How to unclog a dishwasher in 6 steps



A clogged dishwasher can be a nightmare, especially if you’re unsure what to do about it. Malfunctions can cause pools of soapy and gunky water to settle at the bottom of your dishwasher. But why does this happen? Sometimes, someone accidentally opens the dishwasher door in the middle of a wash cycle. Forgetting to push the reset button afterward will cause the dishwasher to stop midcycle. Most dishwashers have an indicator light on the control panel that will blink during an interrupted cycle. 

Even if your dishwasher doesn’t have that feature, you can try running it again to see if that is the problem. If rerunning the cycle doesn’t cause the standing water to drain, something else is causing the problem. This article will help you troubleshoot clogged dishwashers in six easy steps.

Step 1. Try running your garbage disposal

The first thing you can do to unclog your dishwasher is to turn on the garbage disposal unit. Most built-in dishwashers connect to the garbage disposal via a drain hose. Mineral deposits, debris and leftover food in the garbage disposal can cause a dishwasher clog. 

This is likely the case if any unusual noises come from the garbage disposal while it runs. In that case, try using a commercial drain cleaner to clear the blockage. Run a rinse cycle on your dishwasher to check if it fixes the issue. If your machine is still clogged and your garbage disposal works fine, then the problem lies elsewhere. 

Step 2. Turn off the power to the dishwasher

Now that you know there’s nothing wrong with your garbage disposal, move on to changing the tactic. Turn off the power to your dishwasher and garbage disposal unit, and unplug both power cables from their sockets. Fixing a dishwasher — or any other appliance, for that matter — while it’s still connected to power is dangerous. 

We recommend emptying the machine of dishes before getting your hands dirty with DIY dishwasher troubleshooting. While you’re at it, remove the bottom rack so you can easily access important components inside the machine. 

Step 3. Remove standing water

Remove standing water from inside your dishwasher once you safely disconnect it from its power source. Use a wet vacuum cleaner to do this quickly and easily, or use a towel to soak up the excess water and wring it out in your kitchen sink. If there’s too much water for a towel to absorb, use a cup or bowl to scoop it out. Finally, use a dry cloth to pat down the dishwasher floor so there’s no moisture left. Keep your kitchen floor dry during this step to prevent slipping and falling. 

Step 4. Clean the dishwasher drain

Dishwasher drains can become clogged with food particles over time. This will slow down water from draining completely from your dishwasher. Besides, a clogged drain can cause unpleasant odors and bacteria buildup inside your machine. 

Clean out the drain with these steps: 

  1. Access the dishwasher drain and catch located on the floor of the machine once you’ve removed the bottom rack. 
  2. Use a screwdriver to unscrew the drain catch and filter. They are typically located at the center of the dishwasher floor. Consult your owner’s manual to find the exact location. 
  3. You should be able to see down the drain once you’ve removed the filter and catch. Check if there’s any debris in that space. Use a declogger or fashion one yourself with a wire hanger to remove any visible clogs in the drain. 
  4. Prepare a homemade declogging solution using equal parts vinegar and baking soda. Pour the mixture down the drain and let it stand for 15 minutes. This will help remove any additional debris in the drain. You can use a commercial drain cleaner for unclogging the drain, but these formulas contain strong chemicals that could linger in your dishwasher for some time. 
  5. After 15 minutes, pour some hot water in the dishwasher or plug it back in and start the hot water cycle. This will remove the baking soda-vinegar mixture along with any remaining debris. 

Step 5. Clean the dishwasher filter

After running the hot water cycle, unplug the power to the dishwasher again for safety. 

The dishwasher filter is another part of the machine likely to clog with food particles over time. The filter is positioned at the bottom of the dishwasher to catch food scraps and prevent them from running down the drain and causing a clog. However, as it starts filling up, it gets harder for water to pass through it. 

At some point, food particles will overflow from the basket and eventually clog the drain line. Cleaning the filter is a DIY job. Follow these steps to remove and clean your dishwasher filter. 

