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Coping With a Clogged Dishwasher

We had a little problem here last week – the dishwasher wasn’t draining well at all. I could hear a bit of water draining, but there was still a significant amount of water in the bottom of it when I checked. Of course, as the dirty water was staying in there, the dishes weren’t exactly getting clean either. Needless to say, I was close to calling in my fallback dishwashers (AKA the kids) by the time the plumber got here.

This time, it was an issue I needed the plumber for, as he took out parts I wasn’t comfortable working with. He had to detach the various hoses, and blast them clean with water. Worked really well. That said, we did try some other steps before calling on the plumber.

The first step is to make sure the garbage disposal is clear. I do this every time I run the dishwasher because I don’t always know if someone has dropped something down there. It just takes a moment to run the disposal and ensure that it will be clear for the dishwasher.

The next thing was to get the water out of the bottom. I had been using a cup to scoop water out, then my sometimes efficient husband brought out the shop vac, which handled the water issue quite easily.

A quick check showed that there was nothing outside the drainage basket, which is an area I check regularly. I had pulled some pineapple tidbits from there the other day, so I knew the kids weren’t being careful when they loaded the dishwasher. Or somebody wasn’t.

The drainage basket can be pretty easy to remove, just find the screws or bolts and remove them. Check your owner’s manual to be sure you’re doing this right. Once there, you can clean out any mess you can see, but you may not be done yet.

Now, I wouldn’t use a drain cleaner in a dishwasher. The acid may be too strong for that kind of pipe and besides, that stuff’s nasty and dangerous. You could end up with an even bigger problem if you tried it. Better is something like your typical baking soda and vinegar drain clearing procedure. I’ve seen a few sites suggest it, and I assume it’s safe enough. Pour some baking soda down the drain inside the dishwasher, followed by some vinegar and let it work for a while. Pour hot water or run the dishwasher to clear this out.

We were lucky, of course, in that it wasn’t the dishwasher pump causing the problem. I had been pretty sure, as I know the sounds my dishwasher makes when running, including the sound of draining water, and the draining water sound had decreased, but not disappeared, so I was confident that we had a plugged drain and wouldn’t need to replace a part.

After all this, it’s probably unsurprising that the dishwasher looked pretty bad down in the bottom. All the stuff that settled out as the water failed to drain was just sitting there, and I didn’t want it getting sprayed all over the dishes.

The solution was citric acid. You can buy dishwasher cleaners that have this in them, or just buy it separately. Amazon has it available in a lot of sizes. It’s a good boost for your regular dishwasher detergent. I just poured it into the dispenser in my dishwasher, ran it until the citric acid dispensed and had been in the water for a bit, then turned the dishwasher off and let it sit overnight. That took care of a lot of the mess. Get food grade citric acid, and it’s pretty safe stuff. Still acid of course, so you should be a little careful. Using it with my regular dishwasher detergent has resulted in dishes even cleaner and shinier than I’m used to.

2 Responses to Coping With a Clogged Dishwasher

  1. We had the same problem and had to use the shop vac to get the water out of the bottom of the dishwasher. And there was a lot of water. Then we took a gate off the drain and sucked out some more stuff with the vac. After this the dishwasher began draining again. Luckily no need for the plumber.
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  2. Very helpful tips. It is scary how many people out there use harmful chemicals when they need to unclog their dishwasher! Thanks.

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