How to Unclog a Dishwasher

A working dishwasher is a big blessing for a busy household. But now and then, it causes more troubles than convenience—like when it gets clogged. So, what are the different ways of unclogging a dishwasher?

Try this simple solution using ingredients you may already have in your kitchen:

  1. Pour a cup (8 ounces) of vinegar into the filter basket.
  2. Put a cup of baking soda and let it sit for at least fifteen minutes.
  3. Pour hot water down the filter basket to see if it unclogs your dishwasher.

If this doesn’t do the trick, don’t worry. Keep reading to learn a more detailed way to unclog a dishwasher.

How to Unclog a Dishwasher in 5 Steps

How to Unclog a Dishwasher

1. Recognize the Signs

Recognizing the early signs of a clogged dishwasher will help you avoid costly repairs. Here are a few signs to watch out for:

  • Unusual sounds while your dishwasher is running, such as gurgling or thumping
  • Pooling of water in your sink or in the bottom of your dishwasher
  • Water coming up your drain into your kitchen sink
  • Leftover water after a wash cycle
  • Dishes and glasses are still dirty after a wash cycle.

2. Identify the Cause

Once you’ve determined that you have a clogged dishwasher, you can either seek the help of a plumbing professional or fix the issue yourself. There are many possible reasons water doesn’t drain properly from a dishwasher. Below are five of the most common causes of dishwasher clogs:

Clogged Drain Hose

Whenever your dishwasher drains, the water passes through a hose connected to either your garbage disposal or kitchen sink drain. Since it’s responsible for draining your dishwasher, there’s a big possibility for food gunk, soap residue, and other debris to form a clog over time.

How can you tell if the drain hose is the problem?

The drain hose is easy to access. So, you can look under your kitchen sink to know if there’s a clog. A clogged drain hose usually causes a large amount of water to leak onto the floor once you open the door.

Fortunately, you don’t always need to remove the drain hose or use Drano to remove the clog. You can pour a solution consisting of baking soda, vinegar, and hot water at the bottom of your dishwasher. Leave it for a few minutes before running it through the drain cycle.

Dirty Filter Basket

As the name hints, a filter basket is fitted in the drain to prevent pieces of food and other debris from going down the pipes where they could clog. However, if too many food particles are trapped in the filter basket, water can’t completely pass through it.

There are two obvious signs of a clogged filter basket:

  • Dirty dishes and glasses after you run a cycle
  • Pooling of dirty water at the bottom of the dishwasher after it runs

It would be best if you cleaned your dishwasher’s manual-clean filter basket at least once or twice a month. Clean it more often if your dishwasher smells terrible or your clean dishes feel gritty or still have pieces of food on them after washing.

Cleaning filter baskets will only take a couple of minutes. You already have the supplies you need to clean them in most cases. If hard water is an issue, you can soak your dishwasher filter basket in a solution with a bit of vinegar to eliminate the deposits that could cause clogging later on.

New Garbage Disposal Installation

Installing a new garbage disposal unit may cause clogging if you or the installer forgot to remove the knockout plug. A knockout plug refers to a hole with a cover over it that you’ll typically find in the garbage disposal, specifically inside the dishwasher connector pipe near the top of the unit.

Luckily, this is a problem that’s easy to fix. You insert a screwdriver into the connector pipe on the garbage disposal unit.

If your screwdriver doesn’t hit anything solid, then the knockout plug has already been taken out, and there must be another reason your dishwasher is clogging. Now, if your screwdriver doesn’t insert freely, the knockout plug is still there.

Clogged Drainage Line

In some cases, dishwashers get clogged because improperly disposed of food and cooking oils get stuck further down the drainage line. Some of the possible signs of a clogged main drainage line include having multiple clogged drains in your home and water backing up to your kitchen sink while your dishwasher drains.

Can you run your dishwasher with a clogged drainage line? No, you cannot run your dishwasher with a clogged drainage line since it won’t drain properly.

Unfortunately, this is too complicated to fix all by yourself. You’ll most likely need professional assistance because the cause of the clogging is deep underneath your dishwasher and could go further down the sewer line.

Damaged or Broken Sewer Line

A damaged or broken sewer line would be the last thing people would suspect as the cause of a clogged dishwasher. When this happens, you’ll have a bigger problem than a dishwasher that’s not draining properly. You’ll have to deal with stinky sewage backup and toilets and showers that won’t drain.

This type of issue is usually common among older lines. However, even relatively new lines could get damaged due to external factors like overgrown tree roots and ground shifting.

Like clogged drainage lines, a professional is the best person to fix this issue. Depending on where you live and the extent of the damage, the national average cost of unclogging the main sewer line ranges from $350 to $650—hydro jetting of the main sewer pipe with mid-sized clog costs around $475.

Again, how to unclog a dishwasher? To unclog a dishwasher, mix one cup of vinegar with half a cup of baking soda into the filter basket. Then, allow the solution to sit for 15 minutes before pouring boiling water into the basket.

3. Gather the Plumbing Tools and Other Materials

how to unclog a dishwasher drain hose

You don’t need sophisticated plumbing tools to fix your clogged dishwasher. Depending on what you need to fix to get your dishwasher running smoothly again, you only need a few of them on hand.