  1. Use a towel to clean and dry the bed of the dishwasher and the area around the filter. 
  2. The filter is typically held in place with four screws. Use a screwdriver to remove them and lift the filter from its housing. Consult your owner’s manual for specific instructions. 
  3. Rinse the filter under your kitchen faucet to remove any grease or debris. If it still feels greasy in your hands, douse it with some vinegar for a further deep clean. Hold it up to the light to ensure the filter mesh is clean. 
  4. Reattach the filter to its housing by screwing it on tightly.

Step 6. Clean the dishwasher drain hose

The dishwasher drain hose is the final place to check. This is another place where food particles, debris and mineral deposits can accumulate and choke up the machine. 

Follow these steps to check if that’s the case: 

  1. Lay a towel under the hose at the point where it connects to the dishwasher to collect water and avoid a mess on the kitchen floor. 
  2. Use a pair of Channellock pliers (also known as slip-joint pliers or adjustable pliers) to uncouple the drain hose connecting the dishwasher to the garbage disposal unit. Check for debris at the connection point. 
  3. If you don’t have a garbage disposal unit connected to your dishwasher, check the drain line that goes from your dishwasher into your plumbing system. 
  4. If there’s nothing at the connection, use a declogger to clear any debris inside the drain hose. If you don’t have a declogger at home, a straightened-out wire coat hanger or similar object will work. 
  5. Remove any kinks or snags in the drain hose.
  6. Once you’ve removed any clogging that might have been in the hose, join everything back up. 
  7. Plug the dishwasher back in and select a spin cycle to see if that resolves the problem.



What to do if your dishwasher still won’t drain

You can try a few more things if your dishwasher is still not draining properly. 

Check the dishwasher sink’s air gap for clogging.

If you don’t have a garbage disposal, your dishwasher should have an air gap that’s designed to prevent dirty water from flowing back through the outlet. A clogged air gap will stop your dishwasher from draining completely. 

The air gap is in the shape of a small cylinder and is usually positioned near the outlet hose below the dishwasher. Remove it by turning it counterclockwise. Check if there’s any debris buildup in the air gap. If there is, clean it with a stiff toothbrush and reinstall it. Try running your dishwasher to see if that fixes the problem. 

Check the plumbing connections. 

Our attention has focused on the dishwasher and its associated components, but it is equally important to check plumbing connections. Plumbing connections have three parts: the water supply, the drain hose, and the solenoid that allows water into the dishwasher. 

Check if the water supply hoses attach tightly at both ends. Do the same with the drain hose, especially where it connects to your household plumbing. Finally, ensure the solenoid holds in place firmly and the inlet hose is free of clogs or gunk. 

Listen to your machine.

If everything else fails, try running your dishwasher one more time and listen as it goes through a cycle. A dishwasher in good working order shouldn’t make any unnatural noises. On the other hand, a low hum or clicking noise could signal a mechanical fault. It could be an issue with the drain pump or the main motor. In either case, it’s time to hang up your tools and call for professional help. 

How much do dishwasher repairs cost?

A dishwasher is the workhorse of any kitchen. A broken dishwasher means piles of dirty dishes in the sink, which creates more chores for you. This makes dishwasher repairs urgent and sometimes a bit pricey. 

Repairing a dishwasher costs around $170 on average. The actual cost depends on various factors, like the repair type, the dishwasher’s age, and whether it’s under warranty. 




A Cinch warranty covers dishwashers and more

Trying to troubleshoot your way out of a clogged dishwasher can save time and money. But sometimes your efforts may not be enough. In such cases, you have no option but to call a technician to diagnose and fix the problem. Dishwasher repairs and part replacements can cost a lot. That’s why it’s smart to have a warranty on important appliances in your home. A Cinch Appliances plan means you don’t have to pay the full price for dishwasher repairs and replacements. Our award-winning service comes with a 180-day workmanship guarantee so you can have peace of mind.

Get a quote from us today. 



Having trouble with a clogged dishwasher? Read on to learn how to unclog it yourself in six simple steps.