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Guide: All the Things That Commonly Break on Modern Dishwashers


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Written by TechVill Appliance Repair Ltd. Editorial Contributors

A broken dishwasher can cause all sorts of headaches, not to mention a huge mess. Before you diagnose the problem it helps to have a solid understanding of the different common components found in dishwashers. 

The Parts of a Dishwasher

  1. Power Supply -The power supply refers to the cord and other components that allow the dishwasher to draw electricity from the wall socket and power the machine.
  2. Drain Hose – The drain hose allows the dishwasher to drain dirty water away when it is finished running.
  3. Water Inlet Valve – The water inlet valve allows fresh water to enter the dishwasher while it is running, and controls how much water is used during the cleaning process.
  4. Access Panel – The access panel is a small removable portion of the dishwasher’s exterior. When you open or remove the access panel you can look at and interact with the various components inside the dishwasher
  5. Detergent Dispenser – The detergent dispenser is responsible for making sure the detergent is released at the right time during the wash cycle.
  6. Float Valve – A float valve is a one-way valve that is opened and closed using a ball that fits in a cup-shaped opening. When the water level in the dishwasher rises too much the ball floats, opening the valve and allowing the water to drain until it reaches the appropriate level.
  7. Lower Spray Arm – The lower spray arm is a freely moving component that sprays the lower rack of dishes during the cleaning process.
  8. Upper Spray Arm – The upper spray arm is a freely moving component that sprays the upper rack of dishes during the cleaning process.
  9. Door Gasket – The door gasket is a soft rubber or vinyl seal around the edge of the dishwasher door. The gasket creates a watertight seal when the dishwasher is closed, keeping water in during the cleaning process.
  10. Lower Rack – The lower rack is where the more robust dishes, such as plates and cutlery, is placed. It is closer to the heating element, so dishes placed in this rack are exposed to more heat than those on the upper rack.
  11. Upper Rack – The upper rack is where more delicate dishes, such as tupperware, is placed. It is farther away from the heating element, so dishes placed in this rack are not exposed to as much heat as those on the lower rack.
  12. Lock – The lock keeps the dishwasher door firmly closed during the cleaning process.
  13. Controls and Monitors – The controls, consisting of either buttons or an LED screen, allow you to choose the dishwasher’s settings and monitor what it is doing.
  14. Heating Element – The heating element regulates and maintains the heat of the water being used. It also heats the air inside the dishwasher during the drying cycle and helps speed up the evaporation process.
  15. Insulation – Insulation makes your dishwasher more energy efficient by holding the heat inside and discouraging it from dissipating.

Common Dishwasher Problems

Your Dishwasher Won’t Start

It may seem cliche to try turning something on and off again to see if that fixes the problem, but sometimes the solution really is that simple. Check your fuses and circuit breakers to make sure they have not been tripped or blown, and make sure your dishwasher is plugged in properly. You should also inspect the dishwasher’s cord for damage.

Another culprit might be the door latch. A faulty door latch or broken door latch switch might mean that your dishwasher door isn’t properly closing, preventing the dishwasher from starting. 

Water Isn’t Draining

A dishwasher full of water is not only holding your dishes hostage, but may also cause flooding in your kitchen. If this is the case then carefully check the float valve to ensure it is moving properly and is clear of food or other debris.

The Racks Won’t Roll Out

If you can’t get your racks to roll out check their wheels to make sure they are able to rotate freely. You should also check the wheel track to make sure it isn’t damaged or obstructed.

Your Dishwasher Won’t Use Detergent

If you dishwasher isn’t dispensing detergent properly it might be because it is clogged. Give your detergent dispenser a thorough cleaning and make sure it opens easily.

Your Wash Cycle Won’t Complete or Takes Too Long to Complete

This may indicate that there is a problem with the timer motor, the thermostat or the heating element. Examine these components carefully to see if you can pinpoint the problem. 

Your Dishes Aren’t Drying Properly

If your dishes are emerging from their cleaning cycle soaking wet it may indicate that there is a problem with the heating element. This component will have to be checked by a professional. 

Your Dishwasher Won’t Fill with Water, or Won’t Stop Filling

Your dishwasher requires water in order to operate properly. Check the water inlet valve, as well as the float valve to make sure both are not clogged, stuck or damaged.

Your Dishwasher Smells Less Than Fresh

Food and grease are usually the culprit here. Look for organic debris in the strainer screen, as well as on the jets on the sprayer arms and around the door gasket. Clean these parts thoroughly to ensure there is no food or other debris trapped in them or stuck to them.

Make sure you thoroughly clean your dishwasher on a regular basis. To do this run a full dishwasher cycle without any dishes, and consider adding dishwasher cleaner or another food safe disinfectant.

If you find you are having to clean debris out of your dishwasher on a regular basis consider pre-rinsing your dishes before you load them into the dishwasher. 

Your Dishwasher is Leaking

This is one of the most frustrating dishwasher problems, and it can result in serious damage to your home. Check your dishwasher’s drain hose, door gasket, and the heating element for cracks or other signs of damage. A leak could also be caused by a faulty or damaged pump or pump seal, so check this as well.

Your Dishes Are Covered in Water Spots

If you find your glass and metal dishes are always covered in water spots consider adding a rinse aid to your wash cycle.

Your Dishes Are White or Cloudy

White or cloudy dishes usually meant there is hard water buildup. Consider using a specially formulated hard water detergent or adding more detergent to your wash cycles. You may also want to look into getting a water softener for your dishwasher and other appliances. 

Your Dishwasher is Louder Than Usual

Unless you have a modern, ultra-quiet dishwasher you should expect at least some noise. However, if your dishwasher seems to be louder than it was before it may indicate that you have a defective or damaged pump, wash arm seal or bearing ring. Check all of these components for damage.

Another possibility could be that the spray arms are not turning properly, and are hitting the racks or dishes during the cleaning process. If this is the case they will need to be replaced. 

Your Dishes Are Coming Out Dirty

Your dishwasher won’t clean your dishes if it is dirty. Check to make sure your dishwasher’s strain screen, sprayer arms and door gasket are clean and free of food or other organic buildup. Be sure to clean your dishwasher on a regular basis by running a full cycle while it is empty and adding some dishwasher cleaner or another food safe disinfectant.

Another problem may be that your spray arms aren’t getting enough water pressure to do their job, have hard water build up on them, or are obstructed. Make sure your sprayer arms can move freely, and that they are free of any buildup.

You may also need to check your detergent. Low quality or detergent that is older than 3 months are less able to properly clean your dishes. Consider switching detergent brands, or buying smaller bottles so that your detergent supply remains fresh. 

How to Fix Your Dishwasher

Some fixes, such as remembering to clean your dishwasher regularly, can be easily done at home. However, for anything more complicated than that you should rely on a professional. A professional will not only be able to determine what is wrong with your dishwasher, but will know how to fix it properly without accidentally making the problem worse.

TechVill has been keeping Calgary’s dishwashers, and other home appliances, happily chugging along for years. We pride ourselves on being honest and truthful, meaning we will never inflate the problem or overcharge you. Learn more about our dishwasher repair services.

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