5 Signs You Probably Need to Replace Your Dishwasher

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

One devastating appliance breakdown can quickly transform your kitchen from your home’s haven to a living nightmare — and thanks to Murphy’s Law, these unexpected moments almost always happen at the most inopportune times (like right before a party. Yikes!).

Perhaps the worst of the worst? Your trusty dishwasher craps out. Pay attention to these five warning signs to catch (and repair or replace!) your appliance before you both hit total meltdown mode.

(Image credit: l i g h t p o e t)

1. Your dishes don’t come out hot.

Perhaps the most important factor in clean, germ-free dishes is hot, sudsy water. Whether you’re washing by hand or trusting your grimy plates to a machine, the FDA says a temperature of at least 170°F is necessary to sanitize.

If you’re removing your dishes from the washer in a timely manner post-cycle and they aren’t coming out toasty and steamy, there may be an issue with the heating coil (or electric heater). This is what gets your tap water super-hot to sanitize the load; if it’s broken, chances are it’s going to be pretty spendy to fix or replace. You might be better off getting a new machine.

2. You see rust.

Once in a while, swipe the floor underneath the dishwasher with a light-colored cloth or paper towel. If you come up with flakes of rust, that means water is leaking and getting into places it shouldn’t. It also means you want to get a new dishwasher sooner rather than later.

If there’s rust on the inside of the dishwasher, look to see if it’s because any of your dishes (pizza pans, baking sheets, etc!) happened to be touching the tub during the last load. If that’s the culprit, you can run an empty cycle with citric acid and that should clean it right up. If the plastic or the metal is starting to corrode and you see rust, it will need a bigger repair or a full-out replacement.

3. The door doesn’t latch properly — or at all.

If the latch doesn’t close properly and securely, the washer won’t run. A simple latch repair may be in order or, more seriously, this could be a sign that the machine has warped from leakage. In that case, a replacement is necessary — unless you want to wash everything by hand from now on.

4. It doesn’t drain properly.

If, once your cycle has completed, you still see a pool of water in the bottom of your dishwasher, you should do some investigating. It could be that there’s a problem with the drain — minor or major.

First, check to see whether bits of food or other debris are blocking the drain (or, hire a plumber to do so!) and preventing water from filtering out after the cycle is complete. If you don’t see anything, it could be that the drain itself has cracked or crumbled, and the whole unit may need replacing.

5. It isn’t energy efficient.

While this might not be as urgent as the above issues, the energy efficiency of your appliance is a factor you should consider! If your dishwasher is more than 10 years old, the concept of an upgrade to an Energy Star model pretty much pays for itself. The stamp of approval means that the machine uses far less water each cycle, cleans more effectively, and — bonus! — is much quieter than your current unit.

One thing that’s not a sign you need a new dishwasher.

Believe it or not, a few dirty dishes after a rinse cycle isn’t necessarily a sign that your dishwasher isn’t working properly. It might be due to operator error. For one, you might be rinsing your plates too well (soap needs bits and pieces to grab onto in order to clean). Or you might be using the wrong kind of dish soap (if you have hard water, some soaps can leave cloudy stains on your glasses). If you address both of these issues and your dishes still aren’t coming out clean, try cleaning the spray arms before you call in an expert.