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Dishwasher woes: anyone experienced this?

I believe the dishwasher is one of the best inventions ever. I have only had experience with low-end machines and I still feel this way. But over the past couple years I have found myself having to soak and re-do much of our drinkware by hand after glasses come out with the insides caked in various bits of food and grainy crud (for lack of a better phrase), which gets baked on during the heat cycle. I like to think I know my way around Google, but I've done search after search and have yet to find anyone who's had this particular problem (and had it resolved). The history behind this makes me think I must have something to do with it, but I know how to load the dishwasher correctly---i.e., following the visuals in the machine's manual and using common sense.

We just moved into a house whose dishwasher is a 10-year-old Whirlpool. It is very basic, but I thought, as long as it gets my dishes clean and doesn't flood the kitchen, I'll be grateful for anything. It did the job the first couple of loads, and the potent heat dry cycle was a happy surprise---the previous two machines were failures in that regard even with my religious use of Jet-Dry. But around the third load, it started happening again: when I go to unload after the cycle is finished, in the standing water in the bottom of cups (which of course are resting upside down in the top rack), there will be stuff in the water (cornmeal, a few rice grains, things we didn't even have on the dishes that load). But that doesn't bother me nearly so much as the nasty crud baked all along the sides of my tall glasses, and sometimes shorter glasses or bowls. It is completely random.

In our previous place, we inherited a fairly new dishwasher that did this every few loads, but began getting much worse and more frequent, so our landlord had a technician come. He said there was a lot of mildew in the hoses, and something else I can't remember, and that it would just have to be replaced. The landlord was understandably frustrated that the thing only lasted five years. She replaced it with a very basic machine (Whirlpool Silent Partner I). It was like $300, which seems to be about as low as you can go, and we joked about the name, because it was neither silent (anything but!) nor our partner in reliably getting the dishes clean and dry. However, this phenomenon I have described only happened every few cycles. Here at our new house, it is happening every time. Again, mostly just the top rack, tall glasses but sometimes bowls and shorter glasses, and the "crud" is made up of a nice mix of food particles that were removed from other dishes (NOT from the cups in question) baked into the dishes once the cycle is done.

So, has anyone else dealt with this...?

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  1. I had this problem with my old kitchenaid dishwasher. My kitchenaid had a grinder instead of a filter so you had nothing to empty or clean but instead it supposedly ground up the food particles like a garbage disposal and they went down the drain. As with you this worked great at first but over time it didn't seem to work as well. Ultimately the only way to combat it was to rinse the dishes thoroughly before washing.

    I have since replaced that dishwasher with a higher end drawer dishwasher that has a filter that needs to be cleaned on occasion. The filter works way better than the grinder ever did but I do have to rinse my dishes pretty well or the filter needs to be cleaned more frequently than I want to clean it.

    Hope this helps.

    7 Replies
    1. re: pairswellwithwine

      I have had this happen too. One thing that helped was upgrading to those awesome red-ball-center dishwasher tabs, the pricy ones called Finish Powerball Quantum. I also do a dishwasher cleaning cycle once every month or so - you can find it in your cleaning products aisle.

      1. re: ljamunds

        I do use the Finish, actually, and like them a lot. The dishwasher cleaner is an idea. I had always written that off as silly given that the inside of the dishwasher sees lots of soap and water, but you know, I may try it.

        1. re: ljamunds

          re: dishwasher cleaning: about once a month, I run the dw full cycle, but with no detergent, just pour about 2 cups of white vinegar on the floor of the dw, let it sit about 15 min, then run the cycle. Keeps it clean, descaled, and flushes out the filter & grinder.

          1. re: pine time

            Somehow, I'd never thought of descaling a dishwasher. Why not?

            I wonder if the issues are different if you work with a septic system, as I do.

            1. re: pine time

              Did the dishwasher manual instruct you to do this?

              1. re: sueatmo

                No, not in the manual, but a repair guy suggested it, and I've done it now for probably 20 years, with nary a problem since.

