Dishwasher not Draining? Here’s How to Fix it

Dishwasher not draining? If you’re anything like me, your dishwasher is your greatest friend and most trusted kitchen companion. Unfortunately, it can also become one of your most frustrating enemies when it decides to act up. Like other essential appliances such as the lawnmower and vacuum cleaner, it seems like dishwashers often pick and choose when they are going to work, not cleaning your dishes one day and refusing to drain water the next.

Unfortunately, calling a plumber every time your dishwasher decides to break isn’t exactly easy on the wallet, and buying a brand new dishwasher isn’t always in the cards. If you’re fed up with your dishwasher not draining, quit wasting time washing dishes by hand and do some good old fashioned sleuthing to figure out the problem and hopefully find a solution.

Here are a few reasons your dishwasher may not be draining and how to fix it. Don’t be intimidated, it’s easier than you think!

Check the filter

Try to locate the trap inside your dishwasher. This is the catch-all that keeps big pieces of food, napkins, or other debris from going down your drain and clogging it. Eventually, it can become blocked and keep the water from draining out of your dishwasher.

The trap will usually be towards the back of the dishwasher and will often be surrounded by a pool of water. 

Once you locate the trap (it should be in the middle or back of the bottom of the tub), use a long-reaching tool to clear away the blockage. Remember to wipe it out with a paper towel afterward. If you remove it from against the trap but don’t get it out of the dishwasher, it will clog the filter again. If this simple fix doesn’t work, you may have to remove the screws holding in the filter cage and clean the actual filter on the inside.

Listen to it during operation

Run your dishwasher through a normal cycle and listen for anything unusual. If it is making grinding sounds or seems to be struggling more than normal, you may need to replace the drain pump and motor. When the drain pump and other components go bad, the machine will usually start making a humming or clicking noise, which will make it ineffective and prevent it from draining properly. Call a plumber when this occurs.

Reset the cycle

Though this was probably the first thing you tried, go ahead and try again to be sure it won’t work. Try hitting the cancel or reset button. If the dishwasher was interrupted in the middle of the cycle, it might not know what to do with all of the extra water. If there isn’t a visible button for canceling the cycle, look in your instruction manual, as there may be a series of buttons you have to push.

There should be an easy-to-find reset button that comes in handy if you accidentally interrupted the appliance mid-cycle. 

Check plumbing connections

There should be several hoses and parts that help ensure everything is running smoothly. Take a look at your user’s manual and do a visual inspection, making sure to check the drain hose hose clamp and drain valve components. Your dishwasher is also probably connected to the garbage disposal or the sink, which means that it’s a good idea to give that connection a look if you are experiencing drainage issues. Replace any parts that seem worn, are cracked, or show any other signs of damage.

Check the drain hose

Locate the drain hose (it is usually plastic with ridges) and inspect the drain hose to make sure the drain hose doesn’t have any clogs or blockages. Disconnect the drain hose from the dishwasher and blow through the drain hose or use a long wire coat hanger to check for and clear out any debris. You will also want to make sure that the drain hose doesn’t have any kinks or holes that could be preventing the water from getting through. When you reattach it, double-check the drain hose seal valve to ensure that the drain hose is attached tightly.

The ridged drain hose is usually connected to your sink or garbage disposal and can be found by opening the cupboards under your skin. 

Clear your garbage disposal

As mentioned above, your dishwasher drain hose is connected to your garbage disposal. Therefore, solving an issue with one will often solve an issue with the other. Be sure to follow proper garbage disposal guidelines by flushing it out with cold water after every use and keeping it clean and free of debris. Once the water has somewhere to drain, it may stop backing up into the dishwasher.

It’s just old

Though you probably don’t want to admit it, it might simply be time for a new dishwasher. Most heavily used dishwashers have a life expectancy of around 10 years, and sometimes repairs aren’t worth it when things just keep breaking. Consider investing in a new appliance to help save you time and energy and get your dishes cleaner.

Usually, you can tell how old a dishwasher is by looking in the users manual or checking your purchase information. Older dishwashers will have more signs of wear and tear as well.

Check the Air Gap

The air gap is usually located at the back of the kitchen sink and near the faucet. It can become clogged over time as various debris accumulates – a tell-tale sign would be seeing water seep out of the air gap as you turn on the dishwasher. Clean your air gap to improve your drainage.

How to remove sitting water

Unless you have a wet vac sitting around, dealing with standing water in the bottom of the tub to diagnose and fix the issue can prove to be one of the most frustrating aspects of your DIY dishwasher repair. There really isn’t an easy way to go about it, so roll up your sleeves and grab a lot of towels.

Use a measuring cup, bowl, or scoop to remove the water to a bucket. Get as much out as you can, but eventually, you will have to soak up the shallow water in the bottom with old towels or rags.

Proper dishwasher maintenance

While it’s a wonderful thing to be able to troubleshoot and fix your own dishwasher, it’s even better to avoid having to deal with it at all by taking care of your hardworking kitchen companion. Each year that you have your dishwasher, do the following:

  • Remove the spray arms and clean them well with a stiff brush. This will help eliminate any debris that could be blocking the spray arm / holes and ensure proper running of the spray arm.
  • Clean the filter and trap. Even if your dishwasher is draining, remove the trap and filter and give them a good scrub with soap and water. Usually, you’ll need a screwdriver to get the filter out.
  • Check and clean the racks. Over time, the rubber on dish racks can start to peel away, and you may begin to see exposed metal in your dishwasher. Naturally, this metal will start to rust and can lead to a variety of problems down the road. Avoid this by applying liquid rubber to any exposed metal and capping off any rusting prongs with new safety caps.
  • Check the drain hose and drain hose clamps. Inspect your drain hose and connections and make sure everything is tight and secure. Check the drain hose clamp / drain valve and make sure it is well secured.

Exposed metal can lead to corrosion and rust problems. Use liquid metal to cover up any sections of exposed rack.

Remember, just a small amount of water in the bottom of the dishwasher isn’t anything to be alarmed about and is no reason to strap on your troubleshooting belt. Double-check with your owners manual, but most dishwashers take a little while to drain.