We’ve all been there: you’ve just finished a great meal, loaded up the dishwasher, and an hour later you find your dishes aren’t sparkling as they should. Here is a quick answer for the question that we all ask in this case “What to do if your dishwasher isn’t cleaning?”

Quick Answer: If your dishwasher isn’t cleaning as it should, the solution often lies in ensuring your dishwasher is clean and unclogged. This can typically be accomplished in three easy steps:

  1. Remove and clean the wash blades.
  2. Ensure the filter is clean.
  3. Check the bottom of the dishwasher for food debris and clean as necessary.

Common Causes of Poor Dishwasher Cleaning Performance

5 Reasons Why Your Dishwasher Is Not Cleaning
Dishwasher Not Cleaning Dishes? Here’s What to Do

Understanding the possible reasons behind your dishwasher’s poor performance can help you troubleshoot effectively. Here are the top five likely culprits:

  1. Water inlet valve: This valve allows water into the dishwasher during operation. If clogged or defective, your dishwasher may not get sufficient water for thorough cleaning.
  2. Wash arm obstruction: Over time, food particles can clog the tiny holes in the wash arm, obstructing the water flow.
  3. Damaged wash arm support: This part may not mate properly to the water supply tube nozzle, which will obstruct the water.
  4. Circulation pump motor: This uses an impeller to force water up through the wash arms. If the impeller is broken, it may not generate enough pressure to drive the water.
  5. Detergent dispenser: If it’s not opening to dispense the soap, the dishes will not be properly cleaned.

Precautions Before Troubleshooting

Before we begin troubleshooting, it’s essential to prioritize safety. Follow these precautions to ensure your well-being:

  1. Unplug the dishwasher or turn off the circuit breakers to eliminate the risk of electric shock.
  2. Turn off the water supply underneath the sink to prevent any leaks or water damage.

Step-by-step Troubleshooting to Improve Dishwasher Cleaning

Cleaning the Spray Arms

How Do I Clean My Dishwasher Spray Arms
How do I clean my dishwasher spray arms?

The spray arms spray the dishes with water to clean them. If they’re clogged or damaged, they could be the problem. To address this:

  1. Remove the spray arms.
  2. Inspect them to ensure they spin freely and aren’t clogged or split.
  3. Clean out any debris and run fresh water through the dishwasher to clean it.
  4. If damaged, consider replacing them.

Checking the Filters

How To Clean Your Dishwasher Filter
Cleaning dishwasher filter

A clogged filter can prevent water from cycling through the dishwasher properly. Here’s how to check them:

  1. Locate the filters inside the dishwasher.
  2. Clean them if they’re dirty.
  3. If they’re damaged, they’ll need replacing.

Checking the Detergent Dispenser

Checking the Detergent Dispenser
Checking the Detergent Dispenser

If your detergent dispenser isn’t working properly, the dishes won’t clean properly. Here’s how to check it:

  1. Ensure the dispenser latch area is clean and nothing is interfering with the door opening.
  2. Inspect the visible linkages on the back of the dispenser.
  3. If damaged, replace the dispenser.

Checking the Water Inlet Valve

If the water inlet valve is clogged or failing, your dishes won’t get clean. To check it:

  1. Ensure the valve underneath the sink is fully open and that there’s good water pressure.
  2. Inspect and clean the screen if you have that type of valve.
  3. If the valve isn’t letting enough water into the dishwasher, replace it.

Checking the Circulation Motor

A bad circulation motor can prevent your dishes from getting clean. Here’s how to check it:

  1. Test the motor with a featuring the multimeter for continuity, and inspect it for any signs of damage or wear.
  2. If the motor isn’t spinning freely, it may be jammed or broken, and replacing it could be the best course of action.
  3. Ensure that the motor’s impeller isn’t damaged. If the impeller isn’t able to push water through the wash arms, it will need to be replaced.
  4. If the motor isn’t getting any power, check the wiring and connections.

Maintenance Tips to Improve Dishwasher Performance

Once you’ve addressed the issue, ensure your dishwasher continues to work effectively by following these maintenance tips:

  1. Clean regularly: At least once a month, give your dishwasher a deep clean. This includes cleaning the filter, spray arms, and wiping down the door seals and dishwasher interior.
  2. Use high-quality detergent: Not all dishwashing detergents are created equal. Invest in a good quality product to avoid residue and ensure your dishes come out sparkling.
  3. Don’t overload: While it might be tempting to fit in as many dishes as possible, overloading the dishwasher can result in dishes not being cleaned effectively.
  4. Pre-rinse if necessary: If your dishes are heavily soiled, consider pre-rinsing them. While most modern dishwashers can handle a bit of grime, stubborn food particles can cause blockages.
  5. Regularly check and maintain components: Make a habit of periodically checking the dishwasher components such as the spray arms, filters, and water inlet valve. This will enable you to catch and rectify issues before they worsen.


A dishwasher that doesn’t clean can be frustrating. However, most issues can be fixed with a little troubleshooting. By following the steps outlined above, you can ensure your dishwasher is functioning as it should and you can enjoy sparkling clean dishes every time.

However, it’s essential to remember that some problems may require a professional. If you’ve gone through these steps and your dishwasher still isn’t cleaning your dishes effectively, it’s time to call a professional appliance repair person.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What can cause a dishwasher not to clean properly?

A dishwasher might not clean properly due to several reasons such as blocked spray arms, a clogged filter, a malfunctioning circulation motor, use of low-quality detergent, or overloading of dishes.

How often should I clean my dishwasher filter?

For best results, you should clean your dishwasher filter at least once a month. This helps prevent food particles from clogging the filter and reducing the dishwasher’s cleaning efficiency.

Do I need to pre-rinse dishes before loading them into the dishwasher?

While it is not always necessary to pre-rinse dishes, doing so can help when the dishes are heavily soiled. Stubborn food particles can cause blockages in the dishwasher, reducing its effectiveness.

Can I repair a faulty dishwasher motor myself?

If the dishwasher motor is faulty, it’s best to hire a professional repair person unless you have the necessary skills and tools. Attempting to repair it without proper knowledge can lead to further damage or potential safety risks.

What type of detergent is best for dishwashers?

High-quality, phosphate-free detergent is usually recommended for dishwashers. The choice between powder, tablet, or gel depends on personal preference, though some types may work better in different water conditions.

Where are the filters located in a dishwasher?

Filters are typically located either on the bottom or inside the sump of the dishwasher. They help trap food particles and debris to prevent them from recirculating.

How do I clean the detergent dispenser?

To clean the detergent dispenser, ensure the latch area is clean and free from obstructions. Inspect the visible linkages on the back of the dispenser for any damage. If necessary, replace broken parts or the entire assembly.

Why is water temperature important for dishwashing?

Proper water temperature helps to effectively dissolve detergent and remove food particles from dishes. Most manufacturers recommend a temperature of around 120 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal cleaning results.

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