The Biggest Issues You Have with Your Dishwasher (and How to Fix Them)

(Image credit: Diana Liang)

When was the last time you opened your dishwasher to discover clean, dry, spot-free dishes? We hear you! Dishwashers are not perfect. There’s almost always some issue — like cloudy glasses or stuck-on food. That’s why we reached out to the American Cleaning Institute to talk about the biggest dishwasher issues — and how to fix them.

Here are the biggest issues they called out. And their advice on how to correct them for your next load.

1. There’s food stuck to your dishes.

If you run your dishwasher cycle and still have food left on the dishes, the most likely cause is that the dishwasher is overcrowded, so the jets of water can’t reach all the dishes. If you give your dishes more wiggle room and they’re still not getting clean, your dishwasher might not be getting full enough. Try to avoid running other water (say, hand-washing dishes or taking a shower) to give the water pressure a boost.

A final possible cause for dirty dishes is that your water temperature is too low. If you don’t have a heat booster, run the hot water in the sink for a few minutes before starting the dishwasher; if you do have a heat booster and it’s not working, it’s time to call the repairman.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

2. Your dishes don’t dry all the way.

If your dishes are still wet when you’re ready to unload them, check your dry cycle settings. If you’ve chosen the “air dry/no-heat” setting to save energy, you may need to give them more time to dry on their own. It’s also possible the dishes aren’t draining properly because you’ve loaded them wrong — yes, your loading technique matters! Refer to your owner’s manual for guidance. (Or ask your significant other, who will probably be happy to tell you the right way to load them!)

3. There are black or gray marks on your white dishes.

If your white ceramic dishes are coming out with what look like dark scratches, it’s probably from aluminum utensils rubbing against them during the wash cycle. Next time, be mindful of keeping items like foil containers away from your white dishes. In the meantime, these marks should remove easily with a plastic scouring pad and mild cleanser.

4. Your glassware has detergent spots.

Much like your dishes with food stuck on them, the most likely cause of soap-spotted dishes is that the water can’t get to your the dishes — or that the water isn’t hot enough. Make sure that you’re not blocking the spray arms during loading and that the water is getting hot enough. It could also be that you’re not using enough detergent — sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true! — or that the filter is dirty, so give it a peek and clean it if it’s clogged.

Psst: When was the last time you cleaned your dishwasher? You should probably be doing it once a month — really! Don’t worry, it’s not as hard as you think.

Here’s what you need to know: How To Clean a Dishwasher

5. There are pit marks on your flatware.

If your flatware has dark marks on it, it could be from prolonged contact with salty or acidic foods. To avoid, run the dishwasher as quickly after using stainless steel as possible, or run the “rinse-hold” cycle if you’re not washing them right away. You can also see dark marks if you’re using too much detergent or if you’re mixing your silverware with your stainless steel flatware. Keep them in separate compartments in the basket so they don’t touch (or better yet, hand wash your silverware).

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

6. Your glasses look filmy.

If you’ve noticed a foggy white film on your glassware, it could be a hard water problem — or it could be that your glasses are not dishwasher-safe. To check, soak the glass in vinegar for an hour; if the film starts to go away, it’s probably a hard water problem, in which case you should add a rinse aid to your dishwasher cycle to prevent buildup. If it doesn’t go away, the damage might be permanent.

7. Your dishwasher stinks!

If your dishwasher smells bad, the most likely cause is that your dirty dishes have been sitting in there for too long — so run the cycle, and you should be good! But if the smell persists, check the filter: Pull it out, clean it according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and get back to business.