How to Repair Your Dishwasher

Repairing Dishwasher
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Project Overview
  • Working Time: 5 mins - 1 hr, 30 mins
  • Total Time: 5 mins - 1 hr, 30 mins
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $0 to $70

It faithfully does its job, every single day of the year. Maybe it even runs twice a day. You barely pay it any mind, other than to load it with a pod or powder and to push a couple of buttons. This is your dishwasher, of course, and it's one of the hardest working appliances that you have in your home. Because it gets so much use, it's not a matter of if it will break down, but when.

When that day comes, before you call an appliance technician, 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.

Basics of How a Dishwasher Works

Before diving into repairing your dishwasher, it helps to understand how it works.

Your dishwasher heats water as high as 140 degrees Fahrenheit 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 the 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 skills to fix problems.

Safety Considerations

For all repairs that involve removing the machine from its location, follow these procedures. Dishwashers are top-heavy, so there is the danger of them falling forward after they have been removed from the bay.

  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 or to the underside of the countertop.
  4. Open the door slightly to gain a hand-hold on the machine. Hold both sides of the machine. Gently wiggle the machine side to side while pulling it toward you.
  5. Do not open the door with the machine out of its bay as it can tip forward and injure you. If you need to open the door, push the machine halfway into the bay to prevent it from tipping.

Make sure that the electrical cord is fully unplugged from the outlet and that all hoses are disconnected before working on the dishwasher. When the dishwasher door is open, do not lean on it for support.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Screwdrivers
  • Hair dryer
  • Mild soap and water
  • Sponge
  • Household vinegar
  • Teflon tape
  • Channel-lock pliers
  • Set of wrenches
  • Hex-nut driver

Materials

The parts and tools you need will depend upon what you find when troubleshooting.

  • New float
  • New overfill float switch
  • New tub gasket
  • New inlet valve
  • New heating element

Instructions

How to Fix an Overflowing Dishwasher

Located in the dishwasher basin, the float assembly is a saucer-shaped device that floats up 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 the switch is not working, the water will keep rising until it overflows.

  1. Fix the Float

    Raise and lower the float a few times by hand 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.

  2. Check the Overfill Float Switch

    The float switch is a small relay switch that 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.

  3. Replace the Overfill Float Switch


    After performing shut-down procedures, locate the switch. Unsnap the old switch, which should be very easy, and snap the new switch into the proper place.

    Tip

    Access points to the float switch vary between models, so 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.

How to Fix a Leaking Dishwasher Door

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.

  1. Check for 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 preventing the door from firmly closing. Water may leak out as a result. Load large items far back, clear of the door. 

  2. Remove and Clean the Door Seal

    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.

    Press the seal back into the channel. Do a test run of the dishwasher. If the leak is still present, it's time to replace the seal.

  3. Replace the 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.

    Press the seal into the channel, starting at the top and working down to the left and right sides. Double-check on the seal before closing the door. Cycle on the dishwasher for a test run while watching for leaks.

How to Fix a Dishwasher That Will Not Drain

When the dishwasher does not drain or drains slowly, your machine probably has a blockage that you can clear by hand.

  1. Check the Sink and Drain Tube

    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.

    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.

  2. Inspect and Clean 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 it is designed to block larger particles. Clear the filter by pulling the particles out (do not force them into the filter).

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

  3. 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 the tube 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.

How to Fix a Dishwasher That Isn't Cleaning Well

It can be frustrating to run your dishwasher on a full cycle, only to discover dried, caked-on food after the drying cycle. Does your dishwasher need to be replaced? Maybe not. For machines that aren't cleaning dishes well, follow this procedure that helps you clean and unclog the vital spray arms.

  1. Clean the Spray Arms

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

  2. Replace the Inlet Valve

    Remove the toe kick access panel. Remove the water line that attaches to the inlet valve. With 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 inlet valve fitting, taking care to first wind Teflon tape on the threads. Reattach the assembly and the toe kick.

How to Fix a Dishwasher That Won't Dry Dishes

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 simple to replace.

  1. Disconnect the Heating Element

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

    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).

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

  2. 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.

  3. Replace the Heating Element

    Replacement of the dishwasher heating element works in reverse. Seat it gently in the proper space, and go to the back of the dishwasher. Tighten the retaining nuts, then connect the wires. Be sure to carefully tighten the retainer nuts to avoid cracking them.

Young woman on phone with overflowing dishwasher
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Dishwasher Door Leaking

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Midsection of man working in kitchen with woman using mobile phone at home
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Spoons and plates in utensil drainer
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Teenage boy removing plates from dishwasher in kitchen
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Woman filling dishwasher, close-up
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