These are some of the tools and materials you might need:

  • Baking soda
  • Disposable gloves
  • Drain snake (for smaller drains ) or drain auger (for larger pipes)
  • Hammer (for removing your garbage disposal’s knockout plug)
  • Plumber’s wrench or pipe wrench
  • Screwdriver
  • Towels
  • Vinegar
  • Wire coat hanger (straightened out with needle-nose pliers)

4. Create a Safe Working Area

Once you have all the tools you need, make sure your working area is safe. Remember: A dishwasher is still an electric home appliance that moves water. The last thing you want is to get electrocuted when trying to unclog it.

Safety Measures

Keep these safety measures in mind:

  • Unplug both your dishwasher and garbage disposal unit. You could also shut off the circuit breaker that serves these home appliances—in that way, other areas of your home would still get light and power.
  • Remove standing water inside your dishwasher and/or on the floor and other soaked materials.
  • Get a dry towels and lay them on the floor where you’re going to be kneeling. This will help keep your knees comfortable and dry.

5. Unclog the Dishwasher

how to tell if dishwasher drain hose is clogged

Below details how you can fix your clogged dishwasher depending on the issue:

Remove the Knockout Plug

  • Position your screwdriver against the knockout plug.
  • Gently tap on top of your screwdriver handle using a hammer. Repeat this process as you move your screwdriver around the edges of the knockout plug.
  • Once the knockout plug falls back into the garbage disposal unit, reach down through the sink to retrieve it using either your hand or needle-nose pliers.
  • If the edges around the hole are rough, you can use a small file for a smooth finish.

Unclog the Dishwasher Filter Basket

Find out your dishwasher’s filter type. Typically, dishwashers that were manufactured before 2010 have self-cleaning filters. But since they tend to be noisy because of their grinders, most manufacturers have exchanged them for grinder-free filters, which need manual cleaning.

Look under your dishwasher’s spray arms to determine what type you have. Filters that require manual cleaning are typically round and look similar to filters for water pitchers. Meanwhile, self-cleaning filters have multiple holes that envelope the filtering material.

Clean the area near the filter. You can use a soft, damp cloth. Turn and pull out the upper filter to remove it. Or, follow the directional arrows on top to know how to unlock and remove it. Clean the filter:

  • Method 1: Wash the filter(s) using warm and soapy water. If there are stubborn food pieces left, gently scrub the filter with a sponge or a soft-bristle brush. Rinse thoroughly under cool or warm tap water.
  • Method 2: Create a homemade cleaning solution of baking soda, hot or warm water, and vinegar. First, pour the baking soda-vinegar cleaning solution down the filter basket. Leave it alone for up to 15 minutes before pouring a pot of hot water into the filter basket and see if that solves the problem.
  • Method 3: Take out the filter(s) and soak it in warm water containing a cup of vinegar. Let it sit for at least half an hour.

Zip-It the Clogged Drain

First, make sure you switch off your dishwasher and unplug it. Remove your dishwasher’s dish racks to access and remove the drain grate with a screwdriver. Now that the drainage line of your dishwasher is exposed, you can check it for obstructions.

If something obstructs your unit’s drainage line, you can remove it without using awful chemicals. Get yourself the Zip-It, also called a bendable sewer picker, drain snake, drain opener, hair snare, and stick drain cleaner.

The Zip-It is a bendable plastic strip with small barbs on the sides. Using it is simple. All you need to do is insert it into your clogged drain as far as possible. Then, slowly pull it out.

Warning: Be prepared to pull something out of the drain that might make you sick to your stomach. The Zip-It is reusable, but you can always throw it out if you don’t feel like cleaning it.

Or, you could use a natural solution to flush out the debris that’s obstructing your drainage line. You can use the baking soda vinegar solution I shared with you. If that solves the problem, go ahead and reattach the drain grate and put back the dish racks. Run a fresh cycle to make sure there are no performance issues.

Unclog the Drain Hose

Take out the drain hose of your dishwasher. If there’s still water left in the line, let it drain into a container. Hold a flashlight to the drain hose and check for shadows to check for blockage.

Once you’re sure there’s a blockage, use something flexible and thin to dislodge it. While you’re at it, clean the inside of the drain hose with a double-ended tube brush.

Make sure you don’t use anything that has a pointed end or rough edges to avoid puncturing the hose. Also, don’t forget to refit the hose correctly—or risk facing another puddle of water under your dishwasher.

Conclusion – How to Unclog a Dishwasher

Proper maintenance is important to prevent future clogging problems. Unfortunately, most people tend to forget this.

If you want to extend the life of your dishwasher and prevent blockages, be sure to do the following:

  • Keep your filter basket clean as often as possible. And check it after each cycle.
  • Thoroughly clean your dishwasher at least once or twice a month.
  • Before loading your plates into your dishwasher, be sure you already scraped away all food particles.

Fixing a clogged dishwasher yourself is a great way to save money. However, there are causes of dishwasher clogs that require the help of a professional. If you don’t have the proper tools or if the problem is too complex, contact a professional as soon as possible.