Countertop Dishwasher Not Cleaning Properly? Read This


Is your countertop dishwasher not cleaning properly?

You’re not alone! I know how annoying it can be when your dishwasher stops working.

Luckily, you’ve come to the right place.

If your countertop dishwasher is not cleaning properly, there’s a good chance there are too many dishes inside, the filter and spray arm need to be cleaned, or you haven’t used the right amount of rinse aid. Using the wrong wash temperature can also explain the problem.

Keep reading to forget all about the issue!

Why trust us? This article was written by Craig Anderson and James Blackford.

Craig has helped thousands of other homeowners repair their appliances since 2016. James is one of our resident appliance experts with over 16 years of experience. He currently works as a Master Technician for SquareTrade, and runs his own appliance repair business.

7 Reasons Why Your Countertop Dishwasher Isn’t Cleaning Properly

In my experience as an appliance repair expert, having a dishwasher that is not cleaning the dishes is one of the most common issues people encounter.

Luckily, there are seven simple solutions you can try. These are:

#1 There Are Too Many Dishes Inside

If your countertop dishwasher is not cleaning properly, you’ll need to make sure it isn’t overloaded with dishes.

You see, some countertop dishwashers only have one cleaning arm. This means that the water and soap spout out of only one place in the dishwasher.

So, if there are too many dishes in your countertop dishwasher, the soap and water will not be able to reach all of them.

In my experience, this is the best way to load a dishwasher:

  • Place your dishes facing toward the center and avoid blocking the soap dispenser or spray arms with large pans or bowls. I recommend placing large items at the back.
  • Ensure that you do not stack the dishes on top of one another.
  • Keep gaps between the plates and only clean what your dishwasher can comfortably hold.
  • If your dishes are particularly dirty, please scrape them.
Small dishwasher overloaded
Do not overfill your dishwasher to ensure optimal cleaning results.

#2 The Filter Needs Cleaning

If your countertop dishwasher is still not getting your dishes clean, then you’ll need to clean the filter.

The filter is responsible for trapping food debris during the washing cycle, which is why it can become easily clogged with particles, affecting your dishwasher’s cleaning performance.

I recommend cleaning your filter at least once a month.

Follow these quick instructions to clean your dishwasher’s filter:

  1. Turn the dishwasher off and remove the dishwasher tray.
  2. Unscrew the filter and remove it from the dishwasher.
  3. Rinse the filter under warm soapy water. I also recommend using vinegar and a wire or hard nylon brush to remove stubborn food debris.
  4. Screw the filter back into place and return the dishwasher tray to its place.
  5. Turn the dishwasher back on.

Bear in mind that the process of cleaning your dishwasher’s filter will vary depending on the specific model you own.

#3 The Spray Arm Needs Cleaning

In my experience, when a countertop dishwasher is not cleaning properly, it’s likely because the spray arms are clogged with food particles.

You see, the spray arms are responsible for distributing water throughout your dishwasher to clean your dishes. So, if they become clogged, the food particles will be sprayed onto your dishes during the washing cycle.

How to clean dishwasher sprayer arm
If your countertop dishwasher is not getting your dishes clean, you need to clean the spray arms.

I recommend cleaning your spray arms at least once a month. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Turn the dishwasher off and remove the dishwasher tray.
  2. Use a pointed object such as a cocktail stick to loosen and fish out food debris stuck in the spray arm jets. You can also use warm soapy water.
  3. Return the dishwasher tray to its place.
  4. Turn the dishwasher back on.

If there’s a significant buildup in the spray arm holes, it can be challenging to clean. In my experience, soaking the spray arm overnight in a vinegar solution can help break up the buildup.

If cleaning the spray arm doesn’t solve the issue, I recommend replacing it. Fortunately, spray arms are available at a cost ranging from $15 to $30.

If you want to get any replacement part – or see how much one would cost – click to enter your model number in the search bar below. Our partners at AppliancePartsPros stock almost every part with free guides on how to install them.

While you’re at it, I recommend cleaning your dishwasher with a cleaning tablet or vinegar to get sparkling clean dishes and prevent unpleasant odors.

Click here to learn other maintenance tips to make the most out of your countertop dishwasher!

#4 You Haven’t Used the Right Amount of Rinse Aid

If you’ve tried the fixes above, but your countertop dishwasher is still not cleaning your dishes properly, I recommend checking the rinse aid dispenser.

opening rinse aid compartment
Use a rinse aid to make sure your countertop dishwasher cleans and dries your dishes.

Follow these simple instructions to learn how to fill your tabletop dishwasher with rinse aid:

  1. Remove the dishwasher tray and open the rinse aid reservoir by turning the cap.
  2. Add the rinse aid as your countertop dishwasher indicates.
  3. Wipe up any spills.
  4. Tighten the cap on the reservoir and return the dishwasher tray to its place.

