I am a retired appliance repairman with many years of experience. I am excited to share with you what I've learned over the years.
There are several possible causes why there is water left in your dishwater at the end of a cycle. Some simple and some not so simple.
- Full garbage disposal
- Clogged drain
- Plugged air gap (this device prevents siphoning of sewer or drain water into the dishwasher)
- Clogged anti-siphon device
- Bad pump
- Bad timer
Full Garbage Disposal?
- Start by checking the garbage disposal; is it filled with food? It might be blocking the dishwasher drain.
- Run the disposal and check if the dishwasher drains properly.
Clogged Drain or Plugged Air Gap?
The next order of business is to determine how much water is left in the dishwasher. It should be filled just below the door seal when it is full. That is about three inches of water. If some but not all of the water is gone at the end of a cycle, the problem is most likely in the drain.
The wastewater enters the pump through a screen and possibly through a soft food disposal. Then it is pumped into a drain hose. The drain hose is most likely connected to an air gap device located on the exterior of a wall, just outside the kitchen, or under a slotted, metal cylinder on the sink beside the faucet. There will be a drain hose going from the air gap to the drain, most likely a garbage disposal. If you do not have a garbage disposal, then it will be connected to the sink drain. I have seen a lot of goofy installations, but these two scenarios are the most common.
Here is how to check the drain:
- Run the dishwasher. If water comes out of the air gap into the sink or pours on the ground outside the kitchen, then the drain is plugged at the air gap or in the hose that goes to the drain or garbage disposal.
- Remove the drain hose; it will be held in place by hose clamps.
- Check for a blockage, clean it thoroughly with a brush or rag on a coat hanger wire, and wash it off with a hose.
- Check inside of the air gap outlet to see if something is stuck in there. I have found the most interesting things in the air gap. I am still scratching my head after seeing a ring, a plastic bag, a hair scrunchie, and what looked like a part of a snake. Ewww! Make sure it is clear of debris.
- Replace the hose.
- Remove the hose from the air gap that comes from the dishwasher.
- Place the end of the hose in a bucket. Turn the dishwasher on and let it drain into the bucket. If the water pressure is like that of a garden hose, it is working correctly.
- Let it drain into the bucket for a few seconds to give it every opportunity to flush anything left inside the hose.
- Check the inlet side of the air gap and make sure that it is free of debris and other blockages.
If you found a clogged hose or air gap, it is now fixed. Run a cycle in the dishwasher to check if the water drains properly. If it does, then the problem is fixed!
Clogged Anti-Siphon Device?
If there is still a problem after cleaning the drain hoses and the screens, a possible problem could be with an anti-siphon device. Only some dishwashers are equipped with these, and they are a nuisance to get to.
The anti-siphon device is located where the drain hose connects to the pump. It typically looks like a small ball in a cage at the end of the drain hose. The ball is drawn toward the drain hose when the pump is pumping water; this opens the drain, and water flows freely. When the pump stops pumping water, the ball floats back to the pump drain blocks it so that no water from the drain or drain hose can enter the dishwasher. If food or other debris gets lodged into this device, the drain may be blocked. It has to come off and be cleaned.
If the anti-siphon device is clear, then the problem at this point is solved.
Bad Pump or Timer?
If it is a poorly performing pump, only a small amount of water will pump out. If it is the timer, it may not pump long enough. Does the pump make unusual or loud noises? If the pump is not working efficiently and making noise, it is probably a bad pump.
Does the timer stop before the end of the cycle, or does it sometimes get stuck during the cycle? Does the timer knob turn hard or skip? If it does not complete a cycle, it is probably a bad timer. Time to replace the timer.
Replacing the Pump
The pump is an easy job on some dishwashers and very difficult on others. You will need to use the model number to find the correct pump. Depending on the location of the pump, you can determine the difficulty of the job. GE dishwashers are one of the easiest. In any case, the dishwasher will have to come out.
- Turn off the power and water.
- Disconnect the water supply, the power supply (this is often just a plug), and the drain.
- The dishwasher is normally held in place with a couple of screws driven into the bottom of the counter through brackets on the top of the dishwasher. Remove those.
- The dishwasher should now slide out, and you can gain access to it.
I would use this strategy to take the dishwasher out and see if you can manage to get the pump out. If it seems easy enough and a job that you can do, then order the new pump. If you cannot figure it out and complete the job, it may be time to get a new dishwasher. A pump assembly can be kind of expensive and with a service call and repair it is probably going to top $200—time to move on.
