Dishwasher Not Cleaning The Top Rack? This Might Be Why

A man putting a plate inside of the dishwasher

Stuck trying to figure out why your dishwasher is not cleaning the top rack?

You wouldn’t believe how many people are in the same situation as you. I know how annoying it can be to have this happen, especially when you’ve paid a hefty amount of money for your dishwasher.

If your dishwasher is not cleaning the top rack, there’s a good chance you have low water pressure, the sprayer arm is broken or clogged, the actuator isn’t working properly, or your dishwasher is dirty.

Don’t worry, though. Keep reading to learn how to solve these issues today!

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.

Why Your Dishwasher Isn’t Cleaning The Top Rack

There are different reasons why your dishwasher isn’t cleaning the top rack, the most common ones are:

#1 Low Water Pressure

In order for water to be forced up through the top sprayer arm as well as the bottom sprayer arm, there has to be adequate water pressure.

Water won’t be able to be sprayed and detergent is not going to be distributed if you have low water pressure.

The water coming out of the top sprayer arm is also going to be far less powerful than it needs to be, and it is likely not going to wash the dishes that are on the top rack.

There are different elements that could be causing low water pressure, these are:

  1. You have too many appliances that are all using water at the same time: A great way to think about it is when you flush the toilet when the shower is running. Doing this can make the water pressure of the shower go down for a moment or two. You can easily fix this issue by avoiding using multiple appliances that need water at the same time.
  2. Water pressure can also be affected by a kink in the dishwasher hose, a filet that is overly full and needs to be cleaned, and even an issue with your water line: The best way to fix this problem is to first do a test by running only the dishwasher and seeing if it works properly and cleans properly. If it does, this means your water pressure is off because you have too many things going at once. If it is still not working properly, try pulling your dishwasher out and checking the hose to make sure that it is free of kinks and other issues.
  3. Plumbing issues: If you have clogged pipes or a partially closed water supply valve, the water flow will be restricted.

#2 Spray Arm is Clogged

A clogged spray arm could also explain why your dishwasher is not cleaning the top rack.

You see, this can happen in areas where hard water is common or where there are excess minerals in the water. Additionally, the spray arm can also get clogged with detergent, food, and other particulates that might be in the water.

To check and see if your spray arm is clogged, you’ll need to remove it and clean it thoroughly with warm soapy water.

If there’s a lot of buildup, try soaking the spray arm overnight in a solution of vinegar. This natural cleaner works its magic by breaking up stubborn residues, making it much easier to clean.

Check if your dishwasher's sprayer arm is clogged
If the sprayer arm is working properly, it should have enough pressure to remove food debris from the dishes.

Note: When loading your dishwasher, make sure there’s nothing blocking the spray arms. Face your dishes toward the center and place large items at the back.

#3 Sprayer Arm Seal is Broken

If you noticed that your spray arm is damaged or broken while cleaning it, please keep reading.

The spray arm is made of two parts that are sealed together to force water up to clean the dishes. If the seal is broken, the water is going to leak out around the seal instead of being forced up to wash the top rack dishes.

You can remedy this issue by replacing the seal or the upper sprayer arm. Replacing this component is very simple and affordable, as it costs around $15 to $30.

#4 Your Dishwasher is Dirty

As you may have noticed, debris and mineral deposits can accumulate in different parts of your dishwasher, which can affect its cleaning performance.

While you’ve already taken care of the spray arms, don’t forget to give the dishwasher itself a good cleaning as well.

You can use tablet cleaners to help break down any build-up that might be causing issues. It’s also helpful to sanitize your dishwasher at least every six months.

To clean your filter, you’ll need to remove it by twisting it counterclockwise. Then, lift it out of the dishwasher. Please refer to the manufacturer’s manual for detailed instructions.

Try using warm soapy water to clean it. Since filters are typically made of a sturdy metal mesh, you can also use a wire or hard nylon brush during the cleaning process.

#5 Your Actuator Isn’t Working Properly

Yes, that is a real word! Let me explain.

Most dishwashers nowadays do not operate the low and up spray arms at the same time because they’re built to be efficient.

Instead, they have a component called an actuator that allows water flow to either the lower or upper spray arm at one time. It’s also the reason cycles take so long nowadays.

This means that if your top rack isn’t getting cleaned, the actuator may be defective. It might not be routing water to the upper rack when it’s time to do so.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to access the actuator and fix the issue. That’s why, if you suspect that your actuator is the culprit, it’s recommended to call a professional.


That about covers it! I hope that this article has helped give you some more confidence in solving the issue.

If your dishwasher is not cleaning the top rack, remember to check your water pressure, the spray arms, and actuator. And don’t forget to clean your dishwasher at least once a month to avoid this situation from happening again.

Thank you so much for reading this article, if you found it helpful, please check our other related content below.

Good luck!

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