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What to do if your dishwasher is not cleaning dishes properly

Dishwasher problems are a pain, but you don’t always need to call out a professional.


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Blue and yellow dishes in dishwasher

Is your dishwasher not cleaning dishes properly? Some of us would struggle to live without our trusted dishwasher – a favourite household appliance that saves us time and effort.

That’s why, when dishwasher problems begin to surface, it can be a bit of a nightmare. Suddenly having to wash dishes by hand again isn’t ideal, especially when you’re busy. Thankfully, a dishwasher not cleaning properly can be easily solved.

Cleaning your dishwasher once a month will help to keep it running efficiently. Empty your dishwasher, put a jug of white vinegar on the bottom rack and run the machine on a hot wash.

Common dishwasher problems

When they’re used daily to clean heavily soiled pots and dirty dishes, it’s no wonder our hard working dishwashers can break down from time to time.

Is your dishwasher not cleaning properly? Is your dishwasher leaving residue on dishes? It’s a pain, but the good news is you don’t always need to call out a professional. Here are some of the most common problems and how to fix them.

  • Dishwasher leaving residue on dishes

If your dishwasher isn’t cleaning 100% of the food residue from your kitchenware, there are a few things that could be going on. Are you overloading your machine? It’s important to leave space between items for optimum cleaning.

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It’s also crucial to scrape any food residue into your compost bin before loading kitchenware into the dishwasher, as this could clog the filter and reduce your dishwasher’s cleaning power. Using a good detergent is also essential for effective cleaning – we like Sunlight automatic dishwashing powder and tablets.

  • Dishwasher leaving white residue

Do you live in a hard water area? The mineral deposits that are present in hard water can leave a white film or spots on dishes once they’ve been cleaned. This isn’t dangerous, but it is unsightly, and may call for a special rinsing agent.

For a dishwasher leaving white residue, add a commercial rinse aid when loading your machine. This will prevent residue from forming during the final rinse cycle. If you use Sunlight dishwashing tablets with very hard water, we recommend that you add salt for the best results.

  • The water isn’t draining

If your dishwasher isn’t draining the dirty water, it could have a blocked filter. Consult your manual and locate the filter (remember to turn your machine off at the power and disconnect the water). Take it out, wash it under the tap, and give it a good scrub.

You should do this regularly – about once a month – to prevent blockages. Drainage problems could also be down to a blocked kitchen sink, so it might be time to reach for the plunger!

Steps to a clean dishwasher

Sometimes your dishwasher might not be cleaning dishes properly because it isn’t clean itself! Here’s the best route to a clean dishwasher:

1.     Remove all plates, pots and kitchenware from the dishwasher

2.     Place a (dishwasher safe) container of white distilled vinegar in the bottom rack

3.     Run a hot empty load

4.     Leave to air dry

5.     You could also clean the spray arm. Simply remove the arm (consult your manual for the best way to do this), get rid of any debris and clean it with warm soapy water.

White distilled vinegar is a natural odour eliminator and disinfectant, so if your dishwasher isn’t cleaning properly or is emitting some unpleasant smells, a hot vinegar wash should leave you with a sparkling clean dishwasher that’s ready for action in no time.

Key steps

  • Scrape food residue into your food bin or compost pile before loading

  • Try not to overfill your dishwasher

  • Use a trusted detergent that cleans fast and effectively

  • Do you live in a hard water area? You may need to add a rinsing aid

  • Clean your dishwasher regularly


Why is my dishwasher not cleaning dishes properly?

There could be several reasons why your dishwasher is not cleaning dishes properly. Some common reasons include clogged or dirty filters, malfunctioning spray arms, low water pressure, or incorrect loading of dishes.

How do I clean my dishwasher?

To clean your dishwasher, remove any leftover food debris from the dishwasher's filter and spray arms. Then, run the dishwasher on the hottest cycle with a dishwasher cleaner or a mixture of baking soda and vinegar. Regularly wiping down the interior of the dishwasher and the door gasket can also help prevent buildup.

How often should I clean my dishwasher?

It is recommended to clean your dishwasher at least once a month to prevent the buildup of food debris and other particles.

Can I use regular dish soap in my dishwasher?

No, regular dish soap should not be used in a dishwasher. Dish soap creates too many suds and can cause the dishwasher to overflow. Only use dishwasher detergent specifically designed for use in dishwashers.

Originally published