Replacing the Timer
If you determined it is the timer, then you are in for a thrill! Just kidding. Changing the timer out can be daunting. It is located in the door panel and is sometimes difficult to access. You will have to open up the door. If it is held in place with a spring and pulley system, where you have access to the springs in the front, it might help to unhook the spring so that the door does not keep closing. If the spring is difficult to work with, it would be a good idea to leave it alone.
Start by removing the hold-down screws in the inside liner. Removing the liner will give you access to most dishwasher timers. Some dishwashers have conveniently installed the timer in a separate enclosure. It is fairly easy to remove the timer and replace it. If you are confused at all along the way, take the time to sketch the assembly out. Be cautious—some dishwashers have some of the mechanisms attached or held in by the front liner.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2010 SteveoMc
Alanadwrigh on October 08, 2019:
Please help, lol.
Our older dishwasher eventually died after repairs and fixes, it continued to not drain and eventually stopped working completely.
My mom just bought a brand new whirlpool dishwasher, and it did the exact same thing, the water won’t drain.
Is it possible there’s a bigger problem at hand?
Perhaps something that connects to the dishwasher. Or something external but dependent with the dishwasher
George on September 25, 2019:
My LG dishwasher is ten years old and I do have a garbage disposal but it was replaced 2-4 years ago as it died.
We have very hard water and I’ve noticed over the years that some water has been sitting at the bottom and sometime it had a mild odor but the odor and the water amount is increasing..
It runs a complete cycle as the dispenser door opens up.
The air thing on the counter is not blocked and the disposal & both drains work fine & have no odor.
I cleaned them regularly with baking soda and vinegar but I never cleaned the dishwasher.
Could this be just a sign it’s old and minor issues will happen.
John Nicholson on April 27, 2019:
I have a 2year old whirlpool dishwasher and it doesn't drain completely. It has a long drain hose, about two ft. Is my hose to long
Ayana on April 14, 2016:
Perfect instructions!! Dishwasher clog fixed...now if I can just figure out why its overflowing with suds.
Randy on January 16, 2011:
I bought brushes for my washer at www.pricedrightparts.com and they got them to me the very next day. I loved it. Anyway good article. Thanks for the info.
SteveoMc (author) from Pacific NorthWest on January 04, 2011:
Thanks for the great information.
dishwasher spares on December 31, 2010:
The dishwashers in america work in a slightly different way to the UK version, in the uk all dishwashers have a control module and a selector switch to control them, no electrical / mechanical timers anymore. nice to know how the US version works.
SteveoMc (author) from Pacific NorthWest on October 17, 2010:
Maryanne I hope this helps someway. Thanks for stopping by.
Maryanne Maguire from Santa Monica, CA on October 17, 2010:
Ours died altogether, so this is a handy checklist for us to start finding the trouble spot(s). Thanks!
SteveoMc (author) from Pacific NorthWest on September 19, 2010:
Lilly Bad bad bad, LOL. It's a machine, you are a person. To heck with the machine.
Lori J Latimer from Central Oregon on September 19, 2010:
Why do I feel guilty everytime I read your appliance Hubs. I have been a Bad Appliance caretaker in the past. Thanks for the conversion!
SteveoMc (author) from Pacific NorthWest on September 18, 2010:
Pampushy I just saved someone $100....it makes me so happy, too bad it wasn't you. Next time....thanks for reading and leaving a comment.
Pampushky on September 18, 2010:
I hate when this happens...the first time cost me $100 to have someone come out and unblock the dumb thing...Only a fool once though! Nice article
SteveoMc (author) from Pacific NorthWest on September 17, 2010:
dinesh Thanks for coming by and leaving a comment. I appreciate it.
ethel Always a pleasure to see you read one of my hubs. Thank you for taking the time to comment.
Justom Love the humor....LOL You know it, these are just machines, they will give out some day.
Kelly Logical Are you a nut? What kinda tomfoolery is that comment? And, you don't have to yell.
justom from 41042 on September 16, 2010:
I'm so tired of dishwasher hubs... just kidding but I am tired of washing dishes. I'm saving all these useful hubs 'cause it's only a matter of time before I"ll need them. Peace!! Tom
Kelly Logical on September 16, 2010:
hEY ETHEL YOU ARE AWESOME VERY RESOURCEFUL KINDA GAL.
Ethel Smith from Kingston-Upon-Hull on September 16, 2010:
Very informative. I shall be back no doubt in the future :)
dinesh c bhatt from India (Noida) on September 16, 2010:
Very informative, well written
Thank you for sharing this
Hello, hello, from London, UK on September 16, 2010:
A well written hub giving good advice.