How to Troubleshoot a Dirty Dishwasher


A dirty dishwasher can mean several things, including dishes remaining dirty after washing, a dirty or stained tub, dirty water leaking from the unit or a bad smell coming from the dishwasher. Most of these problems are caused by relatively minor issues that can be resolved through some troubleshooting and maintenance efforts, although a service call may be necessary if attempts to fix the problem fail.

Things You'll Need

  • Clean cloth(s)
  • Soft brush
  • Automatic dishwasher detergent
  • Rinse aid
  • Vinegar
  • Glass container
  • Dishwasher cleaner
  • Operate the garbage disposal at the sink nearest to the dishwasher, if applicable. Often, if there is debris in the drain or dishwasher, it can back up if the drain is not cleared.

  • Lift off the air gap cover on the top of the sink, if applicable, and clean out the hoses and cylinder inside the air gap with a stiff brush. Again, if this becomes dirty or clogged, it can send dirty water back into the dishwasher.

  • Empty the dishwasher and place a glass container filled with 2 cups of vinegar in the bottom rack. Set the dishwasher for a normal wash cycle to remove dirty odors or stains inside the dishwasher.

  • Empty the dishwasher and set a dishwasher cleaning packet inside the top rack to remove stains or other dirty debris from inside the dishwasher tub. Dishwasher cleaning packets can be purchased at most grocery or hardware stores. Run a normal cycle and discard the empty packet when finished.

  • Turn off and disconnect the dishwasher and pull out the bottom rack. Lift out the bottom spray arm and remove the strainer underneath. Unscrew the circular cap and clean inside with a stiff brush. Clean the filter and grinder as well to remove any debris that may be creating blockages or drainage problems.

  • Add enough dishwashing detergent and rinse aid to the dishwasher each time. Turn off other appliances that use hot water at the same time as the dishwasher and turn on the hot water at the sink prior to running the dishwasher. This will raise the water temperature entering the dishwasher, which can help clean dishes better. Scrape excess debris from dishes and utensils prior to washing.

  • Avoid overloading the dishwasher and ensure the spray arms can move freely during the cycle. Wipe the holes in the spray arms with a clean cloth or brush to remove any potential obstructions.

  • Clean the detergent cup with a dry cloth and make sure nothing is blocking the detergent cup from opening. Use fresh detergent and follow product recommendations for the correct amount of detergent to be used.

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