Condo Blues: Why Won't My Dishwasher Wash Dishes?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Why Won't My Dishwasher Wash Dishes?

Who knew a high efficiency dishwasher is also high maintenance? Since high efficiency (HE) dishwashers use less water, the water heat up cycle is shorter than a standard dishwasher. That means an HE dishwasher needs hotter water going into the dishwasher than a standard dishwasher, which heats a boatload of water first. A plumber told me if I turned up the heat on my hot water heater, I would get rid of the grit on my clean dishes problem.

Husband wryly observed we could save either water or natural gas but not both.

Yeah, yeah. All is not lost. I can hand wash dishes. Having a house with
 a dishwasher made me realize how much I hate hand washing dishes.

Then there is the dishwashing detergent. My dishwasher likes either the very expensive (Seventh Generation) or the very cheap (Aldi) detergent. I switched between powder and liquid for no reason other than availability or price. The dishwasher was happy. I had clean dishes. That makes me happy because I hate hand washing dishes.

All of a sudden, my dishwasher decides it doesn’t like the liquid detergent. It left food stuck randomly to “washed” dishes and silverware. Gross.

I finally got the liquid detergent to clean the dishes when I added lemon powdered drink mix to the second mega dirty dish dispenser.  It isn’t my first choice or economical but at least it allowed me to use the rest of the bottle of liquid dishwashing detergent it liked last month instead of throwing it away.

OK fine dishwasher. You win. I will buy you powdered dishwashing detergent. Happy?


Since I had to doctor the liquid detergent and I make my own HE laundry detergent (you can get the recipe here), I figure I might as well try making homemade dishwasher detergent. Not to mention, I have all the stuff so it is a low cost experiment.

The first batch cleaned my dishes. No stuck on food, no haze, not even a water spot. Yay! Happy dishwasher. Happy Lisa.

Halfway into the second batch of detergent I made identical to the first my dishwasher hated homemade dishwashing detergent. A film developed on my glasses and dishes. I tried  just about every homemade dishwashing detergent recipe I can find because it worked the first time. I got same gross results.

Oh you fickle little minx. You win. I will buy you powdered dishwashing detergent from the store.

Fortunately, my dishwasher decided Aldi powdered detergent will be the current favorite. It isn’t petrochemical free but at least it doesn’t have phosphates in it that cause the toxic algae blooms to grow in our lakes every summer. Moreover, I don’t have to make a special trip to another store to buy it after my regular 2 store grocery shop as I do Seventh Generation or Method.

Two packages later the dishwasher is rejecting the Aldi dishwashing detergent pods. I didn’t really want to buy the plastic encased pods to begin with because the plastic casing degrades but never really goes away. I bought them because I was tired of drying out a cardboard box of detergent after a chain of under sink garbage disposal explosions. Also Aldi stopped carrying powdered dishwashing detergent in a box. There’s that.

The first package worked. I’m half way through the second package. Now the pods aren’t dissolving and even if they do, it leaves food stuck to my silverware and dishes. It doesn’t matter if I rinse the items before loading the dishwasher or not. Sound familiar?

I cleaned the dishwasher by running it with small bowls full of vinegar in the dishwasher racks hoping that would do the trick.

The dishwasher gave me a big ol’ raspberry on the following load of dishes.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! I’m at the end of my rope.

My dishwasher is 8 years old. Does this mean it is on its way out? Can I fix it or have it repaired? How? Has this happened to you? What did you do?

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Mindful Momma said...

bummer! wish I had an answer for you. we are in need of a new dishwasher and I want to get one that lasts!

LadyCiani said...

Couple things I can think of.

a) You may need to clean filters on your dishwasher (search the internet for how others have done this - it might involve disassembling a filter in the door or the bottom of your dishwasher). Yes, your dishwasher has filters to trap the food and gunk. They might have filled up, preventing the dishwasher from draining properly.

b) Your soap dispenser may not be locking properly and it's releasing the soap too early, preventing the cleaning. This means your dishes are not getting soap at the right time. Where I work there was a coating of excess soap and calcium built up in the latch. Soaking the build-up with vinegar and scraping it should clear it and allow the latch to work again.

c) Water is not spraying properly. If you can't get water to the dirty dishes then the soap doesn't work. Look at your sprayer arms, and see if the openings are blocked, or coated in the calcium build-up like your shower heads get. Start by running bowls of your favorite straight vinegar through it a couple of times to dissolve the hard water deposits. You may have to take a toothbrush to the sprayer heads to them to get them clean.

d) Water is not draining properly and is backing up in the bottom of the dishwasher. Take a look at the hoses that drain to your sink, and check for clogs (kitchen grease and/or food gunk can build up there). If it drains to your disposal and the disposal is not working properly (again, kitchen grease or food gunk stuck in the disposal, etc) then that could be your culprit. And then if your sink drain is not working properly it could be preventing the disposal from draining.

e) Hard water is preventing the soap from working properly. If the water is too hard the soap won't foam enough (I know the point of HE soap is that it foams less, but the dishwasher still needs the soap to foam at least a little bit in order to clean your dishes). If your dishwasher has a rinse aid area (where you fill it with a month's supply of stuff) you could try buying one of those and seeing what happens. You MIGHT get by with putting vinegar in there like you would put vinegar in your fabric softener cycle - you'll have to experiment. Or, you could try putting a small cup full of vinegar on the top rack and running it with vinegar every time. It would be like a DIY rinse aid.

Darlene said...

AWWWWKKKKKK!!!! Thanks for the head's up about your HE dishwasher blues. I need a new dishwasher and I will be sure NOT to buy an HE one.
HE is not all it's cracked up to be in appliances, in my opinion. I just got a new top-load HE clothes replace the less-than-7-years-old front-load HE washer that made all our clothes stink and cost a fortune to fix. The top loader is just as big a PIA as the front loader only in different ways. The thing keeps going off balance, even though I place the clothes in and rearrange carefully. It was a big mistake to buy HE and I won't likely ever buy HE again.

auntiejenni said...

my son's dishwasher did this. we cleaned everything....took the spinner off and cleaned the traps, etc. then we bought one of those put-in-your-dishwasher lime/rust mixes and ran the dishwasher. then we just poured vinegar in after that first cycle ran....don't do it together, do two separate cycles. everything came out beautiful! we also put rinse-aid in the dishwasher, which is an amazing help. whenever he starts to get film and grime, he just does the old clean it all thing twice and everything works. can't hurt to try.

Unknown said...

I learned this trick from my nephew: wait until the dishwasher fills with water, then open the door and pour in some vinegar. I don't know exactly how much,just kinda glug, glug, glug. My crappy dishwasher suddenly cleans perfectly.

Unknown said...

Once you have a dishwasher it is nearly impossible to live happily without! Wish I could suggest something...I would keep searching for the answers! Best of luck! Thanks for sharing, D P.S. I'm gonna try the vinegar suggestion above as a preventative move! :)

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