How to Fix a Clogged Dishwasher (in 6 Steps)

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A clogged dishwasher can be a major hassle, especially if you share the dishwasher with a lot of people. In most cases, cleaning the dishwasher tub and filter will be enough to fix the issue. 

However, if it is a more serious blockage, the dishwasher’s hoses and pumps will need to be checked. Accessing the hoses and pumps usually requires the removal of the dishwasher’s kick plate and pulling the dishwasher out from under the kitchen cabinet.

Follow these steps to fix a clogged dishwasher.

Step 1: Clear the filter

Most dishwashers have a removable filter that sits in the dishwasher tub. While the filter should be cleaned at least once per week, many people neglect to clean the filter.

  1. Open the dishwasher door and remove the cutlery basket, bottom dish rack, and the lower spray arm (if necessary).
  2. Locate the filter, usually in the center of the dishwasher tub.
  3. Remove the filter by turning it counterclockwise.
  4. Wash the filter with soap and water, using a brush to remove stuck-on debris.
  5. Return the filter to the dishwasher with the cutlery basket, lower dish rack, and lower spray arm.

If the filter contained the blockage that is clogging up the dishwasher, great, problem solved! If the dishwasher is still clogged, move on to the next step.

Step 2: Check the drain pump (some dishwashers)

Depending on the type of dishwasher, you may be able to access the dishwasher pump from inside the dishwasher tub, below the filter. If you have this type of dishwasher, there is likely a tab that you can pull to remove the small pump cover. From there, you can see a small piece of the pump that may be clogged.

When accessing the pump, be careful of broken glass and other sharp objects that may be clogging the dishwasher.

  1. For safety, disconnect the power to the dishwasher.
  2. Remove the cutlery basket, lower dish rack, and lower spray arm if necessary.
  3. Remove the filter from the dishwasher.
  4. Remove the panel that surrounds the filter and covers the pump.
  5. Find the pump cover and pull the tab to remove it.
  6. Remove any debris that you find.

If you found a blockage and removed it, you have likely fixed the clogged dishwasher issue. However, if the dishwasher is still clogged, you will need to check the drain hose and potentially remove the dishwasher’s kick plate to gain better access to the pump.

Step 3: Check the drain hose

Most dishwashers will have a drain hose that connects to the drainpipe underneath the sink. Other dishwasher drain hoses may connect to a garbage disposal or air gap. 

If a dishwasher is clogged, the place where the drain hose connects to the drain is often where debris accumulates. If there is a blockage, you should be able to disconnect the drain hose and clear it with some needle-nose pliers.

  1. For safety, disconnect the power to the dishwasher, and turn off the water to the dishwasher.
  2. Locate where the dishwasher drain hose connects to the drain, usually underneath the sink.
  3. Remove the clamps that secure the drain hose. Have a towel ready to collect any water that may spill out.
  4. Check the drain hose for a blockage. Needle-nose pliers can be used to pull debris from the hose to clear the blockage.
  5. A drain snake tool can be used to reach deeper into the hose and clear any blockages. Alternatively, you can disconnect the drain hose from inside the dishwasher to more thoroughly clean it, as we discuss below.

Step 4: Access the pump and internal hoses

If the steps above have failed to fix the dishwasher, its pump and internal hoses will need to be accessed and checked for a blockage.

With most dishwashers, you will need to remove the dishwasher’s kick plate and potentially pull the dishwasher out from under the counter. Placing the dishwasher on its back may provide the best access.

Before removing any access panels, like the kickplate, make sure the dishwasher is disconnected from the power and water.

  1. Remove the kickplate from the dishwasher. Removal of the kickplate varies depending on the type of dishwasher. You may need to remove screws or fasteners that release when pulled firmly.
  2. Locate the drain hose, pump, and circulation hose if your dishwasher has one. If you cannot access the components to check and remove them, you will need to pull the dishwasher out from the kitchen cabinet. The dishwasher is usually secured to the kitchen cabinet with a mounting screw that will need to be removed. The drain hose may also need to be disconnected, either from under the sink or inside the dishwasher. If the dishwasher is hard-wired, you may need to remove the wiring nut and disconnect the wires inside the junction box, which is located behind the kickplate.

Step 5: Check the hoses

Depending on the type of dishwasher, it likely has a drain hose and a circulation hose. It may also have one pump or two pumps, one for draining and one for circulating water during a cycle.

The dishwasher’s hoses should be disconnected and checked for blockages. A drain snake tool or hot water can be used to clear a blockage.

  1. Disconnect each hose, usually by removing the clamps that secure them or by turning the hose counterclockwise. The hoses should be connected to the pump(s).
  2. Use a drain snake tool or pour hot water through the hose until the blockage has cleared.
  3. When reconnecting the hoses, make sure to connect them properly to avoid another dishwasher issue from occurring.

Step 6: Check the pump(s)

As mentioned above, depending on the type of dishwasher, there may be a drain pump and a circulation pump. Each pump can become clogged with foreign items or food residue that has gotten through the dishwasher’s filters.

Locate the pump impeller, which is usually where a blockage forms. Check that the impellers can turn freely without debris getting in the way.

The pumps can also fail electrically, so if you think a pump is defective, test it with a multimeter for continuity (a continuous electrical path). If a pump does not have continuity, it will need to be replaced.

Conclusion

A clogged dishwasher is usually caused by a clogged filter. If the filter is not responsible for the blockage, the dishwasher’s hoses and pumps will need to be checked. 

If you have checked these components, but the dishwasher is still clogged, it is probably time to call a trained technician. The control board may have a fault that is causing the issue.

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