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Easy Dishwasher Fixes You Can Do For Less Than $5

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Your dishwasher has been humming along nicely, until one day it simply stops performing to your expectations. Perhaps your dishes come out with grease, debris or food particles stuck to them. Maybe the inside of the unit smells like something crawled in there and died. Before you call an appliance repair service, try these simple, cheap fixes:

1. The Dirty Dish Problem: You've tried multiple dishwasher detergents and cycles, but your dishes aren't getting clean. Check the following:

  • Water temperature: To clean properly, your dishwasher needs water at a temperature of at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit. You're lucky if your hot water heater has a numbered dial that you can set to exactly 140 degrees, but many don't. For hot water heaters that just have warm and hot designations, turn the unnumbered dial slightly toward hot. Then, run hot water in your sink for several minutes before collecting some in a cup. Use a cooking thermometer, which you can buy for less than $5, to check its temperature. If the water temperature remains too low, repeat these steps, moving the dial a little more each time until you can confirm that the water has reach the desired temperature. Note: Water set higher that 120 degrees can cause burns. Exercise caution by running cold water along with the hot each time you use it, especially in households with children. Additionally, some dishwashers preheat water before a cycle. Check your manual. You do not need to adjust your water temperature if your dishwasher has this feature.
  • Spray Arms: The spray arms, upper, lower and sometimes middle, have the important job of spraying your dishes with detergent and hot water. When they get clogged with food and debris, your dishes don't get clean. To clean these, turn off the dishwasher and unplug it or cut power to it via the circuit breaker panel. Use a socket and ratchet to remove the spray arms. Then, use a long, thin wire, such as picture-hanging or jewelry wire (which you can purchase from a craft store for just a few bucks), to remove food and debris from the spray arms holes. Soak the spray arms in plain white vinegar (a whole bottle typically costs less than $1) until any caked-on debris and detergent loosens enough for you to rinse or wipe it away. Finally, dry and re-install the spray arms before restoring power to the dishwasher.
  • Detergent Dispenser: You might think the detergent dispenser should be the cleanest part of the dishwasher, but caked-on detergent, food and debris can muck it up enough to prevent the dispenser from shutting properly or opening fully during a wash cycle. Clean it out by spraying the dispenser with vinegar and using a toothbrush to scrub the loosened debris and detergent off. Light scrubbing with steel wool removes caked-on matter as well.

2. The Dishwasher Smells Funky: Your dishwasher shouldn't have an offensive odor after you've run it. First, check for water in the bottom of the dishwasher tub after a wash cycle. If water has collected there, your dishwasher isn't draining properly and may require a more complex fix. If the tub seems ship-shape, try this easy fix for dishwasher halitosis:

Look for food and debris trapped in the screen at the bottom of the dishwasher tub. Remove large pieces by hand, then rinse the rest off the screen. Next, clean the inside of the door with a household cleaner or white vinegar, wiping the small section just beneath the door as well. Avoid bleach, as it can corrode the medal parts of your dishwasher and void your warranty. Follow up by emptying your unit, putting dishwasher cleaner inside and running a cycle. As an alternative to a store-bought dishwasher cleaner (less than $5), mix your own, using 1.5 cups of baking soda and 1 cup of vinegar (a couple of dollars for both). Just add this mixture to your empty dishwasher and run it through a regular wash cycle.

The above fixes are easy enough for even the average DIY novice to try. However, to avoid voiding your warranty, always consult your dishwasher manual before beginning any DIY fix.