          2. re: pairswellwithwine

            Rinsing the dishes: now that is a good, and embarrassingly obvious idea. I've always thought that you get the big scraps off the plate and let the dishwasher do the rest, because it uses less water and that's what the dishwasher is made to do. I even read in some housekeeping book, according to an appliance technician, that dishwashers last longer when you don't rinse everything completely---don't ask why, I admit it sounds ridiculous. But obviously if I decreased the amount of "stuff" to be washed off, there would be less to end up back inside the dishes. This machine does have a grinder inside, only a plastic filter thing at the bottom of the tub so that nothing too big goes through to the grinder. I wonder if that is the culprit. Thank you. And that is very good to know about filters being more effective, in case we're in the market for a new dishwasher soon. Not sure what the life expectancy of Whirlpool machines from ~2000 should be.

          3. I think you are describing food particles left in the indentations on the cup or mug bottoms, right? And I don't understand about the baked on crud on glassware. Do you mean the glasses are etched? Or that actual food has found its way inside the glassware, and been baked by the dry cycle?

            I would call a serviceman. I can think of two possibilities but I really am not knowledgeable about dishwashers. One is that the food disposer in the bottom of the unit is clogged, and then the detritus is sprayed around the inside of the unit. Another is that the sprayers are clogged somehow. Since you don't have a history with this unit, I think you need to find out if it needs service after 10 years of use.

            Dishwasher detergent has been reformulated and is not as effective as before. I've definitely noticed that. But the particles of food spraying around on the inside don't sound right to me. My dishwasher is over 10 years old, and it works like a champ.

            15 Replies
            1. re: sueatmo

              Thanks sueatmo. This isn't etching; the food particles are up inside the glasses, disgustingly enough. In those indentations the standing water that is inevitably left also has crud in it. I will probably try more pre-rinsing and hope that does the trick before I mess with calling anybody. It is good to know your same-aged dishwasher is still doing great!

              P.S. Oh, and I know about the phosphate-free detergent reformulation. I don't think that's been the problem, given the timeline---wasn't it just last year that this happened?

              1. re: LauraK42

                Yes, last year. We are going to have our dishwasher serviced because the detergent dispenser doesn't stay closed when the door is closed. But over all this has been the best dishwasher we've ever owned.

                When i recommend calling service on this forum I am usually told that the person with the problem doesn't want to. But having it serviced is important. Many years ago, our dishwasher wasn't working right. I had been inadvertently not rinsing detergent off baby bottles I was running through it. I really think it best to have a malfunctioning appliance serviced. Then ask a million questions of the guy who comes out.

                1. re: sueatmo

                  I know, you're right. Mind telling me what brand/model of dishwasher it is, for future reference?

                  1. re: LauraK42

                    Kitchen Aid Whisper Quiet. Serviceman is coming out tomorrow. Oh, man I hope he doesn't say he can't get the part!

                    1. re: sueatmo

                      Thanks---I forget that Kitchen Aid makes large appliances. Good luck with that.

                      1. re: LauraK42

                        I'm glad we called the service people. We will have a largish bill to repair the detergent mechanism. But more to the point, he discovered a small leak and the subfloor underneath shows water damage. The repair for the leak is cheap, but the potential for damage is huge. We saved ourselves a headache down the road for sure. I hope we can get this fixed by Christmas.

                        1. re: sueatmo

                          We can't a get the part for this old dishwasher. We will have to replace. I hate to lose this appliance. It works great, except for the detergent dispenser, and of course the leak we didn't know about.

                          1. re: sueatmo

                            Sorry to hear that. I'm surprised he just didn't patch the leak. Even copper pipes that will hold water under PRESSURE can be patched. So I don't get why a dishwasher can't be.

                            Anyway you may wish to just get a really good model on craigslist. People renovate their kitchens all the time so unless you want a stainless model, you can probably get a good one for $100-200 instead of a lot more. If you want white or beige, you'll have a lot to choose from. Even black will be available, though less so.

                            Here is a site that should help you - http://www.alertpedia.com/craigslist.php. Use this to setup an automated alert for "dishwasher" in one or more areas around where you live, under "for sale - appliances". This way, you will IMMEDIATELY know when one gets posted and have a better chance of getting a good one cheap. And you won't have to look around at all each day - you'll just get the emails.

