An open Whirlpool® dishwasher loaded with dishes.

How to unclog your dishwasher

How can you tell if your dishwasher is clogged? If it’s not draining very well or if an inch or more of standing water consistently collects in the bottom of the tub, you likely have a clogged dishwasher. With all of the little worries of the day, the last thing you need is a malfunctioning, smelly dishwasher. Who has the time or the flexibility to wait for a visit from a service technician for a dishwasher that doesn't clean your dishes?

Luckily, there’s some troubleshooting you can do to unclog the dishwasher before calling in a professional.

Select a topic below to start troubleshooting your clogged dishwasher.

A top view of an open Whirlpool® dishwasher loaded with dishes. A top view of an open Whirlpool® dishwasher loaded with dishes.

Why is there water in the bottom of your dishwasher?

There are a few reasons why your dishwasher won’t drain. The most common source of clogs comes from a blockage in the dishwasher's filter. Or, you may have an issue with your dishwasher’s air gap, drain valve, drain hose or even your garbage disposal, causing your dishwasher to clog. 

A Whirlpool® dishwasher in a kitchen. A Whirlpool® dishwasher in a kitchen.

How to unclog a dishwasher in 5 steps

  • Bucket

  • Cup

  • Towels

  • Soft brush, such as an old toothbrush

  • Screwdriver

An empty Whirlpool® dishwasher.

Step 1: Empty the dishwasher & disconnect from power

Make sure your dishwasher is emptied and disconnected from power before you begin troubleshooting. An empty dishwasher will allow you to get a complete look at your dishwasher.

Dirty dishes washing in a Whirlpool® dishwasher.

Step 2: Transfer standing water from the dishwasher

Next, remove any standing water in your dishwasher. This will make the drain accessible when troubleshooting. You can do this by removing excess water with a cup and soaking up the remaining water with towels, a wet/dry shop vac or even a turkey baster and sponge. Make sure to place cloth or paper towels around the base of your dishwasher to prevent water from leaking onto your floor.

A closeup of a dishwasher filter.

Step 3: Check the dishwasher filter

The most likely cause of dishwasher drainage concerns is a dirty filter. Tough food particles like popcorn kernels or wet chunks of paper from container labels can get caught in the filter and keep water from draining out of your dishwasher. Make sure the overflowing isn’t caused by using dish soap in the dishwasher.

Locate the filter

To find the filter assembly, remove the bottom dish rack and look in the bottom of the tub. In some models, the assembly is located in a back corner, while in others it’s somewhere near the base of the spray arm.

Remove the filter

The filter is often covered by a cage or grille. You can typically remove the dishwasher filter by hand, but some require a screwdriver.

Once the covering is out of the way, you can pull out the filter. If yours is clogged, you’ll probably see food particles, soil or other visible debris caught in the fine mesh.

Rinse and replace it

You can rinse most of the soils away by simply running the filter under the sink faucet. Scrub caked-on debris away with a soft brush, like an old toothbrush. But don’t use anything made of a tough or abrasive material because you might damage the filter.

Replace the now sparkling clean filter when you’re done and fit the cage or grille securely back in place.

Care tip:

Regularly cleaning the inside of your dishwasher is an easy way to help prevent odors and the build-up of detergent and minerals. Try cleaning your dishwasher with vinegar, baking soda or affresh® Dishwasher Cleaner to keep your dishwasher running efficiently and your family’s dishes sparkling clean.

A partially opened Whirlpool® dishwasher with dishes inside.

Step 4: Look for other culprits

If you’ve cleaned your filter and the dishwasher is still not draining properly, there may be another reason it’s clogged.

Check inside the drain pump

Sometimes glass can break while in the dishwasher which can lead to small solid debris getting into the drain pump outlet. Remove the drain pump and vacuum out the area to remove debris. Then, replace the drain pump.

Check the garbage disposal

Built-in dishwashers typically drain via the garbage disposal so if your dishwasher is still clogged, this may be the culprit. Turn on your garbage disposal to clear away any leftover food. If you hear a loud sound after turning on your garbage disposal, it may mean your garbage disposal is clogged and you’ll need to troubleshoot that as well.

Have you recently installed or serviced your garbage disposal? Check to see if the knockout drain on the dishwasher was removed. This sometimes neglected step is a common misdiagnosis of a clogged dishwasher.

Clean the sink’s air gap

A dishwasher’s air gap lets air into the dishwasher so it can properly drain without creating a vacuum. Located on the top of the sink, it doesn’t allow anything except for air to come through. However, this air gap may become clogged or blocked and can cause drainage problems in your dishwasher. If you notice any buildup in the sink’s air gap, clean it out and make sure it's tightly secured.

Clean the drain hose 

Check your drain hose to make sure it is properly secured to the sink or garbage disposal. The drain hose connects the dishwasher to your garbage disposal or sink and is either located under the sink or behind the dishwasher. If it is properly connected, make sure it is cleared of food or debris. You can clean your drain hose using a drain cleaner solution or you can make your own. Baking soda and vinegar is commonly used as a natural drain cleaner and can be a great solution for weaker clogs. However, you may want to use a stronger drain cleaner for clogs that need to be dissolved right away.

Have you recently redone your kitchen plumbing? An improperly installed drain hose during a remodel is a common cause for the dishwasher not draining. Drain hoses can kink during an installation and can cause the pump to not drain. Sometimes a drain hose has a built-in check valve for one way flow and is installed backward. If the dishwasher was self installed, make sure to follow the recommendation to replace the drain hose. An old drain hose can build up drain sentiments and restricts flow.

A Whirlpool® dishwasher in a kitchen.

Step 5: Schedule service

For specific information and maintenance instructions, consult your owner’s manual. In cases where a machine isn’t starting, learn how to reset a dishwasher


If none of that dishwasher troubleshooting works, all else fails and you’re feeling overwhelmed, schedule service online or by phone: 1-800-253-1301 Monday–Friday, 8AM-8PM (EST). 

How can you prevent dishwasher clogs?

Make sure your dishwasher is cleaned and regularly maintained to help prevent dishwasher clogs. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Removing crumbs and leftover food from dishes before loading the dishwasher. 

  • Choosing a hot water cycle on the dishwasher.

  • Wiping down the exterior and interior of the dishwasher and any other parts you can access.

  • Regularly checking and cleaning the dishwasher filter.

  • Running the dishwasher often and always using dishwasher detergent.

A mother and daughter unloading a Whirlpool® dishwasher. A mother and daughter unloading a Whirlpool® dishwasher.

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Explore Whirlpool® dishwashers

Sometimes a home DIY or even the professional’s help is not enough. Your dishwasher may be in need of any upgrade. Whirlpool can help provide the right dishwasher for your family. Whirlpool® dishwashers with 3rd rack options free up space for more dishes in the racks below.

Looking for a dishwasher that’ll work in almost any kitchen layout? Check out our collection of portable dishwashers today!

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