How To Unblock Your Dishwasher: A Complete Guide

Finding a pool of water at the bottom of your dishwasher shouldn’t scare you at all. It’s a problem you can fix on your own without paying a professional. There are a couple of easy things you can do to correct the problem. Here, we can make everything clear to you, help you to figure out the root of your problem and how to fix it on your own.  Before looking for a professional or new dishwasher, read our guide first. 

a full dishwasher

Why is my dishwasher full of standing water? 

Standing water is a sign that something is wrong with your dishwasher, and you either need to call professionals or try to fix it by yourself. However, it is a problem that needs to be solved immediately as it can cause health problems. Stagnant water in the bottom of your dishwasher, along with the food remains, can cause mould and promote the growth of bacteria

The reasons why there’s water at the bottom of the dishwasher are plenty. It can be a clogged filter, garbage disposal, waste hose, air gap or even drain hose. This blockage can be caused by food particles, bones or other debris, like plastic or broken glass, blocking the drainage system. That’s why it is essential to clean your dishwasher!

Find what is causing your dishwasher to block

Stagnant water means that the dishwasher drain system is blocked by something and that’s why the machine can’t drain the dirty water out, and a pool is created at the bottom of the device after a wash cycle comes to an end. There might be a blockage in the sprayer arms or the drain. In case the spray arms are clogged, cutlery and crockery aren’t cleaned thoroughly due to the lack of sufficient water. But, if something clogs the drain, then dirty water usually pools in the bottom of the machine, allowing food debris and bacteria to build up. Start by finding out what is causing the problem. The most common issues causing a dishwasher to block are:

Clogs

There might be solid debris or broken pieces of crockery blocking the drain, the waste drain hose or the disposal, leading to stagnant water. Look for debris under the rack and remove it.

Dirty filter 

The dishwasher has a filter that needs to be cleaned now and then. If you have never cleaned it before or if you’re one of those types that let a long period of time pass between cleaning, then it’s time to check it and clean it if necessary.

Broken parts

It is common for pieces of your machine to break, especially if they’re made of plastic. Check out your device to see if there’s anything broken. If there is, then you should call professionals to replace it. Don’t try it on your own if you don’t want to mess with your warranty. 

Some broken parts inside a dishwasher machine

Operating flaws

To make sure how to work your device, always read the manufacturer’s guidelines correctly. You’ll find useful information from how to place the dirty plates to what cleaning products to use. You probably can’t use a standard dishwashing detergent, if it’ll cause clogs to appear which will lead to pool water at the bottom of your machine.

Lack of maintenance  

Most of us aren’t aware that we have to take care of our devices every once in a while. Just like you take your car for a checkup every year, you need to think about your other products too. Your dishwasher might have some trouble working properly, especially if you have it for many years. If you can’t find what’s wrong with it, then ask a professional for advice.

Step by step: How to unblock your dishwasher

Once you have found what causes the problem, it’s time for your dishwasher repair. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you do it in the safest way possible. But before starting the unblocking process,  make sure to switch off your machine.

Remove & clean the filters

Filters are located at the bottom of your dishwasher. They consist of three parts which are very easily accessible and removable. To be sure about their exact position and details on removing them, you should consult the manual guide. 

A man taking out the filter of a dishwasher machine

Here’s what you need to clean the filters: 

  • Hot water
  • Dish detergent
  • A sponge
  • Old towels

Once you’ve removed them: 

  1. Keep the filters under hot running water to be cleaned of all the grime. 
  2. Pour some detergent on the sponge and slightly rub the filters to clear all the dirt and grease.
  3. Put some old towels on the floor to prevent mess and remove all the dishwasher’s stagnant water. 
  4. Check if anything is blocking the hole where filters fit into (the sump).
  5. Once the filters are cleaned, put them back, cover them and check if the arm is rotating
  6. Finally, run the short cycle to check that everything is working properly and the water is draining.

Check the waste hose

If you have cleaned the filters, but you’re still facing problems, then you should check the hose for kinks or twists. If something like this occurs, then it’s the cause for preventing wastewater from draining. 

You’re going to need:

  • A straightened wire hanger
  • A small bowl

Now, the steps to fixing the issue are: 

  1. Place a small bowl underneath the hose to collect the excess wastewater.
  2. Remove the drain hose and check if something is clogging it
  3. Use the wire hanger and gently remove the obstacle

Extra tip: You can also use, if that’s possible, a garden hose. It’d be much easier when it comes to rinsing with a high-pressure stream of water. 

  1. Now, you’re ready to reconnect the waste hose
The waste hose of a dishwasher machine

Check the sink waste

Sometimes the hose connects to the kitchen sink waste. If yours does so, then check for any blockages. If water doesn’t drain as it should be from your kitchen sink or it doesn’t drain at all, then there’s something wrong. Hopefully, it’s easily fixable. 

You’ll need:

  • Baking soda
  • White vinegar
  • Boiling water

Here’s how you fix it:

  1. Pour a little bit of the soda and white vinegar into the drain. 
  2. Let it stay for a minute or two.
  3. Then, pour water to rinse it.

Extra tip: You can also use a plunger.

