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Why is my dishwasher not cleaning dishes properly?

Find out why your dishwasher is not cleaning dishes properly. We cover the most popular dishwashing problems and offer advice on how to fix them.

Dishwasher giving you trouble? It can be frustrating to open your dishwasher only to find that your dishes aren’t their usual sparkling-clean selves. Usually, the problem can be traced to a few main culprits.

It may be that you need to adjust some settings on your dishwasher, that you need to learn more about how to use the products for best results, or that there’s an issue with your dishwasher itself. Whatever ails you – find the answer here.

Issues with performance

If your dishwasher is not cleaning properly, it could be due to a number of factors. The good news is, you might not have to worry about your dishwasher itself being broken. Instead, many of the common problems that people encounter with the performance of their dishwasher include issues with the water supply, or simply because you neglected to use a rinse aid. Read on for an overview covering issues with performance:

Are your glasses coming out cloudy?

Buying good quality glassware and using Finish® detergents are great first steps to prevent cloudy glasses. If your glassware or glass baking dishes are still coming out cloudy, there are two factors to investigate:

  • You might live in a hard water area: It’s important to understand the difference between hard water and soft water as it has a direct effect on how your dishwasher operates. If you live in a hard water area, you may notice mineral build up on your dishes – commonly known as limescale. To prevent this from happening, make sure you’re giving your dishwasher a proper clean on a regular basis. Before you run your next load, use the Finish® Dishwasher Cleaner as according to package instructions.

  • Your dishwasher temperature could be too high: Dishwashers run at a fixed temperature to make sure it’s as efficient as possible. It should be high enough for the detergents to dissolve properly and at the right time within the cycle. But, if the temperature is too hot, it could encourage limescale build up within your dishwasher, causing it to have problems down the line. When washing your dishes, try to stick with the best temperatures for the items you’re washing. While pots, pans and items with burnt-on food may need hotter temperatures, you probably won’t need this for your day-to-day loads. Check your settings and ensure you find the right dishwasher cycle for your household.

Consider using a rinse aid so your dishwasher performs its best. Once you’ve used a dishwasher cleaner and adjusted the temperature, you’ll be ready to wash your glasses again. When you do, make sure to add in a rinse aid. This will prevent water from forming into droplets and leaving those stubborn mineral stains.

Is there food residue on your dishes?

There’s nothing worse than unloading your dishwasher and finding food residue still on your dishes! If this keeps happening, it could simply be that you haven’t stacked the dishes properly. Everyone has their own way of doing it, but there some golden rules to loading a dishwasher that you might want to check if you’re finding your dishes aren’t coming out clean.

If you’re still finding food residue on your dishes, it might be that your dishwasher itself needs a proper clean. Your dishwasher may have a cleaning setting you can run, although a dishwasher cleaner is one of the best products to use for proper maintenance of your machine.

You might also find our article on how to clean all the different parts of your dishwasher useful for some DIY dishwasher cleaning tips that can be used alongside our Finish® dishwasher cleaners. In particular, you may want to learn how to unblock the spray arms of your machine to remove any food items stuck there, and to clean off grime and limescale.

The article will also help you get into the habit of checking your dishwasher filter on a regular basis. As the part of your dishwasher that keeps large food debris from entering the pumps, your filter is likely to get clogged easily. Keep the filter clean and in good condition so your dishwasher delivers excellent results, every time.

Do your dishes have a bad taste to them?

Never mind tasting salty – your dishes could come out of the dishwasher tasting extremely unpleasant! And you may find it’s accompanied by an unpleasant smell, too. If you have a smelly dishwasher, look for excess food that might have gotten stuck in the machine’s various parts. Once you’re done giving the appliance a thorough once over, run a cycle using a dishwasher cleaner. The cleaner will help power away any remaining grease and grime and give your dishwasher a much-needed freshening up.

Are there white water marks on your dishes?

There’s nothing quite like seeing the shine on your glassware and glass baking dishes. Of course, this makes white water marks on your dishes the ultimate mood killer. If you’re seeing it happen often, use a detergent like the Finish® Quantum UltimateTM. You may also want to brush up on how to clean glass in your dishwasher to ensure every cycle brings sparkling clean results.

Another way to prevent white water marks on your dishes is to keep your dishwasher clean and well-maintained. White water marks are most likely because of mineral deposits that are often found in hard water – and these deposits can build up in your machine over time. Find out how to clean your dishwasher properly so your dishes come out with a dazzling finish every time.

You may also want to use bespoke products like our Finish® dishwasher cleaners to keep it in good shape, and our rinse aids to push the detergent to deliver the best results possible.

Are your dishes coming out wet?

Your dishes might be coming out wet because you’ve over stacked it, not leaving enough space for the items to air dry properly. Another reason could be because there’s a problem with the heating element on your dishwasher. After all, your dishwasher needs to be able to heat up in order to dry the dishes properly. Keep your dishwasher maintained, and replace the heating element if you need to. Find out more about the optimal temperatures for operating your dishwasher in our article on the topic.

Is the dishwasher cycle taking too long to complete?

If you’re finding yourself waiting longer than usual for your dishwasher to make that familiar “I’m finished, now” noise, it could be due to several factors. Did you know that there are a variety of cycle lengths to choose from – and each offer a specific type of cleaning. Understand the right cycle length so you’ll be able to determine whether it’s taking longer than it should. If you find it to be the case, it could be because you haven’t given the machine the care it needs. Learn about dishwasher maintenance and care so you’re covered for the next time.

