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Why a Dishwasher Isn’t Cleaning Dishes on Top or Bottom Rack?

Oleg Chudnovski, CEO

Technically Reviewed by Oleg Chudnovski, CEO on Apr 09, 2024 | Written by Olga Larina

Authorized repair service for most home appliance manufacturers

If you have ever loaded up dishes only to find the dishwasher not cleaning your dishes after a complete cycle, we know how you feel. That kind of frustration over a broken or malfunctioning dishwasher is exactly the type of thing that requires an immediate fix.

There may be a few underlying causes if you’re having trouble getting your dishwasher to clean dishes on the top or bottom rack efficiently. First, improper dish loading could block the spray arms and hinder even water distribution. Water flow might also be hampered by dirt or blockages accumulating in the spray arms and filters. Furthermore, improper detergent use or a low water temperature can also lead to inefficient cleaning. It could be a good idea to speak with a qualified expert to find and fix any underlying mechanical or technical issues with your dishwasher if the problems remain after doing these checks.

Solving the issue of a dishwasher not cleaning well requires diagnosing several core issues. Even if your new dishwasher is not cleaning properly, you can take action on signs of malfunction. Read more about possible causes before moving on to the steps you can take.

5 Common Issues Related to Not Cleaning Dishes

When you are concerned about a dishwasher that won’t clean or a dishwasher is not cleaning like it used to, there are common problems that you should look out for.

Some of these issues are easy to spot and require little time or effort. Other things could be the symptom of several serious issues you must troubleshoot. Below are some of the most common problems that cause a dishwasher not to clean dishes properly.


Why a Dishwasher Isn’t Cleaning Dishes on Top or Bottom Rack Well and How to Fix it?

Reason 1: Clogged Sprayer Arm

The plastic sprayer arm is located at the washer’s bottom. Sometimes, there is a second sprayer located hanging under the rack. A dishwasher not cleaning the top rack may have a clogged sprayer there. The sprayer arm should be free to rotate and spray water during a cycle.

Sometimes, you can tell if the sprayer has become clogged. A clogged sprayer will release less water and not clean your dishes thoroughly throughout the cycle.

Reason 2: Broken Soap Dispenser

Almost all modern dishwashers have a locking soap dispenser tray inside the door panel. The soap tray conveniently opens to allow you to load soap, then securely snaps shut for the dishwasher cycle.

During the cycle, the soap dispenser must open and release the soap to reach the dishes. However, if the soap tray gets broken, it may not release the soap, and your dishwasher will not clean the bottom rack or top shelf.

Reason 3: Inside the Dishwasher is a Dirty

After many uses, a dishwasher may have a build-up of debris, dirt, grime, and soap scum. The interior panels can harbour many nasty materials, and none are good for cleaning dishes.

Often, during a dishwasher cycle, the sprayers coat the entire interior. This water loosens the debris on the dishwasher’s walls and ceiling, raining down your dishes. As a sign of filth inside your dishwasher, the scent at the end of a cycle will resemble vinegar.

Reason 4: Inlet Valve is Failing

When the water enters your dishwasher, it comes through a water inlet valve. This valve can start to fail on older machines. Your dishes and glasses won’t get very clean without the right amount of water entering the cycle.

If you notice a drop in water pressure, the inlet valve may fail if you notice leaking from the sides or bottom of the dishwasher. Or if there is little to no water in the dishwasher during a complete cycle.

Reason 5: Water Temperature is Low

For the best results, dishwashers need water temperatures of about one hundred and twenty degrees. Some food scraps and grease may get left behind at the end of a cycle without hot water.

Suppose you open the dishwasher mid-cycle and don’t notice a lot of steam and warmth inside the dishwasher. In that case, you probably have a water temperature issue.

Best 5 Actions To Fix a Dishwasher that Won’t Wash

Fixing a dishwasher that isn’t working becomes much easier now that you have identified some symptoms. The problems with dishwashers not cleaning are all fixable. Below are some of the easiest actions you can take to fix a dishwasher that won’t clean.

Step 1: Unclog Sprayers

Washing machines get filled with a lot of food debris. Not all of that debris makes it into the filter or drain at the bottom of the machine. Since the sprayer arm has several openings for water to come out, there are also places where food scraps can fall in.

Troubleshooting this one is easy. Ensure you have a soft bristle brush like a toothbrush to unclog the dishwasher sprayers. Give the entire sprayer arm a visual inspection to see if any clogs are visible. Then, brush down the entire arm, paying particular attention to the visible scraps. The sprayer arms can also be removed and flushed with water in the sink.

Step 2: Clean or Replace the Soap Dispenser

The soap dispenser has a small flap door on a spring. If the door gets broken, that spring will not be functioning. Also, the door might be difficult to get open with your fingers. In this case, you need to remove the soap dispenser with a Phillips head screwdriver and order a new one for replacement.

