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Essential Housewares & Appliances
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The Ultimate Guide

Introduction

How to Repair Your Dishwasher

Repairing Dishwasher
George Peters / Getty Images

Did you know that you can do many common dishwasher repairs by yourself? While it may seem like an intimidating appliance, a dishwasher is, at its heart, a simple device that you can repair on your own.

Understanding how your dishwasher works will help you repair the machine smoothly and safely. Your dishwasher heats water as high as 140 F in its lower basin (the area below the bottom rack) with a metal heating element. Spray arms pump that water over the dishes while dispensing detergent. After a second rinsing spray, the heating element kicks in again to dry the dishes. High temperature and water pressure mean that the door and other potential escape points must remain perfectly sealed.

Most dishwasher issues center around those basic, core functions and require only simple tools and basic fix-it skills. In many cases, it is a simple case of only making manual adjustments.

Safety Considerations

For repairs that involve removing the dishwasher from its bay, follow the safety shut-down and removal procedures at the end of this tutorial. Dishwashers are top-heavy when the door is open and the machine's mounts are removed.

  • 01 of 06

    Dishwasher Is Overflowing

    Young woman on phone with overflowing dishwasher
    Image Source / Getty Images

    Located in the dishwasher basin, the float assembly is a saucer-shaped device that rises as water rises in the basin. When the water reaches a certain height, the attached overfill float switch signals the dishwasher to cut off the water. If the float is not moving or switch not working, the water will keep rising until it overflows.

    Project Metrics

    • Working Time: 5 to 45 minutes
    • Total Time: 5 minutes to 1 hour
    • Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate
    • Materials Cost: Up to $35 (if you replace the float switch)

    Tools and Supplies You Will Need

    • Flathead screwdriver
    • Dishwasher float switch

    Instructions

    Manually Unstick the Float

    Often, fixing a stuck float is a simple matter of raising and lowering it by hand a few times to unstick it. The float needs to move freely to activate the switch. If this is not happening or if the float is visibly damaged, replace the entire float assembly.

    Check the Overfill Float Switch

    The float switch is a relay switch smaller than a cigarette lighter which allows or cuts off a low-voltage electrical current. Lift the float and listen carefully. If you hear a hard metallic click, there is a good chance that the switch itself is working correctly. If not, replace this inexpensive part.

    Replace the Overfill Float Switch

    Access points to the float switch vary between models, so you will need to consult your owner's manual to find the location. Depending on your model, it may be located behind the machine or in front, under the toe kick. After performing shut-down procedures, locate the relay switch. Replacement is simple. The current switch will unsnap, with the new switch snapping in.

  • 02 of 06

    Dishwasher Door Is Leaking

    Dishwasher Door Leaking

    AndreyPopov / Getty Images

    If water is dripping from the bottom or sides of your dishwasher door, most likely your door seal is no longer functioning properly and needs to be replaced. Your door may leak even though the machine is working well or it may be leaking in conjunction with overflow problems.

    Project Metrics

    • Working Time: 20 minutes
    • Total Time: 30 minutes
    • Skill Level: Beginner
    • Materials Cost: $15 to $35

    Tools and Supplies You Will Need

    • New tub gasket (dishwasher door seal)
    • Mild soap, water, and sponge
    • Hairdryer

    Instructions

    After you first check on any door obstructions, you may need to replace the door seal. Since the seal, also called a tub gasket, degrades over time in contact with heat and water, this is an expected part of a dishwasher's lifecycle. Located on the machine (not the door), this seal is inexpensive and is easy to replace.

    Check Door Obstructions

    If the door is leaking at random times, it may be because you have loaded the machine improperly. Large items placed on the lower rack towards the sides may be imperceptibly preventing the door from firmly closing. Water may leak out as a result. Load large items far back, clear of the door. 

    Remove the Door Seal and Clean

    Pull the seal out by hand. Clean the channel with a mild mixture of dish soap and warm water, as debris will prevent the seal from adhering. Let the channel dry.

    Prepare the New Seal

    Use a hairdryer on low heat to straighten out the new seal as it will be creased and folded from being in the package.

    Replace the Seal

    Press the seal into the channel, starting at the top and working down to the left and right sides.

  • 03 of 06

    Dishwasher Is Not Draining

    Midsection of man working in kitchen with woman using mobile phone at home
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    When the dishwasher does not drain or drains slowly, your machine probably has a blockage that you can clear by hand.

    Project Metrics

    • Working Time: 20 minutes
    • Total Time: 20 minutes
    • Skill Level: Beginner
    • Materials Cost: No cost

    Tools and Supplies You Will Need

    • Phillips head screwdriver
    • Flathead screwdriver

    Instructions

    Check the Kitchen Sink

    Look at the kitchen sink first. Your sink and dishwasher share a common drainage system. If the dishwasher drain is clogged, the sink might be, too.

