If there’s one “most wished for” major appliance – it’s a dishwasher. While every home has a fridge and a stove, not all of us are lucky enough to own a dishwasher!
For those that do have one, though, we know they’re not always perfect. Strange smells, strange noises, strange residue left on glasses… dishwashers can sometimes cause more trouble than they’re worth.
Don’t worry, though. In this guide we’ll walk you through all the simple steps to give your dishwasher a quick health-checkup. This simple checkup will take you less than an hour, and in return you will:
- Get your dishwasher working better (cleaner dishes)
- Extend the working life of your dishwasher (by up to 3 years!)
- Lower your monthly energy bills
- Reduce the chance of a breakdown and repair
Just a little bit of elbow grease can save you up to $550 on running costs and repair bills.
While this may sound like a lot – none of the steps to do this are complicated! I’ve got 7 years of experience in major appliance maintenance and everything below is super simple. If anything might get tricky or need a pro, I’ll let you know.
If that sounds good, then let’s dive in.
Gather Your Gear
Just like a chef needs their mise en place, any good DIY job starts with gathering the tools we need.
The most important tool here is your dishwasher’s manual. No idea where yours is? Don’t worry! Appliance manuals go missing easier than cookies in a jar. Thankfully, everything’s online these days.
To find your dishwasher’s manual, just do a google search for:
–> “[Brand] Dishwasher [Model #] Manual PDF”
Just replace [Brand] with the dishwasher’s brand and [Model #] with the model #. Not sure what yours is? You should be able to find the model number printed on a label inside your dishwasher. If not there, then check the back of the appliance, or behind a panel that’s easy to pop out.
When it comes to equipment, you’ll just need some basic cleaning cloths and a positive attitude!
All set? Then let’s dive in.
Dishwasher Health Check – The Essentials.
Taking care of your dishwasher regularly can extend your dishwasher’s lifespan, help you save money, keep your dishes sparkling clean, and prevent bad odors.
Let’s start with the most essential tips – these are the ones that are easiest to do but make a real impact.
#1 Use Economic Cycle Modes
Most modern dishwashers offer an Eco mode that saves energy by lowering the water temperature during the washing cycle.
Bear in mind that the eco mode setting can take longer than other cycles because it needs to get the same level of performance while using lower water temperatures.
Eco mode uses about 523 kWh less per year than regular cycles. Using this mode can help you save more than $80 USD!*
*Based on the average residential electricity rate in the U.S. of 2023 ($0.16 USD per kWh). These values may vary depending on your dishwasher’s model.
I know you might be thinking “If I do this, my dishes aren’t going to get cleaned properly!”. Don’t worry – a manufacturer wouldn’t introduce something that stops the appliance from functioning properly. It just sacrifices a bit of time and temperature to reduce a LOT of demand on the dishwasher.
#2 Ensure the Drain Has a Protector
All dishwashers have rotating arms that spray water around the appliance to break down any grease or dirt from your dishes.
Then, the dirty water and food debris go into the drain. But what keeps it from getting clogged?
A cylindrical filter.
All dishwashers have a filter that is responsible for trapping small particles of food and other debris.
If your dishwasher’s filter is not in place, your drain will get clogged and your appliance will make gurgling sounds, it may smell bad, and won’t work correctly.
To avoid these issues, you’ll need to make sure the filter is in place before turning on your dishwasher.
To access the filter, you’ll just need to remove the bottom rack. The filter is located beneath the sprayer arm or in the back corner of the dishwasher, and it’s usually shaped like a cylinder.
Make sure the filter is sitting in place without any bumps or ridges where food could get into the drain.
#3 Keep the Filter Clean
While we’re at the filter, it’s worth checking if it’s clean.
A clogged filter is the one of the most common issues with a dishwasher. It means that food can’t get flow out of the dishwasher during a cycle, which means the dishwasher can’t clean everything properly. Weird smells and gritty glasses are typical symptoms of a clogged dishwasher filter.
Thankfully, this is also one of the easiest issues to fix!
If you use your dishwasher often, it’s worth cleaning the filter every couple of months.
Don’t worry, it only takes 2 minutes. Here’s how to do it:
- Pull out the bottom rack of your dishwasher to locate the filter.
- Remove the cylindrical filter by turning it counterclockwise and pulling it up gently. You should also remove the second flat filter (if your dishwasher has one).
- Prepare the cleaning solution. I recommend filling a large bowl with hot water and a few drops of dish soap.
- Place the filter in the soapy water and wait for a couple of minutes.
- Use a soft brush (or an old toothbrush) to scrub the inside and outside of the cylindrical and flat filters.
- Rinse the filters with warm water.
- Check the filter housing to make sure there’s no food debris. If there is, please clean it with a wet sponge or dishcloth.