                            Most of the best rated dishwashers for performance and noise are by bosch, frigidaire, whirlpool and even some kenmore models.

                            Good luck!

                            1. re: jkling17

                              Uh the leak was incidental. We would certainly have it fixed if we were keeping the unit. It is the malfunctioning detergent dispenser that pushed us to call the service guy. We can't get the part because the dishwasher is too old.

                              I can't imagine I can get Mr. Sueatmo to go along with a used dishwasher. Who would install it, for one thing? He used to do this sort of stuff, but he has declared himself retired from these sorts of things. I'm interested in Bosch, but the area dealer I'd like to buy from doesn't seem to carry them. This has to wait until January, anyway, because we will be gone over the holiday. The detergent gets dumped into the bottom of the unit, but the unit gets things sort of clean.

                              1. re: sueatmo

                                Have you tried AJ Madison? They carry a wide variety of appliances and may have what you are looking for.

                                1. re: dcrb

                                  I think we will buy from a local retailer. We have done that for a long time. Of course the retailer we used to buy from is no longer in business. It will be an expensive January for us whoever we buy from

                            2. re: sueatmo

                              Ugh, that has to be frustrating. Shopping for major appliances can be exhausting if you are the type to do a lot of research. I am because avoiding buyer's remorse is more important to me than a quick and easy purchase...it's too bad one little (I assume?) part forces you to start all over again. Did you try looking on the internet with the part number just in case it's sold at some obscure appliance store or secondhand site?

                              1. re: LauraK42

                                That's a good suggestion - if you know the part # - Google it and check the Shopping Links. You might well find a distributor or dealer that still has one of those.

                                1. re: LauraK42

                                  I don't know the part number, although that is a thought. The service guy told me he checked 4 places for a part and came up with nothing.

                    2. re: LauraK42

                      This isn't etching; the food particles are up inside the glasses, disgustingly enough. In those indentations the standing water that is inevitably left also has crud in it. I will probably try more pre-rinsing and hope that does the trick before I mess with calling anybody

                      --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

                      We have the same problem with the glasses plus the added horror of a fine grit baked on to the outside. We have tried everything. It drives my husband bats. He is getting a new dishwasher for Christmas.

                  2. I have that problem sometimes, but it's a small one. I always turn the heat-dry cycle off, because it seems to me a waste of energy. I usually open the door shortly after the final rinse, and things dry well enough without it.

                    Occasionally I have to rewash or hand prewash something to get it clean. Not worth worrying about, in my opinion. On the whole, I'm happy to have a dishwasher that works well almost always.

                    1. Yeah, our old diswasher did this on occasion too. We were told (by the salesman selling us a new unit) that it's only ever a problem with the built-in-grinder-style of dishwashers. Yes, a little pre-scraping of solids should help, but you hopefully shouldn't have to rinse them completely clean of debris. That DOES defeat the purpose of a dishwasher, doesn't it? ;-) And I agree, I've also heard that if the dishes are too clean going in, then you're more likely to see etching from the detergent. Apparently it's because there's not enough "dirty" to subdue the caustics in the detergent.

                      You might try the cleaning products ljamunds suggests, or one of the "enzyme" drain cleaners available. The stuff I bought has directions for both garbage disposals & dishwashers, but I've not yet tried it in either of those applications.

                      We just got a new Kitchen Aid to replace the 16 yr old "builder's grade" Kenmore. It works for now, but I really wanted to get a Bosch with the food trap/filter basket, as I've heard much better things about that style.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Eiron

                        Thank you, now I remember the reason for the no-rinse principle. :) I didn't think about enzyme cleaners, that's an idea.

                      2. You may need to do a thorough cleaning of the drain and trap area. Remove the shelves, and remove the sprayer arms. In the bottom of the tub, is a screen, remove it and fish out all the gunk that has accumulated in the screen and sump/drain. Flush the arms with hot water to remove any food particles. Reassemble and run a cycle or two without dishes.

                        Of course, this is abbreviated and should not be done unless you are confident in your skills. Also, pay strict attention to the order and placement of parts removed.

                        You may even be able to find some tech data on the manufacturers web site. Good luck.