Major Appliances

Dishwasher Not Cleaning

If your dishwasher is not cleaning and working as it should, this article will help you identify and troubleshoot the potential cause. Let’s be honest, no one wants to hand wash every dish and glass after a big family dinner. 

This article reviews some common reasons behind a dishwasher that isn’t cleaning and offers some troubleshooting help.

Why Your Dishwasher May Not Be Washing

A dishwasher not cleaning could be due to clogged filters and/or spray nozzles. 

Of course, there are several other causes to consider, including:

  • Items that were loaded without enough individual space or are overlapping. This can prevent water from reaching and cleaning each item. 
  • Hard water can impact cleaning performance and also lead to build-up in the water lines, which can negatively affect the lifespan of your dishwasher. A simple solution could be to use a dishwasher water softener which can be effective without much cost or hassle.
  • Hard water generally requires extra detergent so if you’re not using a water softener, then you simply may not be using enough detergent. 
  • Using detergent not meant for your dishwasher can result in excessive suds and prevent the dishwasher from performing optimally.
  • Not using a heavy cycle for a heavy load.

How to Check for a Clogged Filter

It’s not unusual for there to be a bit of standing water at the bottom of your dishwasher every so often. Remember, though, if there’s an inch (2.5 cm) or more, then you may be dealing with a clog.

A dishwasher filter A dishwasher filter

It’s always recommended to follow your dishwasher use and care instructions before getting started.

Follow these instructions to inspect if a filter is indeed clogged:

Step 1:

  • Find the dishwasher filter. It’s often in the back corner of the bottom tub, or around the base of the bottom spray arm.
  • Next, you should remove the filter. The information on how to do this should be in your dishwasher use and care instructions.
  • Rinse the filter with water. This should get rid of a lot of the soil and debris. If any food particles are still present after rinsing, soak the filter in warm water for several minutes. Keep in mind that calcium deposits and/or other stuck-on bits may need careful and gentle scrubbing with a soft brush, sponge or you could even use a toothbrush. Avoid using anything that can damage the filter like a wire brush or scouring pad.
  • The last step is to reinstall the filter.

Step 2:

  • Inspect your drain motor and drain hose.
  • If you find that your dishwasher is still not draining as it should, then something else may be clogging your dishwasher drain.
  • It’s never a bad idea to hire a professional to deal with these types of issues.

A broken drain motor or a clogged drain hose can lead to some standing water in your dishwasher.

How to Check for Clogged Spray Nozzles

Items in a KitchenAid dishwasher being dried. Items include plates, a baking sheet, cutlery, utensils, bowls and glasses. Items in a KitchenAid dishwasher being dried. Items include plates, a baking sheet, cutlery, utensils, bowls and glasses.

It’s possible that one or more clogged spray nozzles may simply be the result of improper loading.

Let’s take a closer look.

Loading a dishwasher incorrectly
If the dishwasher was loaded in a way that is not conducive to effective operation, the spray arms may not be able to work correctly. Look to see if there is anything that may be blocking and/or preventing the spray arms from turning. A common issue is loading taller items in the bottom rack, which can prevent the spray arms from turning. In this case, the solution would be to adjust the top rack.

Someone placing a plate on the rack of a dishwasher. Also on the rack are plates, mugs, glasses and more. Someone placing a plate on the rack of a dishwasher. Also on the rack are plates, mugs, glasses and more.

If you suspect that this is the problem, perform a test by loading the dishwasher and then very gently turning the spray arm. If the spray arm doesn’t turn with ease and little effort, it’s probably best to reload the dishwasher. 

Did you select “Top Rack Only”?
If your dishwasher has a Top Rack Only option, then remember that this cycle is solely designed for washing a small load of dishes on the top rack. If you selected this cycle, then the lower or bottom spray arms will not clean anything on the lower rack.

If either the upper or lower spray arm is not working
In this situation, extremely hard water mineral deposits could be damaging your dishwasher. 

Hard water can cause residue to build up on internal components in addition to the dishwasher’s interior and the items that you want to wash.


You may want to consider using a dishwasher cleaning product like affresh® Dishwasher Cleaner to help remove this residue.

Troubleshooting Common Causes

Let’s review a few of the common issues that may be preventing your dishwasher from working. 

A soap dispenser that is broken
A broken soap dispenser can result in your dishwasher not cleaning dishes and whatever else is part of your load.

Detergent remaining in the dispenser? 
Is there detergent caked in the dispenser?
If there is detergent caked in the dispenser, you should clean the dispenser. Older detergent that has been exposed to air can form into clumps, in which case, it will have trouble dissolving. This may also result in the dispenser door sticking to the detergent. To solve this issue, you can try to replace the detergent and safely store it in a tightly closed container in a cool dry place. 

Was a "rinse only" cycle used?
If you selected a short cycle like "rinse only", it could leave detergent in the dispenser since a full clean cycle was not used.

Is the upper rack in the lowest position?
The upper rack may be positioned in such a way that it may be blocking the detergent dispenser from opening when in the lowest position. You can fix this by moving the upper rack to a higher position.

Someone positioning a dishwasher rack. On the rack are glasses, plates and more. Someone positioning a dishwasher rack. On the rack are glasses, plates and more.

There are many reasons why your dishwasher may not be cleaning effectively. If these troubleshooting tips don’t resolve the problem, please contact our customer service team or schedule a service appointment.

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