Why Aren’t Your Dishes Coming Out Clean?

March 9, 2020
Dishwasher Repair

Dishwashers are supposed to free you from the worries of having to wash your dishes by hand. Sure you may give them a quick rinse or even a soak, but no need to scrub and dry when your dishwasher can do the hard work. Unless it doesn’t. There are few things more frustrating than a dishwasher that won’t get the dishes clean. You load up the dishwasher with dishes and soap, set the settings, and let it run. At the end of the cycle, you should have sparkling clean dishes. Maybe even dry dishes. And if they’re not dry, often you can open the dishwasher and do other things for another hour and most of your dishes will be completely dry and ready to be put away.  So when you open the dishwasher to find dishes that still have food residue or random grit on them, it’s not pleasing to say the least. And the cause could be a number of different minor malfunctions.  Today, we’re here to run you through the possibilities so you can start troubleshooting and eventually find the solution. It may also be a combination of solutions before your dishes come out completely clean like they’re supposed to.   


Double-check your dishwasher settings. There’s a possibility that simply changing the details you’ve selected will make a difference. Maybe someone bumped it to cold-only or gentle wash, or maybe you need a heavier wash to deal with your family’s dishes. Do a little experimenting with dishwasher settings to see if changes solve your problem. Whether you choose your settings every time or your dishwasher has buttons that depress and stick, this is often a quick and easy solution option.  

Sprayer Arm

The next suspect is your sprayer arm. This is worth checking early because if the sprayer arm is your problem, no other solution is going to be helpful. Even if additional solutions may improve performance beyond fixing the sprayer arm.

There are usually two sprayer arms per dishwasher, a top and bottom arm, or a middle and bottom arm depending on the design. Check to make sure your sprayer arms can spin. Then look closely with a light to see if the tiny holes in the sprayer arm are clogged. If they are, wipe with vinegar and/or use a paperclip to clear each tiny hole.

If one or both sprayer arms are actually broken, replace them. This is not a difficult repair. 

Soap Dispenser

The soap dispenser is a simple mechanism that latches closed and then eventually pops open when the wash cycle is right. There are a few things that can be wrong with your soap dispenser that are relatively easy to fix, and some that are more challenging.

Start by wiping out the soap dispenser, ensuring that there is no crusting soap in the compartment. If there is crusting soap, this can be a cause or a symptom. Fill your rinse aid reservoir if your dishwasher has one. Make sure the soap latch opens and closes as it’s supposed to with finger controls.

Then run a load with soap in the compartment. If the compartment is still closed or unreasonably crusty after running, your problem might be your soap dispenser switch. You’ll need to take the dishwasher door apart (it is made of layers) in order to replace or repair the switch. 

Clogged Drain

Check the drain of your dishwasher. This should look like an upside-down basket in the dishwasher floor, but not always. It is most likely to be your drain if you notice water (and more than water) pooled at the bottom of the dishwasher when you open it after a cycle. If the drain is clogged, then washed-away food isn’t being taken out of the dishwasher and it will be blown around and back onto the food when the sprayer runs. Clear the drain inside the dishwasher. Then run your garbage disposal with water running and make sure your kitchen sink drain is clear as well. This is because your dishwasher drains into the under-sink drain. If there’s a clog in your drain hose, you’ll need to pull out the dishwasher to access the dishwasher end. 

Hot Water

It’s possible that our dishwasher is not getting access to water not enough to melt the food on your plates. You may be able to tell this by opening your dishwasher during a hot wash cycle. If you don’t feel the heat, then your dishwasher may only be getting cold water. To fix this problem, you will likely need to pull out your dishwasher and double-check the water intake lines. You may need the help of an appliance repair technician or possibly a plumber depending on how deep the hot water problem goes. 

Hard Water

If your home runs hard water, this can significantly reduce the effectiveness of your dishwasher. Hard water has a few too many chalky minerals in it that decrease the sudsing and effectiveness of soap in water. It also leaves a white chalky residue on everything. You may have noticed it on your sinks and faucets and tub, and you will definitely notice it on clear drinking glasses as ‘spots’.Hard water dishwasher trouble can be cured temporarily by running your dishwasher with an open cup of white vinegar upright in the top shelf. It can be solved more permanently by installing a water softener for your home. 

Dish Arrangement

At this point, you’ve either solved everything that can be solved or are waiting for a part or scheduled service to solve your dishwasher troubles. Whether your dishwasher just isn’t that powerful or you’re making do until a repair, it’s time to consider improving your dishwasher usage techniques.

The way you arrange your dishes can help improve performance. Now that you’ve had your head in there and done some inspection, try arranging your dishes to best catch the jets from the sprayer arms. Top and bottom racks, tilt and space everything to catch the sprays. 

Sufficient Pre-Rinsing

And if all else fails, start doing a little more pre-rinsing of your dishes. You don’t have to do a full sanitization scrub, but just one extra step in cleaning your dishes can make a big difference. Consider quickly rinsing all plates and bowls before they go into the dishwasher. Consider filling half your sink with hot water each morning (or evening) and soaking all dishes before they go into the dishwasher.

—If your dishwasher isn’t getting your dishes clean, there could be a number of causes. Quite often, there’s more than one way to improve the cleanliness of your dishes when a cycle is through. By going through this list, you can identify what’s wrong, what you can do better, what can be fixed, and what you might need assistance to fix. If you need expert appliance technician services for anything involving pulling out your dishwasher or taking apart the door, contact us or check out our more focused repair dishwasher repair guides.


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