How to Clean the Air Gap in a Dishwasher

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An air gap provides a way for air to remain on top of the water in a dishwasher drain line. The air pressure keeps the water from draining out of the dishwasher until the water pump engages in the cycle to push the water out to the drain line. Air gaps require cleaning when dirty or clean water is standing in the bottom of a dishwasher at the end of a cycle. A sink drain or garbage disposal that works ineffectively to cause clogs results in an air gap stopping up. This is also evident in a dishwasher draining into a sink.

Things You'll Need

  • Small flat screwdriver
  • Garden hose
  • Garden hose nozzle
  • Flashlight
  • Locate the air gap on the top of the kitchen sink. It is a cylindrical metal device that installs next to the faucet handles and is about 4 inches tall.

  • Open the kitchen cabinet under the sink and note that the Y connector attaches to the bottom of the air gap. Remove the connector by turning the small screw in the metal band that secures it to the air gap. Turn the screw with a small flat screwdriver counterclockwise to loosen the band. Pull the Y connector off the air gap.

  • Remove the Y connector from the dishwasher drain line following the same procedure. Remove the opposite end of the Y connector from the garbage disposal by turning the plastic nut that attaches it counterclockwise until the Y pulls off.

  • Take the Y outside and clean all three entrances with the garden hose. Use a hose nozzle to add extra water pressure to force any clogs or foreign materials out of the Y. The water will run clear out of each entrance and in a full circle upon exiting the entrances when the clog is clear.

  • Check the opening on the garbage disposal where the Y connects. Make sure that there are no large items covering the opening that will stop up the dishwasher drainage.

  • Replace the Y onto the garbage disposal, dishwasher drain line and the air gap. Turn the screws on the air gap and dishwasher connections clockwise to tighten the metal bands. Turn the plastic nut on the disposal side clockwise to tighten.

Tips & Warnings

  • An air gap includes a safety feature that allows dishwashers to drain into the sink if the drain is not working properly.
  • Replacing or installing a new garbage disposal may cause the air gap to clog up. When inspecting the disposal inlet opening use a flashlight to look inside the disposal and make certain that the knockout plug is not inside the disposal. Remove the black plastic knockout plug from inside the disposal with needle nose pliers so it does not cover the opening and cause the dishwasher drain to back up.
  • Make sure that the dishwasher is not running and the garbage disposal is off when cleaning the air gap.
  • Photo Credit spoons, plugs and knifes image by terex from Fotolia.com
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