Check the garbage disposal

Some dishwashers have a disposal to drain which is connected to the outer drain pipe. If you don’t often clean it, then debris buildup will block water from draining out. Grab a flashlight and check the disposal. Look at the blades if there is a blockage or if you smell any strange odour. First, let the water run and turn on the disposal to clear it from any food debris. After that, run an empty cycle to check if the problem is fixed. If it isn’t, then do as follows.

Gather all the below tools: 

  • Tongs
  • 2 cups of ice cubes
  • ½ cup of salt
  • 1 ½ cup of baking soda
  • 1 cup of white vinegar
  • An old toothbrush
  • Lemon or orange peels

Now:

  1. Once you have turned off the power, use the flashlight to check the disposal for any removable items. If there are any, use the tongs to remove them.
  2. Place two cups of ice cubes and a ½ cup of salt in the disposal.
  3. Turn on the power and the water and run the disposal for a minute
  4. Check if the blades are clean now. If they are, turn off the power again.
  5. Now, pour 1 ½ cup of the soda and a cup of vinegar
  6. Let them fizz for 15 minutes
  7. Once it fizzes, use a toothbrush to clean the inner parts of the disposal. 
  8. Turn on the power and fill the sink with water.
  9. Remove the stopper from the sink and let water drain while the disposal is running. When there’s no more water left in the sink turn off the disposal.
  10. Place some lemon or orange peels into the disposal to freshen its smell. Run water and turn on the disposal until they’re gone. 

Check the air gap

This type of gap isn’t available to all models of dishwashers. It’s a small, plastic cylinder with a protective casing near the sink.

If your machine has one then to fix it you’re going to need:

  • A screwdriver
  • A pipe brush
  • Warm water
  • Dish soap
  • A drain snake

Now, do as follows:

  1. First thing you should do is to remove the plastic cap from the gap.
  2. Use a screwdriver to remove all the debris gently
  3. Clean it inside using a pipe brush and soapy water. 
  4. If the gap isn’t empty, use the drain snake to remove everything from inside. If the drain snake reaches the garbage disposal, then the gap is clean.
  5. Assemble the air gap again and turn on the device.
  6. Run an empty wash cycle to check if everything works properly.

Clean the spray arms

Sometimes these arms may cause a draining problem. They spin and spray water on the dishes. Hard water and food may clog the holes in the arms, blocking the throwing water. Arms need to be cleaned quite often to increase the cleaning efficiency of your device. And you probably want your device to have an excellent performance.

The spray arms of a dishwasher machine

Here’s what you need to do so:

  • A toothpick
  • A large basin 
  • Warm water 
  • White vinegar

Then: 

  1. Remove the arms and look for cloggings. If you don’t know how to remove them, check the manual.
  2. Clean the tiny holes using a toothpick.
  3. Sometimes, debris might have hardened, being unable to be cleaned. If that’s the case, then fill a large basin with water and pour some vinegar. Place in the arms and let them soak for 30 minutes. Water and vinegar will help you clear them. 
  4. Put the arms back to their place, turn on the power and run an empty cycle. 

When to call a professional?

Most of the time, unblocking your dishwasher on your own can be easy. But if you have tried all the above DIY methods and the problem remains, then it’s time to call a professional. They can manage to troubleshoot any dishwasher problems.

A woman asking a professional what's wrong with her dishwasher

Is it safe to use the dishwasher if it’s blocked?

If a dishwasher’s spray arms get blocked, it means that only a little or no water passes through. Thus dishes aren’t washed properly, and you probably see food leftovers on your “clean” plates and cups. If the issue is a blocked drain, then water will pool at the dishwasher’s bottom, which if you don’t fix, it will be a breeding ground for bacteria to grow

Tips to prevent my dishwasher form blocking 

We’d like to share some tips to prevent your dishwasher from blocking and saving you from all the above trouble and hassle. 

Right dishwashing detergent

Dishwashers usually require liquid, pods or powder detergent and not the common one used for hand washing dishes. What’s more, each dishwasher requires a different detergent. To make sure what type of detergent is suitable for your machine, check the manufacturer’s guidelines. You’ll find all the details.

Load your dishwasher correctly

Crockery, utensils and cutlery have a specific dishwasher place to ensure the proper water running and draining during a wash cycle. Again all the answers lie in the manufacturer’s manual. Read it carefully to see all the details about how to load it correctly. Usually, plates, pots and large bowls are placed at the bottom rack. Cups, glasses and small bowls at the top rack, while crockery and utensils are loaded in the holder. 

Listen to your device

All appliances make certain sounds when they’re operating. A dishwasher does the same. If you hear unusual noises like humming or clicking sounds during a cycle, you should check for a problem, in the drain pump or the motor. They may need to be replaced. These compartments prevent standing water, so make sure to replace them as soon as possible.

Rinse dishes

You should keep in mind that your dishwasher isn’t a dust bin. You can’t load dishes containing large debris. Even if you own a newer dishwasher model that has a garbage disposal, it’s for tiny bits. Thus, before loading, rinse all the dishes under hot water and then place them into the dishwasher, if you want to avoid blocking your dishwasher.

A woman rinsing some dishes before placing them on her dishwasher
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