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!
Common Reasons Why Your Dishwasher Is Not Draining
If you have water sitting on the bottom of the dishwasher, the first thing you have to do is figure out the root cause. The most common problem issues that can lead to water standing in the bottom of the dishwasher, including operating errors, broken parts, clogs, or malfunctioning parts.
When your parts wear out, you want to replace them by a licensed professional to stop voiding the warranty.
- Drain Valve or Solenoid: Some dishwashers have a valve that opens and allows your water to drain out. The solenoid controls the drain, but it has a timer that triggers it to work. If you check the timer and it’s working, then check the drain valve and the solenoid. You may need to have it replaced.
- Faulty Motor: If the motor isn’t working correctly, it could screw up a range of factors. Test your motor’s dishwasher. If it fails, take steps to replace it. Your dishwasher’s manufacturer can help you get the correct model.
- Non-Functioning Timer: Check the timing mechanism on your dishwasher and replace it if necessary. This is another part where you may have to contact the manufacturer.
- Pump Issues: A malfunctioning pump assembly could cause your issues, or they could be debris blocking the wash impeller. You might need to replace the pump assembly or any other damaged or broken parts.
- Worn Belt: The pump assembly gets driven by a belt, but it’s rare for it to fail. If it does wear down, then it can’t pump the water out. If the dishwasher comes equipped with a drive belt, check and replace it if necessary.
A blockage is the most common reason why your dishwasher isn’t draining correctly. You can easily prevent clogs by rinsing dishes before you put them in the dishwasher. There are several different systems and parts in the dishwasher that can clog and get backed up.
Always look at the owner’s manual to ensure that you’re operating it properly. It’s important that you know how to correctly work the machine and what products are recommended to use in it. For example, deciding to use regular dish soap if you run out of the normal type could cause a clog and water standing in the bottom of the dishwasher.
A lot of people don’t realize that they have to perform regular maintenance to keep this appliance running correctly. Regular maintenance can include things like inspecting the hoses, periodically emptying the drain basket, and cleaning filters. It’s a good idea to clean the spray arm on your unit every six months or as directed on your owner’s manual.
Understanding the Parts of Your Dishwasher
It’s helpful to understand the different parts of your dishwasher and how it works so you know what to look for when you start trying to fix your dishwasher. Dishwashers usually have the same types of parts, but it can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. A few common parts include:
- Air Gap: An air gap or an air cap is a device that stops your dirty water from re-entering the dishwasher. In turn, this ensures the water that washes your dishes is clean. Not every dishwasher has an air gap installed, but some state plumbing codes require that you have it.
- Dishwasher Filter: Depending on your dishwasher manufacturer, you might have a self-cleaning filter or a manual one. The filter is typically at the bottom of the dishwasher, but the owner’s manual can outline exactly where it is. The purpose of the filter is to catch food and other debris during the appliance’s wash cycle to keep any water that recirculates as quickly as possible.
- Drain Hose: The drain hose is the hose that connects the drain pump in your dishwasher to your air gap or garbage disposal.
- Drain Pump: This pump pushes water out of the dishwasher and into the garbage disposal or drain line.
- Spray Arm: The spray arm rotates and shoots water into your dishes when the cleaning cycle comes on.
If you’re not sure which parts your dishwasher has and where you can find them, you can find your dishwasher’s product manuals online if you can find your specific dishwasher model and brand.
If you have an older model, it’s best to reach out directly to the manufacturer because they can offer support by phone to help you narrow down the problem.
- Tip: To get the most accurate support or manual, find the model number for your dishwasher. One of the easiest ways to do this is to look for the product information label. You’ll typically find this on the dishwasher’s door. It can be on the top or bottom of the door, on the sides, or in the door jamb.
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.
Signs of a Clogged Dishwasher Drain
There are several obvious signs that your dishwasher drain is clogged if:
- You have food bits stuck in the filter
- The dishwasher keeps shutting off without completing a full wash cycle
- You’ve checked the garbage disposal is clear, so it’s not clogged here
- You see a pool of water in the bottom of the dishwasher, right by the drain
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.
- Switch on your garbage disposal to make sure it’s clear. If it’s not, you’ll need to clear it out.
- If the garbage disposal is okay, you’ll lay a towel down underneath the drain hose that connects to your dishwasher.
- Use a pair of channel-lock pliers to remove the drain hose. Check for any clogs in the connection points.
- If there are no clogs, you have to check for clogs deeper in your hose. Get a commercial declogger, straightened out coat hanger, or dishwasher cleaner. Insert it into the drain to find clogs before putting it back together.
- Run the dishwasher and ensure it drains
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.
