The 4 D's of Dishwasher Death

Dishwashers are great appliances. They save us time, energy, and hassle. And, they protect us from "dishpan hands!"

But, something inevitably causes this workhorse of the modern kitchen to stumble or even fall. Some may have cheap and easy solutions, others may not.

These are the four most common reasons you might be considering giving your current dishwasher its last rites:

1: DEPOSITS

In much of America, the water coming into our homes is hard. By "hard," I mean that there are lots of minerals dissolved in every gallon of water. Those minerals don't affect your health, but they do affect the health of every device in your home that uses water, including your dishwasher.

If your dishwasher has calcium deposits inside, it may look something like this:


These calcium deposits end up in the tub, but also in the pump, where it can cause the pump to fail. They can also build up in the wash arms, clogging the jets.  The hard water also makes it harder for detergent to clean dishes properly. Maybe you even find white deposits on your glasses and other dishes. And, they just plain don't look good.

An easy way to eliminate deposits from your dishwasher is with CLR. A simpler method is Affresh tablets, or Dishwasher Magic.
While products like CLR can clean these deposits away, they don't prevent deposits from occurring, and they don't undo any harm that may have already happened.
To help with cleaning performance, use a tablespoon of baking soda in the pre-wash dispenser cup. Baking soda will soften the water in the dishwasher, which improves the detergent's ability to clean. You may also want to consider a dishwasher with a built-in water softener.

A more comprehensive solution is a whole-home water softener, which draws the minerals out of the water, leaving it "soft." Soft water cleans better, requires less detergent to clean dishes properly, and protects water-using appliances and fixtures (washing machines, dishwashers, sinks, faucets, toilets, shower heads, tubs, etc.).
 

2: DAMAGE

Damage to the pump can be caused by hard water (described above) or debris (described below).

If the damage is resulting in intermittent pressure, it may be debris. If the result is consistent low pressure, it is most likely deposits.

In the case of deposits, try CLR, following the instructions on the bottle. This may temporarily help or even cure the symptoms for a time.

If debris is the problem, follow the instructions in the next section.

If the motor or pump simply do not work anymore, they can be replaced. Depending on how old the dishwasher is and how much it cost, you might want to replace the whole dishwasher. You'll likely get something quieter and more energy-efficient.

3: DEBRIS

Sometimes, bits of food or broken dishes can cause blockages. They can slow the flow of water to the pump or clog wash arms. They can also cause bits of food to redeposit on dishes and even damage the heating element.

If you're handy and confident in your ability to put things back together as you found them, you may want to dismantle the lower wash arm assembly. Lay all parts out in a row so you know how to put them back in correctly. Clean any components that are clogged or dirty, and remove any debris you find.

Remove the upper rack and flush out the middle wash arm. Clear all debris and deposits out of it. When you've cleaned the filters and the wash arms completely, re-assemble and give it a test run. If it still doesn't work well, consult an appliance repair technician. Usually, debris issues can be fixed without needing to replace the dishwasher.

4: DETERIORATION

Dishwasher racks, until a couple years ago, were all made of steel wire coated with PVC. This would be fine, except that PVC gets brittle after repeated exposure to heat, moisture, and bleach (which, of course, is exactly what your dishwasher does!).

If your racks have started rusting, and the tips of the tines are breaking off, you have 3 options:
  • get a rack repair kit
  • get new racks
  • get a new dishwasher.
The first option is the cheapest option, to be sure. A pack of plastic tine covers for under $10. But, this is just a band-aid solution, in that it merely covers up the problem. The deterioration will continue, and will only get worse with time.

The second option is quite a bit more expensive, and far less popular. Replacement dishwasher racks cost anywhere from $100-150 each or even more. And, of course, because the rack is the same as what you've just replaced, you'll be in this same situation not too long from now.

The third option is probably the most expensive, but it solves the problem much more permanently and will probably save you money on utilities versus your current dishwasher. Most new dishwashers have nylon-coated racks, which are about ten times more durable than PVC. Because most dishwashers are more efficient than older models, this option can save you quite a bit in utility costs.

Deposits, Damage, Debris, and Deterioration - the four D's of dishwasher death. Now you know what they are and what can be done about them.