8 Reasons Why Your Dishes Aren't Getting Fully Clean

by Team HomeServe
dishes in an open dishwasher

Your dishwasher is a modern convenience you don't want to live without once you get used to it. Sometimes, though, your dishwasher comes up short.

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Partially clean dishes just won’t do. Here’s what you need to know to get them sparkling again.

Why Aren’t My Dishes Aren't Getting Clean in the Dishwasher?

Lots of little things can affect how well your dishwasher cleans. A dishwasher not cleaning well is a sign that you need to do a little troubleshooting and maintenance. Here are some common causes of dirty dishes in the dishwasher.

1. Built-Up Food

If you don't prerinse your dishes, you might have little pieces of food inside the dishwasher that keep it from cleaning properly. Even if you rinse the dishes, you might have a buildup of grease, soap scum and other gunk that leaves the inside of the appliance dirty. A dirty dishwasher can't always get your dishes clean.

To remedy the situation, clean out the inside of the dishwasher. One simple trick is to pour a few cups of white vinegar in the bottom of your dishwasher. Run a normal cycle. The vinegar helps clean away all the little remnants inside the dishwasher, including built-up scum and grease. You might also need to wipe down the inside of the dishwasher and along the seals to clean it properly.

Man s hand taking out a dishwasher filter

2. Dirty Filter

Another place food particles and debris can collect is in the dishwasher filter. If you have a newer dishwasher, it should have a removable filter at the bottom under the rack. You might need to twist off the cap to remove it. Regularly cleaning the filter every month or two is essential to preventing clogs and keeping your dishwasher working properly.

To clean the filter, pull it out and rinse it well. You can also soak it in warm, soapy water to help loosen stuck-on gunk. An old toothbrush works well for scrubbing it. Rinse it well and put it back in place.

3. Clogged Sprayer Arm

Sprayer arms in a dishwasher have lots of little holes where the water shoots out, and they spin to reach all the dishes. Food, grease and other gunk can block those little holes and prevent water from coming out. Decreased water output can hurt the effectiveness of the dishwasher.

The sprayer arms usually snap off, making them easier to clean. A toothpick works well for cleaning out individual holes. You can also use a toothbrush and soapy water to clean the sprayer arm. Rinse it well and reattach it, making sure it spins properly.


4. Cool Water

Hot water is essential for getting dishes clean and sanitized. If your dishwasher isn't getting the water hot enough, it could leave the dishes dirty. Your dishwasher might heat the water, or it might rely on the hot water from your home's water heater. If the latter is true, try turning the heat up on your water heater. However, use caution with faucets and showers to avoid burns.

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5. Failing Inlet Valve

The inlet valve is the component that lets water enter the dishwasher. If it fails, the machine can't wash your dishes properly. If your dishwasher is making noises, particularly a hammering noise during the wash cycle, the valve could be faulty. You'll need to have the valve replaced if this is the issue.

6. Improper Loading

Overloading your dishwasher can make it difficult for the water to spray all the dishes. Placing tall items in the wrong spot could also block the sprayer arms from spinning, which can affect how clean the dishes get.

While full loads are more efficient, you want to balance filling the machine and packing too much onto the racks. Avoid stacking items on top of each other or jamming more dishes in. There should be some space between the dishes to let the water flow over them.

Rinsing dishes in a double sink

7. Low-Quality Dishwasher Detergent

It's tempting to save money on household essentials, but cheap dishwasher detergent might be a corner you don't want to cut. Lower-quality detergents don't always have the cleaning power of higher-end brands. They might leave your dishes dirty or dull. Try switching to better dishwasher detergent if you're going cheap, and use the built-in detergent dispenser to ensure you get the right amount.

8. Hard Water

If your home has hard water, your dishes might never look clean when they come out of the dishwasher, even if there’s nothing wrong with the machine. They often have a cloudy haze on them or spots that don't come off in the. Installing a whole-house water softener can remedy this issue. However, you can still use the dishes safely; there's nothing wrong with the dishwasher if hard water is to blame.