Countertop Dishwasher Not Cleaning Properly? Read This


Is your dishwasher not cleaning properly?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone! In fact, thousands of people struggle with this issue every day.

The good news is that if you have a spare 15 minutes and aren’t afraid to roll up your sleeves, then you’ve come to the right place to get it fixed.

If your 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 could also explain the problem.

Keep reading to forget all about the issue!

Why trust us? This article was written in collaboration with James Blackford, our appliance repair expert. James has over 16 years of experience as an appliance technician, works as a Master Technician for SquareTrade, and runs his own appliance repair company.

7 Reasons Why Your Countertop Dishwasher Isn’t Cleaning Properly

Your countertop dishwasher has just finished a load. But when you pull the tray out you see that only a few dishes look clean. The majority look like the water didn’t even touch them. And a handful look even dirtier than they were before they went in. What’s worse, this is the second time you’ve put them on to wash.

Before you put the dishwasher in storage and go back to washing by hand there’s something you can do. Coming up, you’ll see 7 ways of fixing a countertop dishwasher that won’t clean properly.

#1 There Are Too Many Dishes Inside

Countertop dishwashers usually only have 1 cleaning arm. This means that the water and soap spout out of only one place in the dishwasher.

If there are too many dishes in the dishwasher, the soap and water may not be able to reach all of them.

So how should you stack your dishwasher? Here are a couple of tips that will make sure your dishes are as clean as a whistle every time.

  • Try placing your dishes facing toward the center and avoid blocking the soap dispenser or spray arms with large pans or bowls. It’s best to place large items at the back.
  • Make sure that you do not stack the dishes on top of one another
  • Keep gaps between the plates and only clean what the dishwasher can comfortably hold
  • If your dishes are particularly dirty, scrape them. You could also give them a quick rinse to help them wash better.
Small dishwasher overloaded
Do not overfill the dishwasher

#2 The Filter Needs Cleaning

If your dishes keep coming out with bits of food on them, there’s a good chance the dishwasher’s filter needs cleaning.

Follow these quick instructions to do it:

  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 cold water. If necessary, remove any stubborn debris from it using a wire or hard nylon brush.
  4. Screw the filter back into place and return the dishwasher tray to its place.
  5. Turn the dishwasher back on.
cleaning filter
Run the dishwasher filter under hot water to clean it

#3 The Spray Arm Needs Cleaning

Another reason why your dishwasher isn’t cleaning properly could be to do with the spray arm. If the spray arm’s jets are clogged with food particles, these will launch onto the dishes during a cycle.

So, let’s get fixing this problem. Here are all the instructions you will need.

  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.
  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 that doesn’t solve the issue, you might want to replace the spray arm. Fortunately, spray arms are available at a cost ranging from $15 to $30.

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

If you see smearing, a cloudy residue, or a greasy film on your dishes after they have finished washing, you need to check how much rinse aid is in your dishwasher.

Certain problems indicate that there is too much rinse aid in your dishwasher, as too much would make the dishes dirty. Others indicate that there is too little rinse aid in the dishwasher, as it ensures that the water does not leave marks on the dishes while they dry.

opening rinse aid compartment
Use the right amount of rinse aid

Before we get into all that, let’s run through how to fill your tabletop dishwasher with rinse aid. Here’s what you should do.

  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. Going in either direction can have disastrous results on your cookware.

The following information will help you decide what you should do and how much to use.

Problem Cause Solution
There is smearing on the dishesYou have used too much rinse aidRemove 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 dishesYou have not used enough rinse aidAdd 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 upYou 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

Does your countertop dishwasher clean most of your dishes, but struggle with stains? Here are a couple of tips that should help you if your dishwasher struggles to remove stains.

  • Increase the wash temperature. Cool washes may be more economic. But, if you are washing plates with stains, they may only come out when washed in higher temperatures.
  • Pre-rinse your mugs and teaspoons. You might need to rinse your dishes before you put them to wash.
  • Remove stains with a napkin. Wipe away lipstick stains from your mugs before washing them. Then put them on your regular wash cycle.
rinsing dishes
Rinse the stains off of your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher

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

You see, if the heating element in your dishwasher is not working, the water won’t get hot enough to effectively clean and dry your dishes. To check the heating element, you need to use a multimeter and monitor the amp draw. If the reading doesn’t fall within the range of 6 to 12 amps (or the recommended by the manufacturer), it might be necessary to replace the heating element.

If you’re not comfortable with testing the heating element yourself, it’s best to call a professional for help.

#6 The Soap Dispenser Isn’t Opening At All

If your dishwasher is not cleaning your dishes, chances are the soap dispenser isn’t opening.

Luckily, solving this issue is very simple.

To check your soap dispenser, you’ll simply need to remove the inner or outer door panel (this may vary depending on your unit’s model). Then, carefully inspect the area for any signs of damage or obstructions.

#7 Water Flow Issues

If your dishwasher is not cleaning properly, and you notice that the soap pods are not fully dissolved when you open the door, it can indicate 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. Unfortunately, to solve this issue, you may 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 might be best to replace it.

Still Stuck?

Ok, so you’ve been through every step in this article but still cannot get your dishes clean. If you feel like you’ve lucked out with your countertop dishwasher, try the following.

  • Try searching 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 the 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 the 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.


A countertop dishwasher that doesn’t wash your dishes clean is wasting time and energy – and not just the dishwashers! That’s why I am sure the 7 tips in this article have helped you to see what to do so it washes clean. And if necessary, it has no doubt indicated the right time to call for outside help.

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Have a great day!


Hi there! I’m Craig, and I’m the founder of Appliance Analysts. When it comes to appliances and anything electrical, I’ve always loved opening things up, figuring out how they work, and fixing them. This website is where I share free advice from myself and our experts to help our readers solve their appliance/HVAC problems and save money. Read more