6 Easily Fixable Reasons Why Your Dishes Aren’t Getting Clean in the Dishwasher — No Pro Help Required

published Feb 2, 2023
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Credit: Shutterstock.com/Leszek Glasner

While every kitchen appliance is no doubt a modern marvel to be thankful for, if you spend a lot of time in the kitchen, staples like the refrigerator and stove have firmly attained “necessity” status. That’s not quite the case for the dishwasher, an appliance that still straddles that gray area of convenient but not imperative. 

It’s a wonderfully convenient luxury to have a machine that scrubs and sanitizes our dirty dishware in one shot. But we might not think about how much our dishwashers impact our daily lives until they stop working the way they should. Opening a unit that’s completed a wash cycle, only to find with dishes that aren’t clean is frustrating and inevitably throws a wrench in our kitchen cleaning routine. 

When this happens, it doesn’t always mean your unit is broken, though. Before you call the pros, there are ways to troubleshoot at home. To see if you can address the issue yourself at home, here are a few common — and totally fixable — reasons your dishes aren’t getting clean in the dishwasher.

1. Your filter is dirty.

Did you know your dishwasher has a filter and that it needs regular cleaning? A clogged filter could be the reason your dishes aren’t coming out of the dishwasher clean. If you don’t know where your filter is, you can look up your unit’s manual online for instructions. Most filters can be easily rinsed in the sink, but you may need to use a soft-bristled brush to get it really clean. Moving forward, make cleaning the filter in your dishwasher a regular habit. Some people recommend rinsing the filter out every time you empty a load! But even if you do this simple (but often overlooked) task once a week or so, you’ll be practicing good dishwasher maintenance. 

2. You aren’t using a rinse aid.

If you’re anything like I was, you might not really know what a rinse aid is for and may have some vague notion that it’s an unnecessary “extra.” But, just like I was, you’d be wrong. Rinse aid is an important component of dishwasher usage best practices. Rinse aid helps water slough off your dishes and glassware quickly so that water spots and hard water stains don’t form. It can make the difference between cloudy or spotty dishes and ones that sparkle. 

3. You’re using too much detergent.

It’s easy to think that more detergent means cleaner dishes, but the opposite is actually true. If you’re dealing with roughness on your dishware, too much detergent could be to blame. You could be over-filling your detergent pocket or using pods that simply deliver too much detergent for your unit. Try switching to a powder and using less and see if your dishes come out cleaner. 

4. You’re pre-rinsing.

Definitely don’t stop scraping your plates, but don’t pre-rinse them. Especially with newer units that have dirt sensors, the relative cleanliness of your plates determines how strongly the dishwasher washes your dishes. You don’t want to trick your dishwasher into not cleaning your dishes well enough. In addition, modern detergents actually need to attach to some food particles in order to work properly. Weird, but true. 

5. You need to clean your dishwasher.

If your dishwasher isn’t getting your dishes clean, it might be a sign that you need to clean the entire unit. It’s easy to forget that appliances that clean things get dirty, but they do! And keeping them clean ensures that they can keep running well. Make cleaning the dishwasher a regular part of your kitchen deep-cleaning routine. 

6. You’re not loading it properly.

If you’re blocking the spray arms or your dishes are blocking each other, it’s no wonder your items aren’t getting clean. But the right way to load the dishwasher isn’t your way or your partner’s way, either! The right way to load the dishwasher is the way your appliance manual says you should. Look it up online and adjust your loading practices accordingly.