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Dishwasher Not Draining? 8 Potential Fixes

broken dishwasher

broken dishwasher

It can be alarming to open your dishwasher and find that it’s still full of dirty water. But this problem is more common than you might think. Fortunately, it’s not usually a big deal. While it is possible that your dishwasher needs to be replaced, it’s more likely that you can fix the issue with one of the following eight potential fixes. So, if your dishwasher won’t drain, before you call a plumber, try these fixes and on your own. You’re very likely to solve the problem without the need for professional help (or fees).

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Dishwasher Not Draining? 8 Potential Fixes

1. Load Your Dishes Carefully

It might seem incredibly simple, but that’s why this is the first item on the list. You may not know it, but incorrectly loading your dishes into the dishwasher can be the cause of your dishwasher’s failure to drain completely. In such cases, all it takes to fix the issue is loading them in the correct way. If you’re unsure of the correct way to load dishes into your dishwasher, you can check the user manual that came with it for better instructions.

2. Empty the Drain Basket

Every dishwasher has a drain basket. It’s located inside the dishwasher, down at the very bottom. If this drain basket gets clogged with food particles, it can prevent the dishwasher from properly draining.

The drain basket cover looks like a small basket that’s turned upside down. It might snap into place, or it might be held in place by a screw or two. You’ll need to remove it to check it. If you’re having trouble finding or removing the drain basket cover from your dishwasher, check the user manual for help. Remember, if you can’t find the user manual, you can usually get a PDF version online from the manufacturer’s website.

Once you remove the cover, the drain basket will be exposed, and you can check for debris and chunks of food. Clean out anything that’s in the drain basket with your hand, or if you need extra help, you can grab a spoon. Once it’s all clear and you’re certain nothing is clogging the drain basket, reinstall the cover and run the dishwasher.

You can prevent the drain basket from getting clogged again by pre-rinsing your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. Be sure to remove any food particles prior to loading them, and you should be able to avoid this problem in the future.

3. Ensure the Drain Hose Isn’t Kinked

Image Credit: Semevent, Pixabay

The water from your dishwasher gets drained into the disposal or an air gap on your kitchen sink by a drain hose. It’s a ribbed plastic hose that you’ll be able to locate under the kitchen sink. If that hose gets kinked, it can halt water flow, creating a backup in the dishwasher.

Sometimes, things get shoved in the under-sink cabinet that ends up kinking the drain hose. Remove anything in the way and ensure that the hose is straight and devoid of any kinks for its entire length. If you do find a kink in the hose, you can straighten it out by hand. However, it will create a weak spot in the hose that’s likely to kink again.

4. Check the Drain Hose for Clogs

Even if your drain hose isn’t kinked, it could still be the culprit. If that hose becomes clogged, it can have a similar effect to being kinked, preventing water from draining and causing it to remain in the dishwasher.

Unfortunately, you can’t check for clogs on the sink side of the drain hose. Instead, you’ll have to get underneath your dishwasher. But don’t worry––it’s not as bad as it sounds. Simply remove the lower front panel, and you should be able to see the same ribbed plastic hose that stretches to your disposal or air cap at the kitchen sink.

Make sure you unplug the dishwasher before removing the panel and hose. The front panel attaches differently on each dishwasher model, so you might have to consult the user’s manual to figure out how to remove it. It might snap into place, or it might be held in place by screws.

Once you gain access to the drain hose, you’ll need to remove the hose from the pump. Again, if you need help with this step, you’ll want to check the user manual. After you get the hose detached, blow through it. If air passes through easily, then there’s no blockage in the drain hose. But if you can’t get air to flow through the hose, it’s probably because there’s a clog. If you’re lucky, the clog will be close enough to either end for you to remove with a stick or screwdriver.

5. Replace the Drain Hose

Often, if there’s a problem of any kind with the drain hose, it needs to be replaced. For instance, if you find that your drain hose is clogged, but the blockage isn’t close enough to either end for you to manually remove, you’ll probably need to replace the hose. Whatever you do, don’t try to run a plumber’s snake through a dishwasher drain hose. They’re not strong enough to withstand it.