Are the dishes on the top rack not being cleaned?

You may have already assigned favourite spots in the dishwasher for your dishes – but did you know there are some best practices for loading a dishwasher properly? If the dishes on your top rack aren’t being cleaned properly, it could be down to a stacking issue. Learn how to win the dishwasher Tetris game with our guide on the topic. For example, did you know that the top rack is designed to be cooler than the bottom rack? If you’re placing items with stubborn food residue on the top rack, you may find they’re not getting cleaned as they should.

Another reason your dishwasher might not be effectively cleaning items on the top rack could be because there’s an issue with the spray arms. We’ve covered ways to check, clean and replace the spray arm so you can ensure the top rack always delivers a great clean.

Are you finding suds in the dishwasher?

If you’re finding suds (or soap bubbles) when you open your dishwasher door, shut the door for a couple of hours until the suds dissipate. Suds usually occur because you’re either using the wrong type of detergent or because you’re using too much of it. Make sure you’re always using high-quality detergents and follow the instructions carefully so you’re always using the right amount.

Issues relating to Finish® products

While Finish® products are created to be as simple to use as possible, you may still encounter issues. 

Is your dishwasher detergent not dissolving?

If your detergent is not dissolving, you may want to check your settings and your dishwasher manual to make sure the temperature gets between 40-65°C (120-150°F). It’ll need to be this hot for the tablet to dissolve. You may also want to check that the spring on the detergent dispenser door/clip is working. They can get stuck and prevent tablets from releasing at the proper time during the wash.

Is your dishwasher detergent still in the dispenser at the end of the cycle?

If you find that your detergent is still in its dispenser at the end of the cycle, the most likely culprit is your dishwasher dispenser. They’re designed to release detergent at the right time during a wash cycle, so if this isn’t happening, a quick check might be in order.

First, make sure your dispenser is completely dry when you insert the dishwasher tablet. If it’s wet, the tablet could stick to the dispenser and not release when needed. If you’re still having a problem, your dispenser itself could be to blame. Open your dishwasher and check for visible signs of damage, cracking or discoloration. If there’s any product residue, give it a quick scrub to have it looking good as new again!

Issues relating to the health of your dishwasher machine

Continuing to notice issues in the dishes that are coming out of your dishwasher? It might be time to look at the machine itself. Some tell-tale signs that there may be issues with the health of your dishwasher machine are if there’s a bad smell, water at the bottom of the appliance after a cycle has ended or if it seems to be louder than usual during a wash. Learn more about each of these issues below.

Is there a bad smell coming from the dishwasher?

If the scent that hits you when you open your dishwasher door doesn’t remind you of clean and shiny plates, you may have a smelly dishwasher problem. Fortunately, there are ways to solve it. One of the main causes of a smelly dishwasher is because of an issue with the filter or if the drain is clogged. Spend some time cleaning out your dishwasher, including using a good quality dishwasher cleaner to give it some much-needed TLC.

Is there water at the bottom of your dishwasher, or is your dishwasher not draining?

Finding water at the bottom of your dishwasher after a cycle could be a sign that your machine is struggling. If your dishwasher isn’t draining, you’ll need to check that the machine isn’t clogged. Food, grease and grime are bound to build up over time unless you keep up a regular maintenance schedule. Follow our steps to unclog a dishwasher and use our dishwasher cleaners to help you along. While you’re doing this, you may also want to clean your dishwasher’s drain as there could be build-up there too.

Is water leaking out onto the floor?

If the area around your dishwasher keeps looking suspiciously wet, or if you’ve had a mini tsunami of water leaking out from your dishwasher, there could be several reasons for it. Most likely, your dishwasher is leaking because there is an issue with the dishwasher filter or the drain is clogged, the door seal itself may have gotten damaged or worn, or because the valves that allow water to drain out are broken. Check the entirety of your dishwasher to find the culprit (though keep in mind, it might be more than one issue causing the problem!).

Is your dishwasher very loud during a wash cycle?

If the gentle hum of your dishwasher is replaced by a loud, clanging, ‘something sounds wrong’ noise, there could be several reasons for it. Your dishwasher could be very loud during a cycle if you haven’t loaded it correctly, causing items to move and crash into each other. You might also want to check the water pump or circulation pump motors for damage, and keep up general maintenance so your dishwasher stays in good health.

Is there a hard water build up in the machine?

Living in a hard water area means your dishwasher is in danger of getting hard water build up. Hard water stains usually come in the form of white spots within your machine, which are deposits of minerals such as limestone and chalk.

Prevent hard water build up in your machine by loading your dishwasher correctly and undertaking regular maintenance, including using dishwasher cleaners. You might also want to switch to detergents that specifically target hard water stains, such as the Finish® Quantum UltimateTM and combine this with a rinse aid that’ll prevent water from forming into droplets in your machine.

More issues with your dishwasher? Check your settings

If none of the solutions above have helped sort out the issues with your dishwasher, it could be something as simple as using the wrong setting. Check the settings on your dishwasher, making sure to refer to the user’s manual for your specific model, as there may be some differences (or surprise settings that may come in particularly handy!).