Fix-it-Fred: The Dishwasher That Doesn’t

We have a large stainless steel colored rectangle under our counter in the kitchen. Most people would refer to it as a dishwasher. I call this one the dish equalizer. No matter what the dishes go in looking like, they all come out the same. The dirtiest ones get cleaner. The cleanest ones get dirtier. It has had its moments of brilliance in the past, but it appears the best days are behind it.

It looks like a dishwasher, but it doesn’t act like one

I have made a few previous attempts to fix it. Most resulted in minimal improvement. On a couple of occasions, it reached a level worthy of the name dish-washer. Bus as always, its performance is sub-par again. I am not one to give up on something that would actually cost money to replace. As a result, I decided it was time to tear into the beast one more time. This time I brought the full toolbox with me. No more Mr. Nice Guy. It was to the point that I could not possibly make it any worse.

dishwasher dirty screen

I started by removing all the spray wands and cleaning them out. Several parts needed to be removed prior to actually freeing the arms from the dishwasher. When I had them out, I found an amazing amount of food (mostly lentils) in them. That was the first clue that something was not right. The water in the sprayers should be clean, not recycled.

lower arms
lower spray arm
upper arms
upper spray arm

After these were clean, I turned my attention to the mass of strainers and filters on the bottom of the dishwasher. There are several layers with varying hole sizes intended to clean the water enough to recycle it for wash water again. They also keeps the drain water clear since our dishwasher is not one that has a built in macerator. The following pictures are of the cleaned dishwasher. Needless to say, the before pictures were not pretty.

clean strainers
all these strainers covering the pump

Once I had the strainers out and clean, I ran the dishwasher through a rinse cycle to make sure all the water lines were clean. Things looked pretty good. I was hopeful this would be an easy repair.

dishwasher valve covered
still looks pretty good

Then I drained the water in the sink that I had used to wash the dirty parts. The garbage disposal was run so as to finish the job. I opened the dishwasher to reassemble all the parts I had taken out. When I opened it, I was met with quite a bit of dirty water. That’s not good. Water is supposed to go out the drain, not in.

Time to tear further into the machine and see what was going on. I was still hoping to find an easy fix. As I removed the housing that contained the ball check valve, I found the problem. Some food scraps from long ago had wrapped around the ball and stuck there. They were preventing the ball from fully seating, thus allowing water to flow in through the drain.

ball valve
That little check valve ball is $27

After a thorough cleaning, I reinstalled all the parts I had removed from the dishwasher. I ran another test rinse cycle to see if it was working properly. Everything seemed a-ok. Again. I filled the dishwasher and ran a load of dirty dishes through it. That did not go so well. It was still a dish-equalizer.

Round two of dishwasher destruction. I removed and cleaned all the same parts for the second time. Nothing seemed amiss with anything. I inspected each part closely when I reinstalled them. Upon this closer inspection, I noticed that there are two small plastic “ears” on the bottom of the large strainer in the bottom of the washer. The ears were intended to separate the drain water path from the clean water one. They were bent over and no longer fit in the grooves they were supposed to, thus allowing the drain water to cross over into the clean water path.

ears and groove
If those two little ears don’t sit in the groove, the dishwasher fails to work correctly

I straightened them the best I could, and made sure they were in the correct position when I reinstalled the strainer. Then I carefully replaced all the remaining parts and ran a test rinse. Everything seemed good. Again. Once more, I filled the beast with dirty dishes and ran it. Voila! The dishes were nearly clean. Only a slight cloud remained. Best of all, the inside of the dishwasher was clean. After a few more cycles the dishes were finally clean. We have been running the dishwasher for a couple weeks now, and it is finally deserving of its name.

Do you battle with your dishwasher, or do you love it? Would you buy the same one again?