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Dishwashers are quite possibly one of the most convenient modern inventions for busy households, cutting sometimes hours out of a daily chore list. It can be frustrating when an appliance that has come to be such a lifesaver stops working properly! There are many ways in which a dishwasher can stop working, but every dishwasher has one thing in common: they clean with hot water, sanitize with a mix of hot water and air, and dry with hot air. Heat is one of the most important aspects of a dishwasher.
There are a few reasons why a dishwasher may stop heating properly, such as a damaged or faulty part (most commonly a heating element) or trouble with the hot water.
Diagnosing the issue yourself can save you money – especially if you know in advance whether you need to contact a repairman or a plumber. This article will discuss how to identify and fix the potential causes of your dishwasher’s unwanted coldness.
Damaged or Faulty Parts
Part failure is the most common reason for any trouble with a dishwasher, but especially with issues involving heat. Luckily, most warranties cover the cost of major parts for up to 10 years, offsetting the costs of repair – especially if you’re able to do it yourself!
Different brands of dishwashers can have the parts discussed below in different locations, so be sure to check your owner’s manual to know where to look for the part discussed. If the physical manual is unavailable to you, many can be found online if you know the specific model of dishwasher you have.
You can also often contact the store your appliance was purchased at; oftentimes, for something as simple as assistance with an owner’s manual, the employees are happy to help for free if they’re able!
Now, to jump right into the different possible perpetrators of your dishwasher’s trouble.
Sometimes, dishes in the dishwasher don’t get fully dry for a variety of accidental reasons. Clogged vents or dishes stacked too closely together are common reasons. But for these to be the root cause of a problem, the dishwasher is still, at least, getting hot. But what about when the dry cycle doesn’t get hot at all?
The heating element inside of the dishwasher is what’s responsible for heating the air to dry the dishes. The air inside can reach anywhere from 110 to 170°F (43.33 to 76.67°C) when working properly, and even then, sometimes, it doesn’t quite get everything perfectly dry. So when the element doesn’t work at all, this leads to a very soggy set of dishes. But how can we be so sure that this is the cause?
Sometimes you can physically see signs of the element being burnt out. Make sure to unclog your dishwasher before accessing the heating element; it likely wouldn’t hurt to cut off the water supply to it as well, just to be safe.
This will be necessary to do repairs anyway. The first thing you’ll want to do once you have access to the actual heating element itself is to inspect it with your own two eyes. Signs of burning are obvious blackening around the outside. Pictured is a burnt-out heating element alongside a brand new one, for reference (found on Pinterest).
If there aren’t any obvious signs of damage to the element, you may also want to test it with a multimeter. You’ll know after that test whether the electricity accessing the element is continuous, or if it’s being cut off somewhere.
While you will have to remove the entire dishwasher in order to replace a heating element, it is possible to do it yourself. Sears offers step-by-step instructions for some of the most common models on their website, along with pictures and a video to help. This gentleman also goes into detail as to how to find and replace the heating element, as well as how to test the voltage.
Other retailers will recommend having a professional come to do this repair for you due to its complexity, though this is not always covered by warranty.
Another part that can cause the dishwasher to have trouble heating is the thermostat. The thermostat is what “tells” the heating element how “hard” it has to work, so to speak – it sends a signal to turn the heating element on or off to reach the appropriate temperature. If the thermostat is malfunctioning, then even a perfectly functional heating element won’t help, because it is being “told” to turn off before it should!
Similarly to the heating element, the thermostat can be tested with a multimeter. Its resistance should measure near zero ohms; a different reading is a sign that it needs to be replaced. The thermostat is usually located near the heating element, so you should be able to test both parts at the same time.
This video (also linked above) also explains how to replace a dishwasher’s thermometer, with the gentleman featured going through the steps in real-time. Once again, you’ll have to remove the entire dishwasher to make the replacement, but it’s a bit simpler than replacing the heating element.
Once you can access the thermostat, it’s as simple as removing the wires, releasing the mounting bracket, and pulling it free, then doing the opposite to put in the new one. Sears has step-by-step instructions here. Remember to ensure that the dishwasher is disconnected from both the power and the water supply before beginning repairs!
Most modern dishwashers connect directly to the hot water supply, as dishwashers have little use for cold water in the first place. Therefore, if your hot water heater begins to have trouble, your dishwasher will also have trouble!
Of course, trouble with your hot water heater will affect other areas of your home, such as your sinks and showers, making the problem relatively easy to identify. We won’t go too in-depth on how to fix your hot water heater and will instead shift back to dishwasher-specific problems.
Although… there isn’t really much more to discuss! If your dishwasher is connected to your cold water supply and has to manually heat the water itself, the items mentioned above (the heating element and the thermostat) are responsible for that job as well!
If your dishwasher seems to have no trouble heating for the dry cycle, but your dishes still appear unclean, and you suspect cold water to be the culprit, try “priming” your dishwashing cycle by running hot water in your kitchen sink first.
The water supply for your sink and your dishwasher is connected, so this will help ensure that the water being used to wash your dishes is hot all the way through, not just halfway. If your dishes are still coming out unclean, then the reason is likely not due to cold water, especially if your drying cycle and the hot water in other areas of your home are working just fine.
In general, the only two things that contribute to the heating of a dishwasher are the heating element and the thermostat. If a dishwasher is having trouble getting hot, it is worth it to test both pieces of equipment with a multimeter, and then replacing the culprit – whether you do it yourself or hire a repairman to do it.
Replacement parts can be found in many places, like home improvement stores or Amazon, and are usually covered by your warranty if your appliance is less than ten years old. Always be sure to disconnect both power and water from your device if you plan to make repairs yourself, and don’t be afraid to call a repairman if it feels too intimidating. Good Luck!