How to Unclog a Dishwasher

Updated
Categories Dishwashing
It’s time for a deep clean. 

Have you opened your dishwasher to find a nasty, gunky, pool of water sitting at the bottom? Your dishes aren’t clean, there’s a pretty foul smell, and nothing is helping to drain the water! Your dishwasher is, unfortunately, clogged.

While this is an inconvenient and pretty gross event, it’s not a tricky fix. We have lots of tips, suggestions, methods and hacks to restore your dishwasher to its maximum operation levels.

When in doubt, we recommend contacting the manufacturer or a plumber, as there may be a deeper issue within your appliance or plumbing system.

How to Unclog a Dishwasher

To unclog the dishwasher, you may need to wash out the filter basket. First, remove the excess water by using a sponge or a cup, and emptying it into a bucket. Then remove the filter basket, pick out any stuck food, and wash the basket in warm soapy water. Remove any food residue at the entrance of the drain, too.


How Do I Know If My Dishwasher Drain Hose Is Clogged?

You’ll know your drain is clogged if any of these things happen:

  • Dishwasher cannot complete a full wash cycle — it keeps shutting off.
  • There is a pool of water at the bottom, near the drain.
  • You’ve checked the garbage disposal is clear — so you know it’s not coming from there.
  • There are food bits stuck in the filter.

Bottom line

If the water in your appliance isn’t draining away, there’s most likely a clog in the drain hose.

What Causes Water Not to Drain From a Dishwasher?

There are a few reasons why your dishwasher isn’t draining water. It’s likely a clog in the drain hose, normally caused by food scraps. But there are a few other potential causes.

  • Pump Issues: It may be a malfunctioning pump assembly in which there may be debris blocking the wash impeller. You may need to replace the pump assembly or any of the broken parts.
  • Worn Belt: This is rare. But if your pump assembly is driven by a belt, which then wears down, then it won’t be able to pump the water out. If your dishwasher has a drive belt, check on it and replace it if necessary.
  • Non-Functional Timer: Check the dishwasher’s timer mechanism and replace it if necessary. You may need to call up the manufacturer to assist you here.
  • Faulty Motor: If it’s not working properly, the motor could mess with a range of factors. Test your dishwasher’s motor and if it fails, replace it. Your manufacturer may be able to help here.
  • Drain Valve or the Solenoid: Some dishwashers have a valve that opens for the water to drain out. The valve is controlled by a solenoid, but it’s the timer that triggers this response. If the timer is working okay, then check the drain valve and the solenoid. They may need to be replaced.

How to Unclog a Dishwasher

We’ll share three methods for unclogging a dishwasher, so you can find the best approach for you!

Pro Tip

Always check your instruction manual first for the brand’s specific instructions for unclogging. It may differ from our tips.

The Filter Basket

What You Need

  • Bucket.
  • Sponge.
  • Cup.
  • Fork.
  • Rubber gloves.
  • Soap.
  • Brush.

Step by Step Instructions

  1. Wear rubber gloves to protect your hands from dirty water and adverse reaction to dishwasher detergent.
  2. Use a cup or a sponge to lap up the water that’s pooled at the bottom of the dishwasher. Empty it into a separate bucket.
  3. Once the water is gone, remove the filter basket. Then, using a fork or your fingers, pull out any stuck bits of food. Discard them.
  4. Fill up a basin or sink with warm soapy water and wash the filter basket, removing extra food and residue.
  5. Return the filter basket to place and check if the dishwasher drains properly.

Garbage Disposal

The clog may be in the garbage disposal or the drain hose, so we’re going to check there next.

What You Need

  • Channel lock pliers.
  • Towel.
  • De-cloggers (or straightened coat hanger).

Step by Step Instructions

  1. Run the garbage disposal to make sure it isn’t blocked. If it is, you’ll need to deal with that instead.
  2. If the garbage disposal is fine, then lay down a towel underneath the drain hose that connects it to the dishwasher.
  3. Use your channel-lock pliers to remove the drain hose. Check for any clogs at the connection point.
  4. If there are none, then you must check for clogs deeper in the hose. Use a commercial declogger, dishwasher cleaner or a straightened coat hanger. Insert it into the drain to search for clogs and clear them out.
  5. Run the dishwasher to check if it drains properly now.

Something to Note

If you don’t have a garbage disposal, check the drain that connects your dishwasher to the other plumbing.

Digging into the Drain

This method may sound a little gross, so if you’re queasy, you may want someone else to attempt this one!

What You Need

  • Bucket.
  • Zip-it drain cleaning tool.

Step by Step Instructions

  1. Once you’ve cleaned out the filter basket and checked the dishwasher, and found it’s still not draining, it may be coming from deeper within the drain. Keep a bucket handy.
  2. Remove the filter basket.
  3. Use a wire or a zip-it drain cleaning tool to dig around in the drain opening.
  4. Pull it out and you may find the clog clinging to the tool. Empty it into the bucket.

Can I Run My Dishwasher If My Sink Is Clogged?

Sinks and dishwashers are usually connected; dishwashers will commonly run through your sink’s disposal. If your garbage disposal or sink is clogged, there’s a good chance your dishwasher won’t drain properly.

Does Boiling Water Unclog Drains?

If you want to try a less invasive way to unclog the dishwasher before attempting our methods, you could try boiling water. Boiling water can dissolve some clogs! This is an easy and cheap way but it won’t always work. To try this method, follow these steps:

  1. Boil water.
  2. While you wait, remove as much of the standing water from the dishwasher as possible using a cup or sponge.
  3. Pour the boiling water into the drain. If it stands there and doesn’t drain, give it some time to cool before removing the water and trying again. You may need to repeat it several times.

Warning

Do not use this method if you have PVC pipes as they could melt or become damaged.

How Do I Unclog My Dishwasher with Vinegar?

You can try a homemade solution of vinegar, baking soda and hot water to unclog a dishwasher. Pour one cup of vinegar into the basket, followed by half a cup of baking soda. Let it sit for 15 minutes before pouring boiling water down the basket to see if the clog clears. This may take a couple of attempts, but if it’s not working, don’t continue this.

Can Coke Unclog a Drain?

This is another fun method you can try! Coke is an acidic drink, so it can work to break down clogs (1).

To try this method, follow these steps:

  1. Let a two-liter bottle of Coke settle at room temperature.
  2. Pour it directly down the drain and leave for one to two hours.
  3. Then pour boiling water down the drain.
  4. Test your dishwasher.

Fix The Clogs

A dishwasher is a super useful item for most households. So when it clogs, it can be super inconvenient. Thankfully, most of the time, it’s a quick fix. It’s likely either the filter basket, the drain or the connection to the garbage disposal.

Make sure to check your manufacturer instructions before attempting our methods, as they may have more specific advice for your appliance. If you’re stuck in a rut though, follow our methods and we’re sure your dishwasher will be running smoothly again in no time.

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About the Author

Beth McCallum

Beth McCallum is a 20-something freelance writer & book blogger with a degree in creative writing, journalism and English literature. Beth firmly believes that a tidy house is a tidy mind. She is always looking for new ways to sustainably clean and tidy her house, that's kind on the environment but effective in the house, too!
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