Clearing a Non-Draining Dishwasher

Uh-oh, there is water pooling in the bottom of the dishwasher or, worse yet, there is water pouring forth across the kitchen floor. The dishwasher drain is clogged. Well, this isn’t going to be fun but it is not necessarily going to be expensive. First off, no, you do not have to run to the phone and call an appliance repair service which will charge you $100 just to show up. Think for a minute, by the time you pay them their “service call” fee, then their “labor charge,” then for any parts which they decide you “really need” (and they will decide you need parts, whether you do or not) you are better off just buying a new dishwasher. All of this for a clog you could probably clear yourself in a few minutes.

Ok a few basics here. I have a Frigidaire, Ultraquiet 1, so that is what I am used to working with. Obviously your dishwasher may be different but there are a few basic similarities in most of them as far as clogs go. Most dishwashers have a “drain trap” of some kind in the bottom. This is a basic sieve type filter which is meant to keep large particles from getting into the drainage lines and clogging them up. Beneath the drain trap you have the inlet for the drainage line. This is small, usually about the size of an adult thumb or smaller. This leads to an impeller rotor which actually sucks water out of the dishwasher.

The best way to clear a clog is to prevent one from ever happening in the first place. Pre-rinse your dishes before you put them into the washer. Simply do not allow any large particles of food into the dishwasher and you will probably never have a clog. Also, clean out the drain trap on a regular basis. Most of the drain traps are easily removed for this very purpose. If you allow gunk to build up in the trap it will work its way through, sooner or later, and clog your dishwasher.

If your dishwasher becomes clogged, first remove the basket and bottom washing rotors. Then remove the drain trap and clean it like you should have been doing all along. See if the washer will now drain.

If not then on to step two. Check the drain opening for an obstruction and clear it if there is any. Some “do-it-yourself” websites recommend using a small plumbers snake or a piece of wire to probe into the drain tube. I would save this as a last resort since you could, conceivably damage the impeller.

Then you should see if you have a drain opening which will allow you to use a plunger. If so try plunging the drain. Then check and see if it drains. If you cannot plunge the drain, because the structure of your dishwasher will not allow you to use a plunger, then move on to the next step.

Dip all of the standing water out of the dishwasher and pour a cup of baking soda into the drain. Then pour half a cup of vinegar onto the baking soda. Yes, this works much like the little “volcanoes” you probably made in grade school but the violent fizzing action of the baking soda and vinegar may dislodge anything down in the drainpipe (by the way, this also works on lightly clogged sinks).

Should the baking soda and vinegar fail to work you must take more drastic action, industrial strength Liquid Plumber. I have found the gel formula to work best on a tough dishwasher clog. Follow the directions exactly as you would for a sink and allow plenty of time for it to work. You may have to plunge again after using the Liquid Plumber but be careful; you do not want to have Liquid Plumber shoot back onto you.

Should all of this fail you will need to remove your dishwasher and disassemble the drain and impeller assembly. This is basically what you would be paying a professional to do but do not be alarmed, it is not as scary as it sounds. Just make certain you disconnect the electrical power before you begin working on the dishwasher.

Unfortunately I can take you no farther. Disassembly of your individual dishwasher will depend on the make and model you have. Fortunately, we live in a day when EVERYTHING is available on the internet. Do a search for your exact make and model number followed by the words, “dishwasher drain disassembly.” You may have to root around a little bit but you will probably be able to find detailed information for your model.

Once you have the details on disassembly and reassembly, simply follow the diagrams. Do not be too scared by it, most dishwashers are really not that difficult to work on, getting them out to work on is usually the hardest part. Look at it from this stand point, as long as you actually break nothing, you can always call a service center and you are no worse off than if you had not tried in the first place.

Only once have I seen a dishwasher get to the point of needing to be disassembled. Almost always you will be able to clear the blocked drain in the first few steps. In the process you will save yourself a pile of money even if you do have to get your hands a little dirty along the way. Good luck.

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