Retro Saturday: Dishwasher Maintenance

Dear Home Ec 101:

My dishwasher just isn’t doing as great a job anymore. I haven’t changed anything: same soap, I scrape the plates, I still use a rinsing agent. What could be going on?


My Dishwasher is a Dud

Heather says:

Did you know your dishwasher requires regular maintenance to provide consistently clean dishes?

  • Check the trap for food particles. If food scraps have crusted onto the trap, remove it, soak it, and scrub it. Make it a point to regularly check and clean the trap.
  • Examine the spray arm. Are the holes clogged with mineral deposits? Soak the arm in diluted vinegar and use a pipe cleaner aka chenille stem to clean out any gunk.
  • Take a good look at the racks, are they clean or has the paint worn off in places? You can purchase dishwasher repair kits that contain vinyl paint and those tips that always seem to pop off the prongs.
  • Occasionally, once a month or so, run the dishwasher through a full cycle with 2 cups of vinegar. Start the dishwasher, wait until it has filled, and add the vinegar.
  • Alternately you can run a cycle with citric acid or lemonade kool-aid packets, the kind that does not already contain sugar
  • Finally, be sure your hot water heater is set to the temperature recommended by the dishwasher manufacturer. If you have lost your manual try Googling the model; many manufacturers now have manuals available online.

Good luck!

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  1. caryn verell on October 30, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    getting hot water from the faucet first works for me..especially since the hot water tank is on the other end of the house. if you don’t want to waste water catch the cold water from the pipes in a bucket and use for other things!

  2. tnaylort on October 30, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    I tried everything and then found out that my hot water was not getting hot enough. Argh. This site suggested running hot water from the faucet right before running the dishwasher and that worked! I regularly run it with vinegar now too.

  3. sherry on October 27, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    Great advice. I need to do a few of these things! Mine isn’t washing so great either!


  4. ThatBobbieGirl on October 27, 2008 at 11:21 am

    Oooh, citric acid! I can do that — I bought a 5 pound box of it once upon a time when I was having one of my episodes of temporary insanity. Haven’t opened it once in 8 years, but now I have a reason to! Maybe this is why I bought it and just plumb forgot….

  5. Keter on October 26, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    @QueenLaCheapa – run the dishwasher for a minute or so before adding the vinegar – many models have a short “rinse out” cycle to get rid of any gunk that may be left in the pump and drain of the dishwasher before the wash starts, and if you pour the vinegar in too soon, it could get washed away – so add vinegar when you hear the dishwasher actually filling with water. Just pour the vinegar directly into the bottom of the dishwasher and let it run. You can sit around to catch the rinse cycle and add more vinegar then if needed.

  6. Kat on October 26, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    Well, I do have a dishwasher when I bought this condo, but it never worked properly and Ian went and cleaned it with bleach and it worked for a bit, but you do need to clean it every wash or every week. Needless to say, we do need a new one, or check out the plumbing…its one of those issues that can wait really. I am not in a hurry to buy a new one when I want to completely update the kitchen…in due time… meaning when funds are available…lol… 🙂

  7. QueenLaCheapa on October 26, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    Just wondering, exactly where do I pour the vinegar into the dishwasher?

  8. Irish Gifts on October 26, 2008 at 11:05 am

    We live in a hard water area, and I just checked the nozzles on the spray arms. Sure enough, about 30% are clogged. Appreciate the tip – I’m off to soak them.

  9. Keter on October 26, 2008 at 12:20 am

    Several points:

    For super-hard water areas, try adding one tablespoon of citric acid to each wash load. No spots and no cleaning cycles.

    If your dish detergent isn’t dissolving due to hard water, switch to a liquid/gel formula.

    Muriatic acid is hydrochloric acid – it’s too strong to use regularly in a dishwasher.

    Looking for a manual or parts list? It may be behind the front trim panel. I found one there on the dishwasher that came with the house when I took the trim panel off to press out a dent and cover it with adhesive cork “contact paper”! (To match my kitchen remodeling, I turned an (old but nicely working) yellowing white dishwasher into a faux steel and cork one…cost less than $15. Be sure to carefully mask off your control panel before painting, of course.)

  10. angela on October 25, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    We moved to Amarillo this spring and the water here is beyond hard. I know people here how regularly replace dishwashers b/c they don’t get things clean. The pioneer woman talked about a comment called LemiShine that helps with the hard water where she lives. We bought it and its great! Things actually get clean and there is not continued build up on the washer elements. The biggest thing we did though was get a bottle of muriatic acid from a pool supply store and it removed ALL of the deposits. I was having to poke holes through it before to get water to release. Anyway there are two things that helped us!

  11. Maranda on October 25, 2008 at 11:56 am

    Another thing to think of is the type of detergent you are using. We recently had a dishwasher replaced and the guy that replaced it told us that most dishwashers have issues with the geltab type detergent. He let us know that we should just use the dry detergent. He recomended Cascade but I think that any dry detergent would do. That’s my 2 cents. 🙂

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