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Table of Contents

Troubleshooting a Dishwasher That Won't Clean

Measure the Dishwasher Water Temperature

Tips for Improving Dishwasher Cleaning

When to Seek Professional Dishwasher Repair

Schedule your dishwasher repair now!

Call (213) 596-2538
  1. Resource Center
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Why Won’t My Dishwasher Clean My Dishes?

9 min readUpdated Mar. 11, 2024Eric WoodDishwasher
Why Won’t My Dishwasher Clean My Dishes?

Experiencing the annoyance of unclean dishes at the end of a dishwasher cycle is a common frustration. However, the solution is often simpler than you might think. Our service experts have unraveled the mysteries behind poor dishwashing results, with troubleshooting tips and strategies to improve your dishwasher's cleaning power.


  • Ensuring dishes are loaded correctly with adequate space between them and selecting the appropriate wash cycle, such as heavy wash for pots and pans, improves cleaning performance significantly.
  • Cleaning dishwasher filters monthly and inspecting spray arms for cracks or clogs help maintain water flow and prevent poor cleaning results.
  • Checking dishwasher water level, water temperature (aim for 120 degrees Fahrenheit), and using fresh detergent in the correct amount based on water hardness ensure optimal cleaning performance.

If you're wondering why your dishwasher isn't cleaning your dishes properly, there are a few common reasons that could be at fault. By addressing these issues, you can improve the performance of your dishwasher and ensure sparkling clean dishes every time.

Troubleshooting a Dishwasher That Won't Clean

When you find the dishes are still dirty after a completed dishwasher cycle, it doesn't mean you'll need to resort to dishwasher replacement or–dare we say it–hand washing. The basic troubleshooting tips below may resolve the problem quickly.

Clean the Spray Arms

Over time, the spray arms in your dishwasher can become clogged with mineral deposits, debris, or food particles. This can hinder their ability to spray water effectively and result in poorly cleaned dishes. Remove the spray arms and clean them thoroughly using warm soapy water. Pay special attention to the nozzles and ensure they are free from any blockages.

  1. Check the spray arms for cracks or damage. A cracked spray arm won't rotate and spray correctly. Replace the spray arm if it’s damaged.
  2. If the spray arm isn’t cracked, check the spray arms for clogged openings. Hard water deposits and food debris can clog these holes. Clear the holes with toothpicks or a bamboo skewer.
  3. For severe clogs, remove the spray arms following the instructions in the owner’s manual and clean them in the sink. Use a toothbrush and a bamboo skewer to remove the clogs. Soak the spray arms in white vinegar to help remove hard water deposits, if necessary. Rinse the spray arms thoroughly and reinstall them.

If hard water deposits frequently block the spray arm holes, use a specialized dishwasher cleaner such as affresh® to clean the dishwasher monthly.

Check for Water Supply Issues

A common reason for a dishwasher not cleaning dishes is a problem with the water supply. Make sure that the water supply valve is fully open and the water pressure meets the manufacturer's recommendations. Insufficient water supply can prevent the dishwasher from effectively cleaning the dishes. Here's how to check the water level in your dishwasher.

  1. Start a cycle with the dishwasher empty and allow the dishwasher to fill with water – which should take about 2 minutes. When you hear the water stop filling or the pump start running, you know the dishwasher is finished filling.
  2. Open the dishwasher door slightly to stop the cycle. When the cycle stops, open the door fully and check the water level in the tub. The water level should be close to the bottom of the mushroom-shaped float.
  3. If water level is far below the float or you don’t see any water at all, you've likely found the reason why your dishes aren't getting clean.
    Check out this video to see troubleshooting tips for a fill problem in your dishwasher.

Measure the Dishwasher Water Temperature

In addition to checking the water level, check the temperature of the water coming into the dishwasher. The water must be 120 degrees to clean efficiently, regardless of which cycle and option you select—even if you use the high-temperature cycle.

Follow these steps to check the temperature of water going to your dishwasher:

  1. Run the hot water from your kitchen sink faucet for 1 minute.
  2. Fill a glass with the hot tap water.
  3. Measure the water temperature in the glass using a cooking thermometer.

If the temperature is less than 120 degrees, carefully increase the temperature setting on your water heater. Only make small, incremental increases in your water heater setting and don't set the water heater temperature above 120 degrees to avoid scalding when using the hot water in the bath or shower.

Inspect the Drainage System

Another potential culprit could be a clogged or faulty drainage system. Check the dishwasher's drain hose and ensure it is not blocked or kinked. Additionally, inspect the dishwasher's filter and remove any debris or food particles that may have accumulated. Remove and inspect your dishwasher filters monthly.

• Clean the filters by holding them under running tap water in your kitchen sink. Remove dirt or hard water deposits using a soft bristle brush if necessary. Scrub the filters whenever you see soil or residue building up on the screens.
• Wash the filters if dishes feel gritty or you see food particles on dishes after the cycle finishes.
• Dishwashers have various types of filters, so check your owner's manual for more advice about cleaning the filters in your model.

