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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.

                        1. This may seem like a silly question but I have actually seen this happen - please double check that the water feed to the dishwasher is actually from the HOT line. If it is, then one thing that will help is running the water in the sink until it's hot just before you start your load. If it is connected to the wrong line then this needs to get fixed - it is really hard for a dishwasher to heat up all that water on it's own. They are really not designed to do that well, but are good at keeping hot water hot.

                          A good detergent makes a difference. The best one's for cleaning dishes - according to a major consumer review resource are: cascade complete, cascade with dawn, method smarty dish, finish quantum and finish powerball. In theory Finish powerball tabs is less expensive per use - at full retail. If you have a really GOOD dishwasher, I think that it's not as important. But you need all the help you can get.

                          That is about the best that you do to mitigate the now uncontrollable fact that your landlord wasn't interested in spending a little more for you to install a GOOD dishwasher. A good one would have cost about $125-150 more, been whisper quiet, had 3 washing wand things (top middle and bottom) and done a great job. But you are renting so "it is what it is".

                          It's too bad that your landlord is a bit shortsighted. The cheap comes out expensive. I am a landlord and homeowner and understand perfectly well that one must spend "a bit" more to get quality - and then it will last and work really well.

                          So - first things first - check if it comes from the hot line and get a good detergent. We may hope that this really make a difference for you. If so - great!

                          If all that still isn't enough then here is another option. But - you must have your landlord's permission to do this. You can find a really GOOD used dishwasher on craigslist or freecycle.com. People redo their kitchens all the time and sell their old stuff for very cheap or free. You .could easily get a very high quality dishwasher that merely isn't "the latest fashion". It will be easy to find one in white,,bisgue, or perhaps even black? I'm not sure what matches your kitchen.

                          I hope that this helps!

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: jkling17

                            Very nice - I would "win" with something like that, even if they didn't turn out.

                            1. re: jkling17

                              Hm...sorry, I responded on the wrong thread!

                              1. re: jkling17

                                Actually, while this may be more likely to be a drain-type issue, that's not a bad thing to check. Not just check that it's on the hot feed (that's an unlikely issue) but check that the water is hot enough. A really basic dishwasher may not be able to do its own heating of the water (not sure if this is still true actually, but maybe), so you want the water supply from your tank hotter than you might otherwise need. (I think 140 is typical when you have a DW; otherwise you can go to 120.) Also, you can run the water at the sink until it gets all the way hot before starting the machine; this should help insure that the first fill of the DW is as hot as it can get.

                                I've been using the Cascade Complete pouches which seem to work pretty well, but then I never really had a problem before. This was a switch from Cascade Complete gel originally. I keep the JetDry topped up, but this is a Bosch where that seems to be more critical. Still, keeping the rinse aid filled might help your problem at the end with the stuck-on particles.

                              2. dcrb, I'm not at all handy, but that sounds like a good idea for my husband to try...thanks.

                                jkling, we don't rent anymore: this is the dishwasher that came with the new house. I have no idea what they paid for it but like I said it's 10 years old and very basic. I'm hoping we can get a few more years out of it at least. I know the lines are fine, and I do the thing where you get the water at the sink hot before running the machine, at least most of the time. Thanks for the craigslist tip: appliances are not something I think to look for there.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: LauraK42

                                  I'm sorry - I misunderstood some of where you had rented vs. the part where you live now and inherited what came with the place.

                                  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 for a reasonable price tag are made by bosch, frigidaire, whirlpool and even some kenmore models.

                                  I had rented a condo for 18 months when I was between owning houses - and just out of blind luck this was during the downturn in 2007/2008. The dishwasher was connected to the "left pipe" which should have been hot. BUT the left pipe was actually the cold line and had been misplumbed when the building was first done. When I finally figured this out, and let the landlord know, she let me arrange for a plumber to get it done cheap and viola. Now I do most of my own plumbing. It's not "fun" but it is satisfying.

                                  Yeah CL is really good for some things. We are doing a full kitchen revamp. But there are a few things that I don't mind buying used / pre-owned. We got a 30" GE profile single convection electric wall oven for $75. And a 36" commercial gas cooktop for under $200. Saving money in places allows me to really blow things out where it matters more, and not feel guilty about it.

                                2. Here is what may be happening. The drain is partially blocked. When the wash cycle completes, the waste water does not completely empty before the rinse cycle begins. Because water will drain before debris if there is a partial blockage the debris is then mixed with the rinse water and distributed over your dishes and glassware. During the drying cycle the water drains enough so that you don't have standing water in the bottom.

                                  I have used the baking soda, vinegar, hot water method with success.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: SanityRemoved

                                    If Sanity is correct - then here's something else that can help. Citrix acid (same stuff that is in food but concentrated). It is mild enough to help clear a block but can't damage your pipes or dishwasher, etc. It is readily available via the Internet and is CHEAP. It's just a white powder. Mix it up with HOT water and pour. And run a cycle through. Make sure that you wear eye protection just in case and clean your hands afterwards - don't touch anything with your hands until you have washed them off. Think of it like bleach. So, better yet - wear some thin disposable gloves.

                                    I use this stuff to clean out my espresso machines. They get slowly gunk'd up inside and lose pressure. Every so often I'll fill the reseviour up with hot water and a citrix acid mix and run it thorugh it batches. Then one more cycle of pure water afterwards.