- Put the filters back in place.
When you’re cleaning the filter, give it a check over. If you notice that it is damaged or broken, you should replace it to avoid clogging the drain.
#4 Check the Rinse Aid Dispenser Regularly
Rinse aid contains some chemicals called “surfactants”, which reduce the tension of the water and avoid spots.
It is dispensed during the final part of the cycle to help remove water from your dishes.
It’s worth checking the rinse aid dispenser regularly. If it’s empty, your dishwasher may not dry your dishes.
You can check your manual to find the rinse aid dispenser, but it’s usually located right next to the detergent dispenser. (At this point, I’m sure some readers might be thinking “oh THAT’S what that is!”)
Please remove the cap from the rinse aid dispenser and if it’s empty, use a turkey baster to remove any residue left, and rinse with water.
After cleaning the dispenser, please pour the rinse aid until it reaches the max line.
Dishwasher Health Check – Good Habits
With the essentials covered, let’s touch on a few gamechanging habits when it comes to dishwashers.
Isn’t it strange that these appliances are in so many homes – but no-one ever shows you how to use one properly? Well let’s change that. If you follow these simple habits you’ll quickly lower your electricity bills, help your dishwasher clean better, and add years onto it’s working life!
#1 Don’t Overload or Under-Load
If you’re tempted to squeeze all your dishes into one load to save time, you might want to keep reading.
By overloading your dishwasher, you’ll keep it from cleaning your dishes thoroughly and you may damage your appliance.
An overloaded dishwasher can make popping or crackling noises, leak, or get clogged easily.
Under-loading your dishwasher isn’t good, either. It’s a huge waste of water and energy. Moreover, the water pressure can throw the dishes off the racks and damage the unit.
Just like Goldilocks, we want to load our dishwasher juuuust right.
A good dishwasher load has mostly spots covered without any dishes or glasses touching each other.
It’s also the best to face your dishes toward the center and angle them downward.
#2 Don’t Place Plastic Containers on the Bottom Rack
All dishwashers have a heating element that is responsible for heating the water to get heavy dirt and bacteria off your dishes. It also plays a crucial role in the dry cycle.
The heating element is placed at the bottom of your dishwasher. This is why you should never place plastic containers (even if they’re labeled as dishwasher safe) on the bottom rack. Otherwise, they’ll melt.
This can cause all sorts of weird issues – particularly strange-smelling dishes and glasses.
If you’re going to put plastic containers in the dishwasher, make sure they’re placed on the top rack.
#3 Make Sure the Spray Arms Are Not Blocked
As mentioned before, the spray arms are responsible for distributing water around your dishwasher to effectively clean and rinse your dishes.
Unfortunately, they’re one of the easiest parts to disrupt. If the spray arms are blocked by any dishes or cutlery, they won’t be able to freely spin.
Once you’re done loading the dishwasher, give the spray arm a quick spin to make sure nothing’s blocking it from doing its job.
It’s also worth checking to make sure the arm isn’t clogged by any food debris – which can quickly affect how it works. It’ll be like trying to pour yourself a glass of water while you’ve got your finger on the fuacet. The water’s gonna go shoot out in all sorts of directions!
If the arms are covered in gunks, here’s how to clean them:
- Remove the lower basket, twist the lower spray arm, and pull it out gently.
- Remove the upper basket to access the upper spray arm.
- If the spray arm has screws, please remove them. Then, detach the spray arm.
- Use a toothpick to remove any debris and unclog the holes.
- Rinse the spray arms with warm water and dry them with a microfiber cloth.
- Put the upper and lower spray arm back into place.
#4 Use the Right Amount of Detergent
It’s common to think that using more detergent will clean your dishes better. In reality, though? It’s quite the opposite!
Using too much detergent can leave a residue on your dishes or create too many suds. It can also affect your dishwasher’s performance.
Using too little detergent isn’t good either, since your dishes won’t be properly cleaned.
If you use pods or tablets, you should only add one per load. But if you use a gel or liquid detergent, try adding between 2 teaspoons and 3 tablespoons.
Bear in mind that the amount of detergent needed can vary depending on the amount of dirt, load, and dishwasher brand. You can add a little more on a long cycle setting, but be conservative if using shorter cycles.
#5 Make Sure You’ve Selected the Right Cycle
When you select a cleaning cycle, a corresponding amount of water is pumped to the basin at the bottom of your dishwasher. Then the heating element heats the water to the correct temperature for your selected cycle.
At the same time, water is mixed with detergent and sprayed by the rotating arms, hitting the dirty dishes.
Then, the dirty water drips back into the basin below, where it’s filtered. After that, fresh water is added and heated again to rinse the dishes. Then, this water is drained, and the dishes get dried.
