How to fix a dishwasher that won’t drain

It’s a rare house that would be without a dishwasher these days.

Which is why when they don’t work, it’s somewhat of a family tragedy.

You mean I might have to wash my own dishes? The outrage.

Anyway, domestic horrors aside, before you call the plumbers in, if it’s a simple blockage and it won’t drain, there are some steps you can take to have your favourite appliance – or is that just me – humming again.

I’ll be frank, if our dishwasher flashes a blockage error, we simply leave it for an hour or so, and whatever was blocking it usually dissolves or softens by then and we just hit the ‘go’ button again and 95 per cent of the time it sorts itself out. I recommend this plumber free – and cheap – version.

Keep it clean

Another low-key intervention is using a cleaning wash. You can use dishwashing cleaning tablets and run the machine through a hot, empty wash. Another easier – cheaper – alternative is placing a bowl of vinegar in the upper rack and shaking a generous amount of bicarb soda in the base and then running a hot wash.

However, if it’s still not draining, there are some simple tasks you can do before you call the professionals in.

First, remove any water pooling in the bottom of your unit.

This can be tiresome. You will need to scoop up what you can and then sop up the rest with a towel or sponge. I read one advice page that said you can use a turkey baster, which may put a little fun back into it.

Your first step is to clean the filter located at the bottom of the unit.

If you don’t do this regularly, this is a frankly disgusting job. In fact, it’s disgusting even if you do it regularly. Tip out any solids and then use plenty of hot water and a generous amount of dishwashing liquid and give it a good scrub because it’s usually a greasy mess.

Scrub up

Wipe the filter cavity or scrub as well while it’s empty.

Now it’s time to run another wash.

At this stage, if it is still not draining it’s time to call a plumber.

However, if you do need to call a plumber ask them how to clean the drain hose. Ours showed us this relatively simple task and we have not had to call him again. A win for both of us, I’d imagine.

I’m not going to go into how to clean a drainage hose here because it’s different for each machine, and expert advice is best left to the experts. But one vital piece of advice is to make sure you turn the unit off before you go poking about any electrical appliance.

The best cure for clogged dishwasher is prevention.

I know dishwashing powder companies constantly advertise they can remove the hardest, crusted-on particles, and maybe they can. However, that does not mean your dishwasher can cope with them in the drainage.

Regular maintenance

Always scrape any larger pieces of food off your dishes before you load them.

One thing I will agree with the dishwasher powder people on is not to overly rinse dishes.

This is especially important for modern dishwashers that test the water quality and will fool the system into thinking dishes are cleaner than they are.

And don’t wait until your dishwasher doesn’t drain. Once a month run a cleaning cycle and clean out the filter.

Do you regularly clean your dishwasher filter? Do you have any dishwasher tips? Why not share them in the comments section below?

Also read: Five simple things a dishwasher expert would never do

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.
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