By following these troubleshooting steps, you can often resolve common issues that cause dishwashers to underperform. However, if the problem persists, it may be necessary to seek professional assistance. At Sears Home Services, our expert technicians are here to help diagnose and fix any dishwasher problems you may encounter. Contact us today for reliable dishwasher repair and maintenance services.

Tips for Improving Dishwasher Cleaning

If you don't find any problems with the dishwasher's water level or temperature, and the filter and spray arms are okay, the problem could be with how you're using the dishwasher. First, check some basic issues that can inhibit cleaning. Make sure the dishwasher isn't overloaded. Without enough space between items, the soapy water won't be able to move freely. Loading the dishes correctly helps the dishwasher clean them better.

Here’s a video that offers tips to help you when you find dirty dishes after the dishwashing cycle ends:

Load the Dishwasher the Right Way

Follow these loading tips to avoid cleaning problems:

• Angle heavily soiled dish surfaces downward and leave enough room between dishes to allow water to reach all sides.
• Make sure that spray arms spin freely after loading the dishwasher.
• Ensure the detergent dispenser lid isn't blocked when loading dishes.

Select the Right Cycle and Settings

After loading the dishes, select the correct cycle for the type of dishes that you're washing.

• A quick or normal wash cycle cleans most dishes well, but that cycle won't clean dirty pots and pans. Choose a heavy wash or a pots and pans cycle to clean the really dirty cookware.
• If your dishwasher has a high-temperature setting, choose it for better cleaning. The dishwasher heats the water to higher temperatures, and the hotter water melts grease off dishes better. And the hotter water also dissolves detergent better, improving cleaning performance.
• Refer to your owner's manual for information about the specific cycles and options on your dishwasher.

Check for Problems with the Detergent and Dispenser

The detergent you choose plays a crucial role in the cleaning process. Opt for a high-quality dishwasher detergent that is specifically designed for your dishwasher model. Avoid using regular dish soap or hand soap, as they can create excessive suds and leave residue on your dishes.

Problems with detergent dispenser can also lead to poor cleaning. If the lid to the detergent dispenser lid is still closed after you run the dishwasher, watch this video and follow the troubleshooting tips to resolve that problem.

Old or stale dishwashing powder won't clean your dishes well because the detergent loses effectiveness and may leave gritty deposits on your dishes. It doesn't take long for powdered detergent to age if you store it under the damp sink. Store powdered detergent in an upper cabinet where it stays dry and lasts longer. Toss out old, clumpy detergent and use only fresh, dry detergent for the best dishwashing results.

In addition to using fresh detergent, it’s important to use the right amount of detergent based on your water supply's hardness and the dirtiness of your dishes. If you don't know the hardness of your water, contact your local water supplier or look up your water hardness online. If you want to check the water hardness yourself, you can use a test strip.

Once you know the water hardness, follow the directions in your owner's manual to fill the dispenser with the right amount of detergent.

Use Rinse Aid

Always use rinse aid in your dishwasher. Rinse aid reduces spots, which can make dishes look dirty. Even when using detergent tablets or pods with included rinse aid, additional rinse aid is recommended. The rinse aid dispenser in your dishwasher dispenses the right amount of rinse aid during the final rinse cycle so your dishes turn out spotless. Pods and tablets may not release the rinse aid at the right time. Many rinse aid dispensers also have a setting that you should set based on your water hardness. Check your owner's manual and set the rinse aid dispenser in your dishwasher to the proper level based on your water hardness.

When to Seek Professional Dishwasher Repair

While some minor problems can be fixed with simple troubleshooting, there are certain situations where it's best to seek professional dishwasher repair services. Here are some signs that indicate it's time to call in the experts:

Persistent Cleaning Issues: If your dishwasher isn't cleaning your dishes properly despite regular maintenance and cleaning, there might be an underlying problem. It could be due to clogged spray arms, a malfunctioning water inlet valve, or a faulty detergent dispenser. Professional technicians can diagnose the issue and provide the necessary repairs to ensure your dishwasher cleans your dishes effectively.

Unusual Noises or Leaks: Strange noises or leaks from your dishwasher are indications of a potential problem. It could be due to a worn-out pump motor, a damaged door seal, or a faulty drain pump. These issues should be addressed promptly to prevent further damage or water damage to your kitchen. Professional repair services can identify the source of the noise or leak and fix it accordingly.

Electrical Malfunctions: If your dishwasher is experiencing electrical malfunctions, such as the control panel not responding or the dishwasher not turning on, it's crucial to seek professional help. Electrical issues can be dangerous to address without proper knowledge and expertise. Professional technicians have the necessary skills to troubleshoot and repair electrical problems safely.

When it comes to dishwasher repair, choose a reliable and experienced service provider. At Sears Home Services, our team of skilled technicians specializes in dishwasher repair and can help resolve any issues you may be facing. Schedule a service appointment and get your dishwasher back to its optimal performance.

Schedule your dishwasher repair now!

With extensive experience, our technicians are skilled in repairing dishwashers of all makes and models, ensuring sparkling clean dishes with every cycle.

Call (213) 596-2538 or schedule online now.

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