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’re not alone! I know how annoying it can be to have upper rack dishwasher issues, especially when you have a pile of dirty dishes waiting for you.

Luckily, you’ve come to the right place for answers.

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.

Read on to get your dishes sparkling clean!

Why trust us? This article was written by Craig Anderson and James Blackford. Craig has helped thousands of other homeowners repair their appliances for over 6 years. James is one of our resident appliance experts, with over 16 years of experience as an appliance technician, he currently works as a Master Technician for SquareTrade, and runs his own appliance repair company.

In-case you prefer to listen, here’s a clip from our podcast where we discuss why your dishwasher isn’t cleaning properly.

Why Your Dishwasher Isn’t Cleaning The Top Rack

You wouldn’t believe how many people I’ve seen complain about their dishwashers not cleaning the dishes on the upper rack.

Different reasons could explain the problem. The most common ones are:

#1 Low Water Pressure

In my experience, if your dishwasher is not cleaning the items in the top rack, you likely have low water pressure.

Low water pressure can limit the force with which water and detergent reach the top and bottom sprayer arms, affecting its effectiveness in cleaning.

Different elements 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 decrease the shower’s water pressure for a moment or two. Avoid using multiple appliances that need water at the same time to increase water pressure in your dishwasher.
  2. Your dishwasher’s hose is kinked: I recommend pulling your dishwasher out and checking the hose to ensure it is free of kinks. If it’s damaged, please replace it.
  3. Plumbing issues: If you have clogged pipes or a partially closed water supply valve, the water flow will be restricted, and your dishwasher will not clean the dishes in the top rack properly.

#2 Spray Arms Are Clogged

If your dishwasher’s top rack is still not cleaning, there’s a good chance the spray arms are clogged with food debris or other particles.

This problem is more common in hard water areas where mineral deposits can quickly build up.

A diagram of where a dishwasher's spray arm is located
The buildup of food particles and debris prevents spray arms from spinning and cleaning the top rack of your dishwasher.

I recommend removing your dishwasher’s spray arms and cleaning them with warm soapy water and a soft brush or toothpick.

If there’s a lot of buildup, try soaking the spray arms overnight in 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 works properly, it should have enough pressure to clean your dishwasher’s top rack.

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 to make sure the top rack gets cleaned.

#3 Sprayer Arm Seal is Broken

If your dishwasher is still not cleaning the dishes in the upper rack, you’ll need to check the spray arm seal.

If the seal is broken, the water will leak out around the seal instead of being forced up to clean the top rack.

I recommend replacing the seal or your dishwasher’s upper sprayer arm. Doing this is very simple and affordable, as it costs around $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.

#4 Your Dishwasher is Dirty

Debris and mineral deposits can accumulate and cause your dishwasher to not clean the top rack.

So, while you’ve already taken care of the spray arms, you’ll need to clean your filter as well.

You can remove your dishwasher’s filter by twisting it counterclockwise and lifting it out. Then, clean it with warm soapy water or vinegar.

Since filters are typically made of a sturdy metal mesh, you can also use a wire or stiff nylon brush during the cleaning process.

How to clean dishwasher filter
I recommend cleaning your filter at least once a month to prevent unpleasant odors and ensure your dishwasher cleans the top and bottom rack correctly.

Keep in mind that the process of removing your filter will vary depending on your dishwasher’s model. Please refer to the manufacturer’s manual for specific instructions.

Then, I recommend giving the dishwasher itself a good cleaning as well.

You can use a cleaning tablet and run the hottest cycle to help break down any buildup. In my experience, it’s also helpful to sanitize your dishwasher at least every six months.

Tip: Using a high-quality detergent can also improve your dishwasher’s cleaning performance and help you achieve sparkling clean dishes. I recommend looking for a detergent that contain enzymes, which can break down grease and stubborn stains effectively. Additionally, don’t forget to use rinse aid to prevent water spots.

#5 Your Actuator Isn’t Working Properly

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.

So, if your dishwasher’s top rack isn’t cleaning, you’ll need to inspect the actuator, as it’s not routing water to the upper rack when it’s time to do so.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to access the actuator, so I recommended calling a professional.


That about covers it!

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

Please take a look at our Dishwasher Care & Maintenance guide to make the most out of your dishwasher and prevent performance issues.

Thank you so much for reading this article, good luck!

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