Adding rinse aid is a delicate balance. It is all too easy to use too much or too little. In my experience, going in either direction can result in dirty dishes.

The following table shows the troubles you might run into if you use too much or too little rinse aid:

Problem Cause Solution
There is smearing on the dishes.You have used too much rinse aid.Remove some of the rinse aid or adjust the dial to a lower setting.
There is a white residue, clouding, or a greasy film on the dishes.You have not used enough rinse aid.Add more rinse aid to the reservoir or adjust the dial to a higher setting. If this doesn’t help, change to a different brand of rinse aid then try again.
The rinse aid is not being used up.You have used the wrong type of rinse aid. Some countertop dishwashers only accept liquid rinse aid.Check the type of rinse aid suitable for your tabletop dishwasher.

#5 You Haven’t Set the Right Wash Temperature

If you’re still struggling with a dishwasher that is not getting your dishes clean, then it’s likely that you’re not using the correct temperature (120 ºF).

In my experience, the higher the temperature, the better the cleaning and drying results. So, please increase the wash temperature.

If you’re struggling with tough stains, I also recommend wiping them away with a napkin before putting your dishes in the dishwasher.

rinsing dishes
Rinse the stains off of your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher.

If you’ve tried all the tips above, but your countertop dishwasher is still not cleaning, there’s a good chance your heating element is not getting the water hot enough.

You need to use a multimeter and monitor the amp draw to test the heating element. If the reading doesn’t fall within the range of 6 to 12 amps (or the recommended by the manufacturer), I recommend replacing the heating element.

If you want to get any replacement part – or see how much one would cost – click to enter your model number in the search bar below. Our partners at AppliancePartsPros stock almost every part with free guides on how to install them.

If you’re not comfortable with testing the heating element yourself, please call a professional.

#6 The Soap Dispenser Isn’t Opening At All

I also recommend checking the soap dispenser if your countertop dishwasher is not cleaning your dishes properly.

You see, there’s a good chance it is not opening and releasing the pod.

To check your soap dispenser, you’ll simply need to remove the inner or outer door panel (this can vary depending on your unit’s model).

A diagram of where a dishwasher's dispenser is located
Check and see if the dispenser is working properly

Then, carefully inspect the area for any signs of damage or obstructions.

#7 Water Flow Issues

If your countertop dishwasher is not cleaning properly, and you notice that the soap pods are not fully dissolved when you open the door, you likely have a water flow issue.

There are two potential causes for this problem. First, the water from the lower spray arm may not be reaching the soap pod effectively, keeping it from dissolving. Alternatively, you may not be getting enough water overall. 

To determine if it’s a water flow issue, start your dishwasher, and while it’s in the washing cycle, open the door and check the water flow. If it seems low, you can take a pitcher of water and add it to the dishwasher and close the door before restarting it. If the detergent pod dissolves properly with the additional water, it typically indicates a lack of water as the main issue.

But, if adding water doesn’t dissolve the pod, it suggests a water flow problem caused by a worn-out motor. In such cases, you need to call a professional.

Keep in mind that a motor replacement can be costly, ranging anywhere from $250 to $550. If your dishwasher is old, it’s best to replace it.

Is Your Countertop Dishwasher Still Not Cleaning the Dishes?

Ok, so you’ve been through every step in this article but your countertop dishwasher is still not getting your dishes clean. If you feel like you’ve lucked out with your dishwasher, I recommend trying the following.

  • Search our site for what other symptoms your dishwasher has (is it beeping, making strange noises, or not turning on?). If you can’t find your issue, please let us know via our contact page, and we’ll be in touch to help!
  • Check that your dishwasher is still under warranty. If it is, you should be able to get a technician to come and look at it or replace it for no additional charge.
  • If your dishwasher is no longer under warranty, call a professional. If you have gone through all the steps in this article but have not had any joy, you should call for outside help. A professional should be able to locate the problem and point you in the right direction.


That about covers it! Hopefully, you’ll be able to solve the issue that was keeping your countertop dishwasher from cleaning properly.

Remember to load your dishwasher properly, clean your filter and spray arms, use a rinse aid, and set the correct wash temperature.

Don’t forget to inspect the soap dispenser and check for water flow issues to ensure you get sparkling clean dishes every time!

Has this article been useful to you? Then why not check out some of our other articles and free guides? You could even sign up to our email list.

Have a great day!


I've been helping homeowners with appliance repair since 2016. Starting out as an enthusiastic amateur, I've since worked with many Appliance, HVAC, and DIY experts over the last 7+ years. My mission is to help fix your appliances and prevent future issues - saving you stress, time, and money. Visit my author page to learn more! Read more