The cycle you select governs how much water is used, and the temperature it’s heated to.
Making sure you select the right cycle is essential for getting sparkling clean dishes, but also making sure you’re raking up a large energy bill and overworking your unit.
The best guide for this is in your dishwasher’s manual. Since each brand and model has their own cycles, they all generally include a table showing which cycles are best for what scenarios.
#6 Run Your Dishwasher at Night
If you tend to run your dishwasher right after lunch or dinner, you might want to think twice!
Most energy companies charge higher rates for energy used during peak hours. So, if you want to save a few extra bucks, try running your dishwasher at night.
Doing this can help you save up to 50% on your energy bill!*
*This may vary depending on your location, energy company, and tariff. Check your energy tariff to see if you enjoy cheaper night-time rates.
This can often be done just by setting your dishwasher on a delay timer. Set it to start once the off-peak hourly rate starts (or in the morning before it ends). I wouldn’t go for running it in the middle of the night, just in case it causes any noise that wakes you up.
#7 Open the Door at the End of the Washing Cycle
Stay with me – we’re getting there! This one’s an easy one.
Once your dishwasher’s finished, it’s important to swing open that door to release all the humid air.
Even if you’re not going to empty the dishwasher it’s still a great idea to open the door as soon as you can.
Mold can easily thrive in warm, and moist environments. Unfortunately, dishwashers check all of these boxes.
As you may already know, mold can cause bad odors, and a bad case can even result in needing to repair your appliance.
For a bonus point, throw open a door or window to help encourage the air to ventilate out of the dishwasher.
#8 Unload the Bottom Dishes First
When unloading your dishwasher, you should always start with the bottom rack.
You see, sometimes water can collect underneath coffee mugs or other dishes on the top rack. So, if you unload this rack first, water may spill onto the dry dishes on the bottom rack.
Avoid having to dry your dishes again by unloading the bottom rack first.
Dishwasher Health Check – Regular Maintenance
Let’s dive into the real DIY part of this guide! These final two parts will take around 30 minutes, but they can really help in preventing long-term issues.
#1 Check the Door Seal
Your dishwasher’s door gasket is responsible for sealing the gap between the dishwasher tub and the doors.
Unfortunately, if the door seal becomes damaged, dirty, or broken, you may experience water leaks. This can quickly escalate to needing a professional repair.
To avoid this from happening, take a look at the seals around your dishwasher door. Are the dirty, or moldy?
If so, we just need to give them a quick clean. Here’s how to do it:
- Fill a large bowl with hot water and dish soap.
- Soak a microfiber cloth or an old toothbrush in the soapy water.
- Wipe down the gasket.
- If there are any stubborn stains, I recommend using baking soda.
- Use paper towels to dry the door seal and keep mold from growing.
If you notice that the door seal is damaged, please replace it with a new one.
#2 Deep Clean Your Dishwasher
Food residues can clog your dishwasher’s components and affect its performance.
Even though your dishwasher itself does clean things, it sometimes needs a bit of help. It can’t perfectly clear out every corner!
Deep cleaning your dishwasher once or twice a year will make sure it stays clean, clog-free, and giving the best level of cleaning to your dishes.
Follow these simple instructions to deep clean your dishwasher:
- Remove any dishes. Your dishwasher should be empty.
- Fill a dishwasher-safe bowl with one cup of white vinegar and place it on the top rack.
- Run the hottest cycle on the dishwasher. Hot water can dissolve more dirt than cold water.
- Add a cup of baking soda to the bottom rack and run a short cycle.
- Soak a microfiber cloth in a bowl with warm water and vinegar. Then, wipe down the surface.
- Don’t forget to clean the spray arms and filter.
- Once you’ve finished cleaning your dishwasher, remember to leave the door open to prevent mold.
Tip: Avoid using harsh chemicals, since these can end up on the dishes of your family and can have a negative impact on the environment. Vinegar and baking soda are cheap and great natural cleaners.
You’ve Done It!
You made it! If you followed along with this guide, you may have just saved yourself $550, or even more.
Dishwashers are complex appliances, but I hope you’ve found this guide quite simple.
By following this guide, you’ve made sure:
- Your dishwasher is able to work correctly
- You’re not loading it wrong, or blocking any components
- You’re using the right cycle and settings
- The dishwasher’s parts and filter are clear of grime and debris
- The dishwasher door is clean and sealing correctly.
With your effort today I’m positive you’ve just made a great reduction in your energy bills, and added YEARS of good working life to your dishwasher – delaying the need to buy a whole new one anytime soon.
If you found this guide helpful, make sure to check out the rest of our appliance challenge. In total our guides can save you over $1,000 a year by just following simple walkthroughs like this one!
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