, making a lot of noise.
  • A malfunctioning drain pump could also end up making noises.
  • A loud buzzing or screeching around 2 minutes into the cycle could indicate a faulty inlet water valve.
  • For large pots or pans, position them in the middle of the dishwasher to avoid banging against the sides. Ensure all dishes face downward to minimize noise during the water spray.
  • If a blocked spray arm is the reason behind the noise, remove the obstruction and ensure that the arm has free movement.
  • An issue with a drain pump needs to be checked by a professional.
  • To reach the water valve behind the lower access panel, which involves disassembling the dishwasher, it’s best to consult a professional.

Now that we’ve explored the common issues that can plague dishwashers, it’s time to turn our attention to a problem that often arises in their wake – the uninviting smell that spreads through your kitchen. So let’s delve into the reasons behind lousy dishwasher odor and how to combat it effectively.

Reasons & Solutions for Bad Dishwasher Odor

There could be several reasons behind a funky smell from your dishwasher. Identifying the smell is important to identify the cause of your dishwasher odor. A fishy or rotten food odor might indicate a clogged drain or dirty filter. A sewage or wet dog smell could signal a drainage issue requiring professional inspection.

Reasons & Solutions For Bad Dishwasher Odor

The most common causes of dishwasher smell are as follows:

1. Dirty drain filter

The primary cause of dishwasher odor is often a dirty filter. Food particles trapped in the filter can produce unpleasant smells and hinder proper cleaning. Here are the steps to clean your dishwasher’s filter:

  •  Refer to your product manual for model-specific instructions on filter removal.
  • Take out the bottom rack for easy access to the filter.
  • Unscrew and remove the filter.
  • Rinse the filter with hot water.
  • Place the filter back into the dishwasher.

2. Drain is clogged

A pungent odor from a clogged drain should be addressed promptly to prevent potential leaks. Many newer dishwasher models have an alarm to signal a clogged drain line. If your dishwasher drain is blocked, it’s advisable to seek professional assistance.

3. Food particles trapped in soap scum or other residue buildup.

Similar to your shower, your dishwasher accumulates soap scum over time. This scum acts like a sticky trap for food particles. Without regular cleaning, this buildup leads to a bad odor as the particles stick to the scum instead of rinsing away, causing an unpleasant smell in your appliance.

To clean your dishwasher with white vinegar, follow the steps below:

  • Place a dishwasher-safe bowl containing two cups of white vinegar on the bottom rack. Avoid adding detergent.
  • Run an empty dishwasher on a normal cycle.
  • Choose air dry instead of heat dry.

4. Burnt plastic smell

Dishwashers commonly use heating to warm water and remove moisture from dishes and the appliance interior. Detecting a burning plastic smell during operation may indicate plastic contact with the heating element. 

This often occurs when loose lids or plastic utensils fall onto the heater during drying. Stop the cycle when the smell arises, allow the heating element to cool, and remove the plastic item immediately.

Repair or Replace Dishwasher: A Homeowner’s Dilemma

As a homeowner, you’ve likely faced the problem of whether to repair your dishwasher or invest in a replacement. In this decision-making process, several factors come into play, each impacting your wallet and overall peace of mind.

1. Cost Considerations

Dishwasher Repair Costs

Data from Thumbtack reveals that Americans spend an average of $150 to $300 on professional dishwasher repairs. These costs can vary based on factors such as the type of repair needed, your location, and your chosen service provider.

Dishwasher Replacement Costs

On the other hand, a new dishwasher costs around $500 to $1,200, including installation. The upfront cost may seem higher, but it’s essential to consider the long-term benefits.

2. Lifespan of Your Current Dishwasher

According to Consumer Reports, most manufacturers suggest an approximate lifespan of around ten years. However, this doesn’t guarantee a trouble-free decade. 

CR’s survey data of more than 140,000 dishwasher owners shows that approximately 24.5% of all dishwashers either break or stop working correctly within five years of ownership.

Following our guide to common dishwasher problems and solutions, regular maintenance can help you extend your appliance’s lifespan and enjoy years of trouble-free dishwashing.

3. Home Warranty Benefits

Ensure your home warranty covers dishwasher repair or replacement, as these issues are costly and often arise post-extended warranty. 

Unlike homeowners insurance, which protects against disasters, home warranties cover regular wear and tear on appliances and systems, including your dishwasher. 

Normal wear and tear, such as deterioration from daily use, is inevitable. Parts exposed to high-pressure hot water daily may rust, corrode, or break down. 

A warranty plan is designed to address these issues, offering protection from the expenses of repairs and replacements for your home’s appliances and systems.


Your dishwasher is more than just a convenience; it's a vital part of your kitchen arsenal. By taking the time to understand its maintenance needs and addressing issues promptly, you can enjoy clean dishes, a healthy home, and long-lasting performance from this essential appliance. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


How Often Should Dishwashers Be Serviced?


Compared to other appliances, dishwashers require more frequent cleaning and maintenance. So, you can DIY cleaning once a month and go for professional servicing every six months.


Should I Run Vinegar Through My Dishwasher?


Yes, you can use vinegar to clean your dishwasher. Add one cup of white vinegar to a dishwasher-safe bowl and place it inside your dishwasher. Activate a hot water cycle on the dishwasher.


How To Unclog A Dishwasher Drain?


To unclog the drain, use a homemade solution of vinegar and baking soda in equal parts. Fill the bottom basket with the solution and give it 15-20 minutes to rest. Finish by running the rinse cycle after adding hot water to the basket.


Should You Leave the Dishwasher Door Open When Not Using?


After a cycle, leaving the dishwasher door open for a while is recommended because keeping it closed creates a warm, moist environment ideal for mold and other microbes.


Do Dishwashers Use A Lot Of Electricity?


Modern dishwashers use approximately 0.8kWh to 1.5kWh per load, depending on the washing program, to heat, pump, and recycle the water inside the appliance.


How Long Can Dirty Dishes Sit In The Dishwasher?


Clean or dirty dishes can stay in the dishwasher for up to four days. Longer than that permits bacterial survival, reproduction, and spread.


Is It Cheaper To Wash Dishes Or Use The Dishwasher?


This solely depends on your habits when washing dishes. It should be less expensive than hand-washing if you only run your dishwasher when completely loaded. Also, according to research, turning the hot water tap on for up to nine minutes and one dishwasher cycle both use the same amount of energy and water.


Is It Better To Air-Dry Or Heat The Dishwasher?


Avoid using the heat-dry cycle on your dishwasher whenever possible. Alternatively, choose the air-dry cycle. This setting dries your dishes using air that is at room temperature. It’s simpler on your appliance and more effective.


Is It Worth Servicing A Dishwasher?


 It may be worthwhile to repair occasionally, but servicing is not advised if several components fail at once.

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