    Look at the Drain Tube

    While under the sink, verify that the dishwasher's drain tube (a corrugated plastic tube) is not kinked. It should run in a smooth curve from the dishwasher to the drain.

    Check the Drain Filter

    Check out your dishwasher drain filter at the bottom of the machine, in the basin. Some food particles pass through the filter. But the filter is designed to block larger particles. Clear the filter by pulling the particles out (do not force them into the filter).

    Remove and Clear the Filter

    If there are no visible particles, remove the filter cage by removing two screws from the top of the cage. After removing the cage, clear blockages.

    Clear the Drain Tube

    Shut down and remove the machine. Locate the plastic drain tube attached to the back of the machine. Detach it and blow into the tube. If air does not flow freely, the tube is blocked. Clear by forcefully running water into it in a sink. If the block is difficult to clear or the tube appears damaged, purchase a new one.

  • 04 of 06

    Dishwasher Is Not Cleaning Well Enough

    Spoons and plates in utensil drainer
    Katja Kircher / Getty Images

    It can be frustrating to run your dishwasher on a full cycle, only to discover dried, caked-on food after the drying cycle. Is your machine on the way out? Maybe not. For machines that aren't cleaning dishes well, follow this procedure.

    Project Metrics

    • Working Time: 30 minutes
    • Total Time: 45 minutes
    • Skill Level: Intermediate
    • Materials Cost: $15 to $30

    Tools and Supplies You Will Need

    • Channellock pliers
    • Teflon tape

    Instructions

    Often, cleaning the spray arms is enough to fix this problem. Failing that, you will need to replace the water inlet valve. With many models, you can leave the machine in place, though you still need to perform shut-down procedures for safety.

    Clean the Spray Arms

    Water leads to mineral build-up. Remove all spray arms and soak them in vinegar to remove mineral deposits.

    Remove the Toekick

    Remove the toekick access panel. Remove the water line that attaches to the inlet valve.

    Remove the Fitting and Bracket

    With Channellock pliers, remove the brass fitting. Then with a hex-nut driver, remove the valve bracket from the machine. Remove the attached electrical harness.

    Attach the New Valve

    Attach the new inlet valve fitting, taking care to first wind Teflon tape on the threads. Reattach the assembly and the toe kick.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Dishwasher Is Not Drying the Dishes

    Teenage boy removing plates from dishwasher in kitchen
    RUSS ROHDE / Getty Images

    Are the dishes still wet or damp even after a full cycle? That metal horseshoe-shaped heating element at the bottom of the machine, in the basin, is in charge of drying operations. This heating element is relatively inexpensive and is simple to replace.

    Project Metrics

    • Working Time: 60 minutes
    • Total Time: 90 minutes
    • Skill Level: Intermediate
    • Materials Cost: $25 to $70

    Tools and Supplies You Will Need

    • Heating element
    • Set of wrenches

    Instructions

    Shut down the machine, disconnect it, and remove it from its bay so that you can access the back.

    Disconnect Wires

    On the back of the machine, locate the two wires that attach to the heating element terminals. With a flat head screwdriver, gently pry the wires loose. Set the wires on the floor, taking note of their positions (left or right).

    Unscrew Retainer Nuts

    With a wrench, unscrew the two plastic retainer nuts. Sizes may vary, but typically you will use a 3/4-inch wrench.

    Remove the Heating Element

    Go to the front of the machine and push it halfway back into its bay. Open the door and remove the lower rack. Remove the heating element. Since you have already loosened it from the back, it is only a matter of lifting it out.

    Replace the Heating Element

    Replacement works in reverse. Be sure to carefully tighten the retainer nuts to avoid cracking them.

  • 06 of 06

    Safe Shut-Down and Removal Procedures for Your Dishwasher

    Woman filling dishwasher, close-up
    Eric Audras / Getty Images

    For all repairs that involve removing the machine from its location, follow these procedures:

    1. Turn off the circuit breaker at the service panel.
    2. Under the kitchen sink, shut off the water supply line. Disconnect the dishwasher drain and supply lines. Disconnect the power cord.
    3. Open the door. Unscrew the machine where it is attached to its metal frame.
    4. Open the door slightly to gain a hand-hold on the machine. Hold both sides of the door. Gently wiggle the machine side to side while pulling towards you.
    5. Do not open the door with the machine out of its bay as it can tip forward and injure you. Push halfway into the bay to prevent the machine from tipping.