Suppose the soap dispenser has a build-up of soap scum and hard water deposits around the edge of the door. In that case, clean around the perimeter of the soap dispenser door. Use a multipurpose cleaner and an abrasive brush or cloth. Use a toothbrush to clean the latch mechanism.

Step 3: Wipe and Clean the Dishwasher Interior

During a dishwasher cycle, food and grease particles from dirty dishes can become dislodged and stick to the interior surfaces. These residues may then rinse off during subsequent cycles, potentially landing on your dishes. The debris can originate from both the bottom and upper racks of the dishwasher.

Make a habit of checking and wiping down the interior of your dishwasher. It is easiest to wipe down the interior’s food debris after a cycle when the scraps are hot and loose.

Step 4: Replace the Inlet Valve

When an inlet valve begins failing on a dishwasher, it will probably leak. Ensure you identify the leaking quickly and then turn off the water supply to your home. Use wrenches to remove the water inlet from the faucet gently. Use a screwdriver to loosen and remove the inlet valve and find a suitable replacement to screw back in its place.

You may also want to replace the water tubing in the dishwasher while replacing the water inlet valve. Always use pipe tape on the pipe threads when you tighten them back in place.

Step 5: Check Your Water Hoses

If your dishwasher’s water temperature is not hot, ensure the water piping is connected to the hot water valve. Run the hot water in your sink, then feel the valve attached to your dishwasher. If that valve is not hot, you must loosen and change the connection of the other water valve for hot water.

Choose Fix Appliances CA For Your Needs

You want the best repair services when you need help with dishwasher appliance repairs. Fix Appliances CA offers licensed and certified technicians with over fifteen years of on-field experience. Our team is qualified to handle 90+ brands, including LG, Fisher & Paykel, Frigidaire, Whirlpool, Bosch, Kenmore, GE, Kitchenaid, and Samsung.

Some of the best reasons to reach out to Fix Appliances CA are:

  • 90 days satisfaction guarantee
  • 9-times HomeStars Winner
  • Authorized repair service for most home appliance manufacturers
  • Factory trained technicians
  • Same-day repair service is available

Dealing with a not-cleaning dishwasher can be a time-consuming and costly issue. Don’t hesitate to take action – spare a few minutes to request our service or give us a call at 1-888-242-0777 for a same-day dishwasher repair service in Toronto, Mississauga, Barrie and any of the GTA surrounding areas.  Waiting is unnecessary when you reach out to our FIX Appliances CA representatives. Be confident that our dedicated team is prepared and eager to assist you with all your appliance repair requirements.

Date of page creation: May 11, 2021

Page update date: April 09, 2024


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Technician (sorry forgot his name) was very efficient in diagnosing the problem, providing estimate of work, and returning soon after to install parts - I was really impressed with the fast response to my initial call (on-site within 48 hours) and when repair was made... it would have been earlier, but I was not available for the earlier date. Gave window of time he would return to make repairs and was exactly on time at the front end of the window of time. Would recommend without hesitation and will continue to call Fix Appliances as my first option for appliance repairs... the service and response times and quality of work is excellent. I always worry about the fly by night repair services as you never know what you're going to get, but I think my worries are now over! Thank you Fix Appliances... please don't change.

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January 17, 2024

Have an old dishwasher in my rental unit that needed new springs. Shani was very helpful in arranging the service call and answering all my questions. Alex was the technician sent to do the work. Found replacement parts the following week and fixed the dishwasher; my tenants were satisfied. He arranged both appts with my tenants, to accommodate their schedule. Very professional. Great customer service. Worth the money. Will definitely call them again.

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FAQ: Top Frequently Asked Questions

There could be a clogged sprayer arm at the washer's bottom or a second sprayer under the top rack. Check for visible clogs, use a soft bristle brush to unclog, or remove and flush the sprayer arm in the sink.
If the soap dispenser tray is broken, it may not release soap during the cycle. Remove the dispenser with a Phillips head screwdriver, order a replacement, and ensure the small flap door and spring are functioning properly.
Regularly check and wipe down the interior of your dishwasher, especially after cycles, to remove debris, dirt, and soap scum. Clean with a multipurpose cleaner, an abrasive brush, or cloth. This helps prevent debris from landing on dishes during the next cycle.
The water inlet valve, responsible for allowing water into the dishwasher, may start failing on older machines. If there's a drop in water pressure, leakage, or insufficient water during the cycle, the inlet valve might be the culprit. Replace the valve and consider replacing water tubing if necessary.
Dishwashers need water temperatures of around 120 degrees for optimal cleaning. If you notice a lack of steam and warmth mid-cycle, there may be a water temperature issue. Check the hot water valve connected to the dishwasher, and if it's not hot, adjust the water piping connection to ensure a hot water supply.

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