If your drain hose has a kink, it’s likely to continue to kink in that spot, even after you manually work the kink out. Again, in this instance, your best recourse is to simply replace the drain hose.

Luckily, dishwasher drain hoses aren’t expensive parts. But if you have a professional come install it for you, you’ll be looking at a pretty hefty bill. If you’ve got a bit of DIY prowess, you should be able to replace the drain hose yourself with minimal difficulty. You will have to slide the dishwasher out from under the counter to access the full hose. But that’s pretty much the worst part of the job.

Make sure you get the correct hose to replace your existing one. Also, check the user’s manual for any special instructions that are specific to your dishwasher regarding the replacement of the drain hose.

6. Use the Correct Detergent

Dishwasher detergent tablets
Image Credit: PhotoMIX-Company, Pixabay

Dishwashing detergent is dishwashing detergent, right? Well, no. Not all dishwashing detergent is the same. For a dishwasher, you’ll need to use dishwashing detergent that’s specifically meant for use in automatic dishwashers. These detergents don’t produce suds, which can easily clog the dishwasher’s drain.

If you’ve ever substituted dishwashing soap for automatic dishwasher detergent, then you may have discovered a big, sudsy mess leaking out of your dishwasher. This is more than enough to clog the drain and prevent the machine from draining properly.

Don’t use dishwashing soap, laundry detergent, or any other type of soap or detergent in your dishwasher except for automatic dishwasher-specific detergent. If you have, you’ll need to empty all the standing water from the machine and run it again to attempt to remove the excess suds and unblock the drain. Just make sure not to use the wrong detergent again in the future!

7. Run the Garbage Disposal or Clean the Air Gap

The drain hose from your dishwasher will connect directly to your kitchen sink’s drain, either by hooking into the garbage disposal or a separate air gap. Often, these can get clogged, which won’t allow the dishwasher to drain.

Often, food particles build up in the disposal and can settle into the drainpipe below. Naturally, this will prevent water from draining through. It’s an easy fix, though. Just run the disposal and the sink for a good 15-30 seconds and it should free up the line so the water can drain. If this was the problem, you’ll want to start leaving the water and disposal running for a bit longer than you’re used to after washing food down.

If you don’t have a garbage disposal on your sink, then the dishwasher drain hose connects to a small hose that’s attached to an air gap. The air gap is installed next to the faucet. It looks like a little slotted cylinder, and it’s often made of stainless steel. If this air gap or the hose attached to it gets clogged, it will stop the dishwasher from draining.

You’ll need to remove the air gap to check it. Just turn it counter-clockwise, and it should come out easily. Check the inside and ensure that it’s clear. If it’s not, then you’ll want to clean it thoroughly with a brush before replacing it. Run the dishwasher through a cycle and ensure that the problem is fixed.

8. Check the Spray Arm for Blockages

This item is the last on the list because it’s the least likely to cause your drainage problem, but a clogged spray arm can cause standing water in your dishwasher after running it.

The spray arms are the propellers that spin while expelling water to spray the dishes. Water is dispensed through tiny holes down the length of the spray arm. You’ll want to make sure that none of these holes are clogged up. They can get clogged by food particles or even from hard water deposits.

Make sure to unplug the dishwasher before checking the spray arm. Then, you can use a thin wire or a toothpick to individually check each hole for blockages. If you do find a clog, you can use the wire or toothpick to manually work it out.

Sometimes, that’s not going to be enough, though. In these cases, you’ll want to soak the spray arm in vinegar to loosen up the deposits. You’ll need to completely remove the spray arm to do so. After soaking, use the toothpick or wire again to unblock any holes that were clogged. Then, run the dishwasher empty to ensure that everything is working as it should.

Dishwasher water spray
Image Credit: Velimir Zeland, Shutterstock

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If you’ve gone through this list and tried each of these eight potential fixes, but nothing is working, then you might need to call in some professional help. However, for a majority of cases where standing water is found in the dishwasher, these fixes will solve the problem and get your dishwasher back to working properly in no time.

Featured Image Credit: nimito, Shutterstock


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