The One Thing You May Need to Replace in Your Dishwasher

published Jun 8, 2022
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

If you’re lucky enough to have a dishwasher, then you know how integral it can be to your cooking and cleaning routine. If your dishwasher isn’t working well for whatever reason, it can throw everything off. That’s why it’s important to be informed about what could be causing less-than-optimal performance and how to take care of it before it becomes an even bigger problem. Sometimes, the fix may be as simple as cleaning your dishwasher. Other times, you may need a bit more elbow grease — or even a new part.

Recently, the people at HomeServeUSA posted an eye-opening TikTok about your dishwasher’s spray arm, what it does, and when it might be time to swap it out for a new one.

Here’s an easy breakdown of what you need to know about your dishwasher’s spray arm, according to two appliance pros

Credit: Sarah Crowley

What exactly is a dishwasher spray arm? 

According to Gary Rima, an electrician and master appliance repair technician, the spray arm is the piece in your dishwasher that sprays your dishes continuously with hot water. “It’s called an ‘arm’ because it’s generally long and relatively narrow. It’s almost as wide as the dishwasher itself, and it rotates as it sprays water,” Rima says. 

Where do I find my dishwasher’s spray arm? 

Surprise! Dishwashers can have one, two, or three spray arms. Every model has one at the bottom, which is clearly visible if you roll the bottom rack out and look into the bottom. Most have a second spray arm affixed to the bottom of the upper rack, which you can see by pulling out the rack and looking through it to the underside. (This is easier, Rima says, if the rack is empty). Finally, some dishwashers have a third, small spray arm attached to the inner ceiling. This one is harder to see, but you can bend over and look at the top underside to find it. The top spray arm is usually smaller, Rima says, about 3 to 6 inches wide. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

How do I know if I need to replace it? 

Are your dishes getting clean after every cycle? If not, it’s possible the spray arms aren’t doing their job. You can gauge if a spray arm is functioning correctly by running the following test, according Corey Bendetti, owner of The Appliance Doctor. First, turn the dishwasher on and wait until you hear the wash motor running steadily. Then, open the door and set all of the spray arms in a position that you can easily remember. Close the door and wait until you hear it running again — that’s your cue to open the door once more to see if the spray arms have moved. If so, they’re functioning properly!

Before you go out to replace a dishwasher part, Bendetti suggests checking to make sure the little holes in the arms aren’t clogged with debris. If they are, clean them out with a toothpick, then try the test again. “If they are still not rotating, then they probably need to be replaced,” he says. 

Where and how do I buy a spray arm? 

First, make note of your dishwasher brand and model — Rima says that’s often located on a sticker inside the dishwasher door — then, decide if you want to shop in-person or order online. According to Bendetti, you can find replacement parts at a local appliance parts store, or at an online retailer such as Appliance Pros, Appliance Parts Pros, or Encompass

How do I replace a spray arm?

Every dishwasher is different, so Rima says there’s no one-size-fits-all method for removing and replacing your spray arm. Lower spray arms are sometimes snapped into place. They can also be held in place by a large, plastic screw in the middle that you’ll need to remove. Some spray arms are threaded onto a shaft, so they need to be lifted and screwed off while you hold them up. Middle spray arms typically clip or screw to the upper rack, as are upper spray arms. 

Sometimes, Rima says, parts suppliers have videos or pictures of how to replace a part. You can also Google how yours work if needed. If you’re still not sure how to move forward — or your dishwasher is still not working well after you replace the spray arm yourself — it may be time to enlist the pros. 

Have you ever replaced the spray arm on your dishwasher? Do you have any maintenance tips? Share your advice in the comments below.