Maintenance & Care \ Dishwashers \ How to Fix a Dishwasher that’s Not Cleaning Well

How to Fix a Dishwasher that’s Not Cleaning Well

If you’ve recently discovered that your dishwasher is not cleaning as it should, you want to act fast to figure out the issue and then take steps to fix it.

From a clogged filter to a spray nozzle, this article will help you better understand the common reasons that a dishwasher is not cleaning, and how to fix them.

Dishwasher Is Not Washing ⁠— Common Reasons

The typical culprits behind a dishwasher not cleaning are clogged filters or something preventing the spray nozzles from working.

Still, it’s important to recognize that there are a number of other reasons this could be happening, including:

  • Hard water — Hard water is notorious for affecting a dishwasher’s cleaning performance and also for building up in water lines, which may reduce the lifespan of your dishwasher. A dishwasher water softener can eliminate many of the problems associated with hard water without being costly.
  • Overcrowding — Items positioned in an overlapping manner can prevent water from reaching everything. Try loading items with enough individual space.
  • Not enough detergent — If you are not using a water softener, then you may need to use more detergent. Hard water often needs extra detergent.
  • Wrong detergent — Using detergent not specifically meant for your dishwasher model can lead to excessive suds and prevent optimal performance.
  • Wrong cycle — Forgetting to use a heavy cycle for a heavy load can leave dishes not fully clean.

Do You Have a Clogged Filter?

Don’t fret if you find a bit of standing water at the bottom of your dishwasher every now and then. This is normal. But in cases where there is an inch (2.54 cm) or more, this might be evidence of a clog.

The following steps can help you determine if you have a clogged filter.

PRO TIP: Remember to review your dishwasher use and care instructions before tackling any task.

Step 1:

  • Find the location of the dishwasher filter, which is often located at the back corner of the bottom tub, or around the base of the bottom spray arm.
  • Once you have located the filter, remove it by following your dishwasher use and care instructions.
  • Rinse the filter under the faucet. This should clean it but if stubborn food particles are not easily rinsing off, you can soak the filter in warm water for a few minutes. To treat calcium deposits or other stuck-on bits, you should only perform a gentle scrubbing with a sponge, soft brush or even a toothbrush.
  • Reinstall the filter.
PRO TIP: Never use a wire brush or scouring pad to scrub the filter as it could damage it.

Step 2:

Check your drain hose and drain motor.

Is your dishwasher still not draining properly? Then there is probably another reason behind your clogged dishwasher drain.

For starters, a broken drain motor or a clogged drain hose can produce some standing water in your dishwasher.

To deal with this issue, we recommend contacting a professional for help.

Read this article to learn how to clean your dishwasher filter.

How to Check for Issues with Spray Nozzles

There are several reasons why the spray nozzles might not be working properly.

Did you select “Top Rack Only”?

If your dishwasher has a Top Rack Only option, then it’s important to remember that this cycle is solely designed for washing a small load of dishes only on the top rack.

If you selected this cycle, then the lower or bottom spray arms will not activate in order to clean the lower rack dishes.

Dishwasher is not properly loaded

For the spray arms to work correctly the dishwasher needs to be properly loaded. Check to see if there are any items that may be blocking and/or preventing the spray arms from turning. One example of this is placing taller items in the bottom rack. These items could prevent the spray arms from turning and you may have to adjust the top rack.

One way to test this is to load the dishwasher and then gently turn the spray arm. If the spray arm does not turn without resistance, then you should reload the dishwasher.

If either the upper or lower spray arm is not functioning

Extremely hard water mineral deposits could be damaging your dishwasher. A by-product of this can be residue buildup on internal components (such as the spray arms) and both the interior of the dishwasher and the items intended to be washed. We recommend using a dishwasher cleaning product such as affresh® Dishwasher Cleaner to help remove this residue.

Fixing Common Causes

Review these potential solutions to common issues that may be preventing your dishwasher from cleaning properly.

Broken Soap Dispenser

A broken soap dispenser could be the issue. Refer to the use and care guide for instructions on how to deal with a broken soap dispenser.

Is there detergent caked in the dispenser?

  • If so, clean the dispenser. Older detergent that has been exposed to air can clump and not dissolve properly. You may find that this is causing the dispenser door to stick to the detergent. You can fix this by replacing the detergent and, if necessary, storing it in a tightly closed container in a cool dry place.


Is the upper rack in the lowest position?

  • Check to see if the upper rack is blocking the detergent dispenser from opening all the way when in the lowest position. You can fix this by moving the upper rack to a higher position.


Was a “rinse only” cycle used?

  • If you selected a short cycle like “rinse only”, some detergent could remain in the dispenser since a full clean cycle was not chosen.

If you’re still having issues with your dishwasher not cleaning, and your model is either Whirlpool, Maytag, KitchenAid, JennAir or Amana, we advise contacting The Appliance Pros for certified professional service.

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