December 2nd, 2015

Dishwasher Use and Care

Home Owners Network

Dishwashers are a frequent source of questions to our Home Owners Network ‘Ask the Experts’ service. Here are some tips for using and maintaining your dishwasher to avoid problems and for troubleshooting problems if they occur. The most important tip about any appliance is to read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. You can usually find these instructions by entering the appliance manufacturer name and the model number into an internet search engine.

Using Your Dishwasher

Most dishwashers have several operating cycles. To save money, use the shortest cycle that produces clean dishes. This cycle may be called energy saver or short cycle. The delicate cycle may work as a money saving cycle as well. To save more money, avoid using the heated dry. Let the dishes dry in the air by opening the dishwasher when the cycle is done. Run your hot water at your sink for a few minutes before starting your dishwasher.  That way the water first entering the unit is hot instead of cold.

Dishwashers are designed to clean dishes without the need to pre-clean them; however, they can only do so much. Scrape large pieces of food from dishes before placing them in the dishwasher. Failure to do so may cause a filter blockage that will keep the dishwasher from draining. If you’re going to leave the dishes in the dishwasher for several hours or days before running the dishwasher, it is a good idea to rinse them first. This is especially true for utensils that may be stained by foods with high acid content such as tomato sauce and mustard.

Using more dishwashing detergent usually does not result in cleaner dishes. In fact, it can result in cloudy dishes (especially glasses) and in detergent residue on the tub. Use as little detergent as possible; often filling only ¼ of the dishwasher’s detergent cup is sufficient. Using less detergent saves money. Speaking of detergent, use only detergent labeled for dishwashers. Any other type can damage the dishwasher and cause leaks.

 Dishwasher picture December Member Newsletter 12-2-2015Maintaining Your Dishwasher

 Most dishwashers have a filter in the bottom of the tub. You should clean this filter; how often depends on how you use the dishwasher. If you wash relatively clean dishes and run only a few loads per week, annual cleaning may be adequate. If you wash dishes with food on them or run many loads per week, cleaning every couple months may be necessary.

Hard water and water containing large amounts of sediment (dirt) can clog the spray arm openings. Some dishwasher manufacturers recommend cleaning the spray arm openings. Check your manufacturer’s instructions for information about whether this is recommended and how to do so. Hard water can stain the tub interior. Hard water and dirty water can cause other problems in plumbing pipes and plumbing appliances. If you live in an area with hard water or you get your water from a well, you might consider a water quality test.

Troubleshooting Dishwasher Problems

No power; dishwasher does not operate. (1) Check under the sink; is the dishwasher plugged in (for dishwashers that are plugged into a receptacle)?  If no, plug in the dishwasher. Some under sink receptacles are switched to turn on a food waste disposer. Make sure the dishwasher is not plugged into the switched half of the receptacle. (2) Check the electrical panel; is the circuit breaker tripped or fuse blown? If yes, reset the circuit breaker or replace the fuse. (3) Check the door; is it closed and latched? If no, close and latch the door.

Water in the tub; dishwasher does not drain.  Note that a little water is normal with some dishwashers. (1) Check the filter; is it clean? If no, remove and clean it per manufacturer’s instructions. (2) Check the air gap device (if you have one, it is a small cylinder near the sink). Remove the cover and clean any debris. (3) Check the food disposer (if the dishwasher drains into it); is there debris in it? If yes, run the food disposer. You should run the food disposer before running the dishwasher. (4) Check for visible debris, kinks, or other obstructions in the drain hose under the sink. Attempt to correct or remove any blockage.

Dishwasher leaks around the door. Note that some leaking is common if the dishwasher has not been run in several weeks; the door seals may dry and shrink or become inflexible. If this is the problem, this leaking will usually correct itself. (1) Check the door seals; are they damaged? If yes, seal replacement or a new dishwasher may be the cure. (2) Check that the dishwasher is installed level and that it is attached either to the counter top or the cabinet. Level and secure the dishwasher per manufacturer’s instructions. (3) Check for suds in and around the dishwasher. If yes, you may be using the wrong dishwashing detergent.

Dishwasher leaks in other areas. (1) Check the connections to the water supply and drain hose; are they secure? If no, secure them. Note that this may require removing the kick plate cover under the dishwasher.

Repair or Replace?

The charge to come to your house and evaluate a dishwasher problem often runs in the $100 – $150 range depending on where you live. Parts and labor to repair are extra. Thus, it often does not make sense to repair a dishwasher that is out of warranty.

Repair or replace is often a tough call. Here are some guidelines. If the dishwasher is older than about nine years, it is usually best to replace it. Money spent on a service call may not be worth it. Consider putting that money into a new component instead. If the dishwasher is between one and five years old and the dishwasher originally cost more than about $600, you might consider paying a service technician to estimate the repair cost. If the cost to repair is less than half the cost of a new dishwasher, repair might be prudent; otherwise replace.

The really tough situation is when the dishwasher is five and nine years old. That situation is a roll of the dice about what to do. This is when our ‘Ask the Experts’ service may help. Tell us about your situation. Please include as many details as possible so we can provide you with our best advice. The manufacturer name, model and serial number are essential. A picture often helps too.

If you need a qualified technician to help you, try our ‘Find a Contractor’ referral service. Log on to your Home Owners Network account to access the ‘Find a Contractor’ page.

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