There is nothing more frustrating than washing your dishes, only to discover that there is still grime left on the plates, bowls, and cups in the top rack. Before you call a repairman, check out these four possible problems and solutions to get your dishwasher back to doing what it’s supposed to do—clean your dishes.
If your dishwasher is not washing the top rack, it may be due to low water pressure, a clogged spray arm, or a broken spray arm seal. Low water pressure may be caused by too many appliances being run, a kink in the dishwasher hose, or the filter compartment becoming clogged.
Below we go over three potential reasons why the dishes in your top rack aren’t being cleaned and their solutions. Before performing any of these repairs, make sure to unplug your dishwasher. You don’t want to get electrocuted.
Dishwasher Spray Arm Seal Is Broken
Most spray arms have a seal that prevents them from losing water during a wash cycle. If the seal breaks, the water coming into your spray arm will leak away instead of cleaning the dishes in the top rack of your dishwasher. For most dishwashers, replacing these parts is relatively easy and inexpensive.
Follow the steps below to fix your spray arm’s broken seal.
Remove the Upper Rack
To remove the upper rack of your dishwasher, you’ll need to take off the two stop clips holding the rack in place. They should be easily visible on the ends of the two rolling tracks that allow you to move the rack in and out. Typically, you’ll be able to take these stop clips off without a problem.
Sometimes you don’t need to take off the stop clips. All you have to do is turn them to get your rack free. Look at your dishwasher’s user manual if you can’t figure out how to adjust or remove the stop clips.
Once the stop clips are off, take the top rack off of the tracks and remove it from your dishwasher.
Flip Over the Rack and Remove the Screw
- Take your upper rack to a flat, solid surface, and flip it over. In most dishwasher models, the spray arm is attached to the underside of the rack.
- In the center of the spray arm mechanism, there should be a screw holding the tube and the spray arm in place. Remove the screw, and lift the tube off of the center spindle to detach it from the spray arm.
- Once the spray arm and the tube are separated, you’ll be able to remove the spray arm from the rack.
Replace the Seal and Put Everything Back Together
Once the spray arm is free, you will have access to the round seal.
- Remove the old seal from the spray arm and replace it with a new seal.
- Then, put the spray arm back on the spindle, reattach the tube, and put the screw back on.
- Next, put the rack back into the machine and reattach the stop clips to the tracks.
Now your dishwasher should be working as good as new.
PartSelect demonstrates how to do the steps above in the video link posted below. Watch this tutorial for some additional guidance:
Dishwasher Spray Arm Is Clogged
Sometimes the upper spray arm can become clogged with food, detergent residue, or hard water leading to mineral build-up. To fix this, follow this three-step guide created by Home Repair Tutor.
- Remove arm. To remove the top arm, you may need a ratchet and a socket to fit the ratchet. Home Repair Tutor used a ¼ in (0.64 cm) socket, but your dishwasher may need a different size. Use these tools to remove the top arm of the dishwasher from the machine.
- Clean out holes. Once the arm is removed, you’ll need to get either steel wire or a cheap metal hanger to clean the jet holes. Bend the wire or hanger accordingly so that it will fit inside of the holes and dislodge any food, mineral, or detergent stuck inside. If you need to buy wire, but you aren’t sure what size will fit into your spray arm, simply take it to the store with you.
- Soak the arm. After you’ve removed as much food and debris as you can with the wire, you’ll want to soak the arm in white vinegar to remove anything left inside. You can soak the spray arm in a clean sink or in a baking sheet with sides. Immerse the spray arm in the vinegar for approximately 10-15 minutes. After you’ve soaked the arm, put it back into your dishwasher.
Turn on your dishwasher to determine if cleaning the spray arm fixed your problem.
Home Repair Guide created a comprehensive video to guide you through these steps. If you need a little extra help, watch the video below:
Dishwasher Has Low Water Pressure
If the dishes on the top rack of your dishwasher are still grimy after being washed, low water pressure may be the culprit.
The water in your dishwasher moves from the bottom rack to the top rack. If your water pressure is low, there may be just enough for the bottom rack to get cleaned but not enough pressure for the water to get to the top rack.
Low water pressure may occur in the following circumstances:
- If you run other appliances or do activities that use water while your dishwasher is running, low water pressure can happen.
- It can also occur if you have a kink in your dishwasher hose. Look underneath your sink at your dishwasher hose to determine if there is a kink. If there is, get it out. This may return your pressure back to normal.
- Another reason your water pressure may be low is that the bottom filter compartment is clogged up with food, which is preventing water from getting into the circulation pump.
Follow the steps below to clean out the filter compartment.
Remove Upper and Lower Rack
Remove the upper and lower dishwasher rack. The lower rack should just slide out. In order to remove the upper rack, you need to take off the stop clips. This will allow you to remove the rack from its tracks.
Most filters are located on the bottom of the dishwasher. To get to the filter, you’ll need to remove the covering over the filter. The cover normally adheres to the dishwasher with screws that you can remove using a drill and drill bits.
Often there will be other dishwasher parts on top of the cover, such as the spray arm attachment or a propeller. Remove these pieces so that you’ll have full access to the filter cover. Once the filter cover is free, lift it up and remove it from the dishwasher. If it’s difficult to remove, you can use a screwdriver to pry it out.
Remove Any Leftover Water
After you remove the cover, you’ll be able to see inside the filter compartment. If there is any water in this compartment, you should remove it. You want the area to be nice and dry so you can see what you are working with.
You can get out the water inside of the compartments with a turkey baster.
Clean Out the Area
If there is any food debris or gunk in the filter compartment, clean it out.
- First, remove any chunks of food or other substances with your hands.
- Then, thoroughly clean the area with a toothbrush and some soap or simple green spray.
- If there is any glass in the compartment, use pliers or tweezers to get it out to avoid cutting your fingers.
Remove Plastic Gate and Clean Food Chopper
Inside the filter compartment, you will see a plastic gate adhered to the machine with a screw. Use your drill to remove the screw, then use your hands or a screwdriver to pop the plastic gate off. This will expose the food chopper, which is a blade that chops up food particles to prevent the pump from getting clogged.
If you see any food lodged inside of the food chopper compartment, you’ll need to clean it out. Take out as much food as you can with your hands, and you can also use the toothbrush again and to thoroughly clean the area.
Clean Removed Parts and Test It Out
- Clean the filter cover, spray arm attachment, and any other parts you removed from your dishwasher in the sink. You need to clean the filter cover thoroughly because food and other objects can get stuck to the cover as well.
- Then, put the plastic gate, filter cover, and other detached parts back into the dishwasher.
- Screw them all in with your drill and drill bits, and once everything is back and how it should be, test out your dishwasher to make sure this solved your problem.
For a little extra help, watch this step by step video guide created by Scott, a repairman with over 27 years of experience:
If the dishes on the upper rack of your dishwasher are coming out dirty, there is likely something wrong with your dishwasher. Some of the most common problems include:
- Low water pressure is due to too many appliances being run at the same time, a kink in the dishwasher hose, or the filter compartment is too dirty, which is preventing water from getting into the circulation pump.
- The spray arm has become clogged with food bits or hard water mineral deposits.
- The spray arm seal is broken, so water is leaking out of the spray arm and not cleaning your dishes.
To solve these problems, follow the steps listed above. If you follow the advice in this article, the dishes in your upper rack should be clean in no time.