                                    1. re: jkling17

                                      Sanity, that sounds quite plausible (if disgusting to think about). I'll go try that now. Thanks for the idea.

                                      Jkling, those are some pretty insane appliance deals. Unfortunately I am absolutely inept, almost in an Amelia Bedelia sort of way, when it comes to reading mechanical instructions and carrying them out, so DIY plumbing is not really an option... I'll have to look into the acid if this doesn't work I guess.

                                      1. re: LauraK42

                                        Oh I would never try and take apart the mechanisms at the bottom of my dishwasher ... that's way beyond my comfort level. I have a great licensed plumber who does some side work for me for cash and a beer - for stuff that I don't trust myself to do - like anything with a torch. But I am pretty handy w/ pvc and pex. It's pretty hard to screw that stuff up, as long as one just takes time to measure it all out and put it together.

                                  2. Since dish washer soap has been reformulated, has any one tried to add a little industrial TSP to the soap mix?

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: subal

                                      You mean Soilax? Why would you do this?

                                      1. re: subal

                                        That is an interesting idea. I use TSP with a power washer for my roof before priming and painting it - it's a victorian tin roof. It's also good for cleaning tile and grout. But I have no idea at all if it can be used for the dishwasher. The manufacturer might be able to shed some light on that. Even if it could be used, you would have to run at least 1-2 cycles through afterwards, to make sure it was all outa there, before doing a load with dishes.

                                        1. re: subal

                                          The problem with reformulated soaps is the removal of phosphates.
                                          I'm suggesting a very small amount per load - a small pinch.

                                          1. re: subal

                                            I'd rather not pollute if at all possible.

                                        2. Found that changing from liquid to powder was key...
                                          Also, I run the garbage disposal before starting the dishwasher and then I put lots of hot water down the sink.
                                          I use CLR and run that every six months to get the gunk out.
                                          Worked wonders keeping the crud off the glassware.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Beach Chick

                                            Sorry for the slowness, what is CLR? I do always run the disposal too, because I've seen what happens if there's a real clog in the pipes and the dirty water starts draining...

                                            1. re: LauraK42

                                              CLR is a 'Calcuim, Lime, Rust' remover..works great in a myriad of different uses..
                                              In Southern California, our water has lots of minerals and this stuff works magic.


                                          2. Well, happy update: yesterday I did a couple rounds of baking soda + vinegar + hot water into the drain (the side with the disposal). I ran a load last night and just took it out: pristine. Nothing in the standing water, nothing on the inside of cups. I think that really might have been the problem. Thanks so much for the tips. I may run an empty load to clean out the dishwasher too, since that was suggested and I highly doubt it's been done in recent months. Ah, I am so relieved to figure out what causes this!

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. Yes I totally have this problem. Before this dishwasher, I had a Kitchenaid in my new house installed in 1991 and it was great. Our other two houses before this had oldies that worked just fine, despite their age. So I figure when we built this house, get towards the top of the line and got the best Kitchenaid. It lasted 2 or 3 years before the gunking started. My husband took it apart and cleaned every pipe and electronic component, but it never worked right again. It is now a storage cabinet for my cats' dishes, so sad but I don't have thousands to buy a European model, which seems to be the only solution. I occasionally use it just to get guests that want to help out of the kitchen, and then hand wash everything over again in the morning.

                                              I will try the vinegar solution and hope for the best........

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: coll

                                                We used to have this problem with an older, low end Kitchen Aid. Not to bad and the few items that were gunked were easy to hand wipe. It finally died and we bought $600 Bosch. We've only had it for a few months, but it works great and it's so quiet. Used to have to boost the tv volume when the old one was running, now I have opened the bosch when I didn't realize it was running. Now that's quiet.


                                                1. re: JuniorBalloon

                                                  The first Kitchenaid we bought in the 90s was great but so noisy, this time around it's very quiet, as it's advertised to be. Lately it's totally silent since I don't use it anymore! Both were in the $1,000 range.

                                                  I'm guessing the recent grinder rather than filter could be an explanation, hoping to get some time before Christmas to try rinsing it out. It would be so great to have it for the holidays, but I'm not getting my hopes too high.

                                              2. Here in England my lovely Bosch showed up bits of stuff.

                                                I checked the filter in the bottom, the one that would collect peas and the like

                                                and i found below that there was a drum shaped filter, very fine mesh that had collapsed
                                                perhaps from my over tightening it.
                                                I ordered a new filter unit and all was well.

                                                hope this helps.

                                                1. Okay, final (hopefully) update: the baking soda/vinegar thing working was a coincidence. Must not have been as dirty a load as usual. The problem continued more or less sporadically and I finally just called the appliance guys. They cleaned a lot of "trash" out of the dishwasher drain, which obviously was causing a slow drain issue---exactly as someone here suggested, except with the dishwasher itself and not any part of the pipes that are connected to the sink/disposal (why flushing with baking soda/vinegar wouldn't help). He left with the tip that,---contrary to what I said above, and exactly as pairswellwithwine said!-- at least with older models with the filters like these, it's best to really scrape or rinse every dish that goes in, or else the drain will get clogged deep inside and you just have dirty water recirculating and causing this problem. Haven't yet run a load since he left, but the serviceman seemed confident and I hope this is the end of the dishwasher saga... Despite its loudness and exorbitant water use, I really wasn't wanting to replace this machine and shop for a new one yet.