What to Do When a Dishwasher is Not Spraying Water

Fleet Appliance
July 16, 2019
Dishwasher Repair

In order to wash your dishes, the dishwasher is filled with water and that water is combined with detergent. That soapy water is then sprayed rather forcefully out of the spray arm that rotates to create solid water coverage. However, if your dishwasher is turning out dirty dishes and you don’t hear the telltale sounds of water spraying, you have a problem. When water doesn’t spray, your dishes don’t get washed at all. It is both frustrating and unsanitary. The worst part of it all is a dishwasher that fails to do one of its most primary functions can be caused by a number of malfunctions.

Is The Dishwasher Getting Water?

If your dishwasher is not spraying water to clean your dishes, your first step is to make sure that it is actually getting water. When a dishwasher is first started, you should be able to hear the water flowing into the tub. If you have a new dishwasher that runs a little more quietly, after a few minutes, you will be able to open the dishwasher and see that water has filled the bottom of the tub.

If there is no water being pumped into the tub, then it is not truly an issue with a dishwasher not spraying, but rather a water supply issue. If this is the case, you will want to ensure that the water supply to the dishwasher is turned on, that the dishwasher is getting adequate water pressure, and nothing is leaking.

If all of those checks fail to find a problem, you will want to look to the water inlet valve in your dishwasher and check it for continuity with a multimeter. If that checks out, finally the overfill float switch may be faulty. This switch is responsible for sensing when there is enough water in the dishwasher tub, then shutting off the flow of water. If it is malfunctioning, it can prevent water from being released at all. In some cases, the float may just need to be readjusted to solve this issue.

Why a Dishwasher Doesn’t Spray?

If you did check the inside of the tub and found it is filled with water, now it is time to move on to the actual issues causing a dishwasher not to spray anything. It has the supply of water, so why isn’t it working?

Blocked Spray Arm

Loading a dishwasher can often be a game of Tetris. You want to fit in as many dirty dishes as possible, but that is not always a good strategy. It can prevent your dishes from being accurately cleaned. If you believe the spray arm isn’t rotating, an over-packed dishwasher can also be the cause. If something blocks it from rotating, it won’t work. Often a handle to the frying pan or a pot could be preventing proper motion. However, if this is the case, you will most likely be able to hear it. The spray arm will try to turn, but it will thump against the obstruction as it tries.

An unfortunate issue that can arise from serial over-packing a dishwasher is that obstruction can lead to a damaged spray arm, which may actually have caused this issue in the first place as well.

Clogged or Broken Spray Arm

When your dishwasher isn’t spraying water, obviously the first thing you want to check is the spray arm itself. This part of your dishwasher isn’t actually that complex. It uses forced water from a pump to spray your dishes, but a lot can go wrong in that process.

If your home uses hard water, you should visually check the spray arm for lime built up. The small holes of the spray arm are particularly vulnerable to this, but a blockage may have occurred deeper in as well. To unclog the small holes in your spray arm, unfortunately, the best course of action is to insert a small bit of wire into the holes to unclog them. You can use items like Lime Away to soak the arm, but be careful that the product is not caustic enough to damage the plastic. As you would expect, if hard water caused the clog, we also recommend investing in a water softener at least for your appliances. It will add years to the life of an appliance.

In some cases, the spray arm may be too clogged or has a part broken on it from hitting the aforementioned obstructions when overloading a dishwasher. If this is the case, then the spray arm needs to be replaced.

To remove the spray arm from your dishwasher, you will need to remove the bottom dish rack. The spray arm itself is secured by locking tabs. Once those are released, the spray arm will pull right up and the new one can be inserted.

Circulation Pump

The pump is what takes the soapy water from the tub and forces it through the spray arm. Occasionally, food particles can get lodged in this pump and may affect their performance. However, the pump can also go completely faulty and will not move water as it is supposed. The circulation pump is located immediately under your spray arm. You will need to remove the bottom dish rack, the spray arm, and the assembly that the spray arm is connected to. Once done, remove the filter and you will have access to the screws securing the circulation pump.

The circulation pump should move smoothly without a lot of resistance. However, you will want to remove it and visually inspect it for any blockages. If you don’t see any food particles or hair wrapped around the shaft, then it is likely that this part has gone faulty and you need a new one. As this is a more involved repair than the other options above, it should be left for last. Typically the filter protects blockages from happening here and to have the pump actually go out is somewhat rare. However, if you have exhausted all other options, then it is time to check the circulation pump.


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