Clear up Detergent Accidents
Dishwashers get designed to use them with automatic dishwasher detergents that clean without producing any suds. However, it’s easy to accidentally squirt regular dishwashing liquid into the appliance, and this can create enough suds that your dishwasher has trouble draining them.
The same issue can happen if you run out of automatic dishwasher detergent and you decide to give regular laundry detergent a shot. You’ll have to bail out the tub using a cup before soaping up the water with a towel. Once you get it out, run a cycle again using the correct detergent.
De-Gunk the Drain Basket
You’ll find the drain basket at the bottom of your dishwasher. The cover usually looks like an upside-down basket, and it either snaps off or you have it in place using one or two screws. If the bottom of the machine doesn’t look like this, check your manufacturer’s manual. Remove the cover and check thoroughly for food buildup in the basket. Use a utensil or your hand to remove any debris, replace the cover and screws if it has them, and run another cycle.
- Tip: If you have a lot of food debris in this basket, you can pre-rinse your dishes to help prevent future clogs. Most dishwashers now have macerators that grind any bits of wet, soft food down. However, they’re not nearly as powerful as a typical garbage disposal. So, even if your dishwasher says you don’t have to pre-rinse your dishes, it’s a good idea to do so to prevent continuously cleaning the drain basket.
If you are still having issues and need professional help, use this resource to help you find qualified professionals in your area:
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.
How to Prevent Clogs – Four Ways
Preventing clogs is key to helping your dishwasher drain. Many people skip these steps, and they usually have more problems with their dishwashers than people who do decide to do these four preventative maintenance steps.
- Wash Your Dishes Regularly
One of the easiest ways to keep your dishwasher from clogging is to actually use it. Using it on a regular basis will ensure that it has a flow of detergent and water in and out of your appliance to flush the dirt and debris out.
If you don’t use it regularly, dirt and debris can sit in your appliance for weeks. This can happen if you go on vacation or travel frequently. Before you go on vacation, you want to clean the dishwasher before you leave it sitting. This way, when you come back, you won’t open your appliance and find dirt in the bottom.
- Run a Hot Water Cycle
Running a hot water cycle in your dishwasher will help you remove dirt and debris easier because hot water is much more effective when it comes to oily debris and dirt than cold water is. Doing this will also ensure that your dishwasher stays clean after you use it.
You can set your water heater’s thermostat to 120°F to get the water warm enough without getting it too hot. Do this a few times a week to remove all of the mineral buildups, just remember to put your hot water heater back to the normal temperature when you finish running it.
- Apply Vinegar
Vinegar is a great weed killer, but it also works for cleaning out your dishwasher. Vinegar is an antibacterial agent that can help strip odors out that can build up over time. You can put two cups of vinegar in a bowl and put it in the center of the bottom rack of the dishwasher.
Run a cycle on your appliance without adding detergent to remove troubling odors and bacteria. You can also put lemonade Kool-Aid into your detergent cup and run the machine empty. This packet has citric acid in it that can help wipe stains out of your dishwasher.
- Baking Soda to Improve the Scent
Vinegar will help to remove odors from your dishwasher, but you can give your appliance a better smell by adding baking soda. To achieve this, you should sprinkle a cup of baking soda into your dishwasher’s bottom. You can allow it to sit overnight to allow the baking soda to sit and soak.
Allowing baking soda to soak will kill the bacteria in the machine and improve the smell. In the morning, run the dishwasher on an empty cycle. This will remove all of the leftover baking soda.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can you run my dishwasher if your sink is clogged?
Dishwashers and sinks are usually connected, and dishwashers will typically run though the disposal system. If your sink or garbage disposal has a clog, there’s a good chance that the whole thing won’t drain properly.
2. Does boiling water unclog drains?
If you want to try a less invasive way to unclog your dishwasher drain before attempting the more invasive methods we listed, you could try using boiling water. Boiling water is able to dissolve some clogs. It’s a cheap and easy solution, and you can do it by:
- Boil the water
- Remove as much standing water from the dishwasher as possible using a sponge or cup while you wait for the water to boil
- Pour the boiling water into the drain. If it stands and doesn’t go down, allow it to cool for a few minutes before removing the water and repeating the process. You might need to repeat it several times.
3. How can you unclog the dishwasher using vinegar?
You can create a homemade solution of vinegar, hot water, and baking soda to unclog a dishwasher. Pour a cup of vinegar into a basket and follow with a half cup of baking soda. Allow it to sit for 15 minutes before you pour boiling water down the basket to see if it clears the clog. This could take a couple of attempts, but stop doing it if you don’t get success on the first time.
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.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.