Solved! 4 Reasons Why Your Dishwasher Isn’t Drying
Troubleshoot the pesky problem of still-wet dishes to maximize your machine’s performance.
Q: Lately, whenever I unload my dishwasher, everything is still wet, and I end up with water on the floor and on my clothes. It’s not an old machine, so I’m frustrated! Why is my dishwasher not drying? Is it something I can fix myself?
A: Your frustration is understandable. After all, when a load is done, you’re should be able to put plates, glasses, silverware, and cookware directly into cupboards and drawers. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, sometimes that hard-working appliance will wash well yet leave your dishes a lot wetter than you’d like.
Before delving solutions for the problem, it helps to understand the basics of a dishwasher’s drying action. Older models, particularly from American companies, generally have a round or U-shaped heating element at the bottom of the tub. Once the wash cycle is complete, the element heats up and a fan blows hot air around the interior of the appliance, somewhat like a convection oven. This effectively evaporates water but requires a lot of energy, so many higher-end American dishwashers, as well as most European brands, now rely on condensation to dry dishes.
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In condensation drying, the final rinse cycle uses extremely hot water, which transfers heat to your dishware, cookware, and utensils. Because the stainless steel interior walls of the appliance don’t hold heat as well as the contents, moisture from the hot dishes and utensils is meant to evaporate and then condense on the cooler dishwasher walls, and from there run down to the drain at the bottom of the tub. While this method is quieter and far more energy-efficient than a heating element and fan, it is not quite as effective—so if you think your old dishwasher did a better job of drying dishes than your newer model, you’re probably correct. Condensation drying is particularly problematic with plastic dishware because plastic doesn’t heat up the way glass, metal, and ceramic do and thus doesn’t evaporate water as effectively as those materials.
All that said, there are simple steps you can take to improve a dishwasher’s drying performance, whether it relies on a heating element or condensation.
Check your dishwasher cycle settings.
Even if your dishwasher has a heating element—look for a thick metal ring or U-shaped element at the bottom of the tub if you aren’t sure—many newer dishwashers conserve energy by not defaulting to heated dry. In that case, you can manually turn on the function, generally by depressing a button on the control panel labeled “Heated Dry” or something similar. Be aware that even on dishwashers that do default to a heated dry setting for normal wash cycles, quick-wash or express wash settings won’t include the heated dry cycle to conserve time, meaning you are likelier to have wet dishes when using one of these speedier settings.
Inspect the rinse aid dispenser.
Without getting too technical, dishwasher rinse aid products work by reducing the surface tension of water, causing it to run off the clean dishes instead of forming water droplets. This helps reduce those annoying white water spots on your clean glasses, but it also helps dry dishes faster, particularly in a dishwasher that uses condensation drying.
If your dishwasher is not drying during the appropriate cycle, make sure that the rinse aid dispenser—generally located on the interior door, right next to the detergent dispenser—is full. If not, remove the cap on the dispenser and pour in enough rinse aid until the indicator shows it’s full.
If there already is ample rinse aid in the dispenser, a buildup of gunk could be preventing the rinse aid from dispensing into the machine during the rinse cycle. To clean the rinse aid dispenser, along with the entire inside of your dishwasher, remove the cap from the rinse aid dispenser. Use a turkey baster or similar suction device to remove any rinse aid still in the dispenser cup, and then set a dishwasher-safe bowl filled with two cups of white vinegar on the top rack of your otherwise-empty dishwasher. Leave the rinse aid dispenser cap off, and run the appliance on the hottest water setting. This helps flush away all manner of grunge from all interior parts of the dishwasher, including the rinse aid dispenser.
Make sure the heating element is operational.
If your dishwasher has a heating element and you’ve selected the “Heated Dry” setting, but your dishes are still wet at the end of the cycle and don’t even feel warm to the touch, it’s possible that the heating element is on the fritz. While you can check the heating element yourself to determine if it’s operational, replacing this component is beyond the realm of the average do-it-yourselfer and best left to a professional.
To check the heating element, you’ll need to use a multimeter, also called a multitester. These handy devices, used for testing a variety of types of electrical current flow, are available on Amazon and at any home improvement center for less than $20. Before getting started, unplug the dishwasher. If you’re lucky, the plug is easily accessed underneath the kitchen sink; if not, you’ll have to pull the dishwasher forward until you can reach the plug behind it.
Next, remove the dishwasher’s bottom panel, which is usually below the dishwasher door, right at ground level. That means you’ll need to crouch down, or more than likely lie down on the floor for access. It helps to have an assistant shine a flashlight onto your work area. Unscrew and remove the bottom panel with a Phillips screwdriver, then check inside the access area for two small metal terminals poking down from the heating element up above in the dishwasher tub. Each terminal will have a wire attached to it with a slip connector. Gently pull the connectors down and off the terminals, removing the wires.
Make sure your multitester is set to Ohms (the symbol looks something like an upside-down U crouching on two little feet), and clamp or touch the multitester’s probes to the two terminals. Typically, a dishwasher’s heating element in proper working condition will give a reading between 15 and 30 ohms on your multimeter, but this can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. If the needle doesn’t move at all, which might be indicated as infinite resistance on your multitester, or moves all the way over to zero, your heating element needs replacing—call an appliance repairperson. If the reading is normal, however, you now know that the heating element isn’t causing your problem.
Test the high-limit thermostat.
The high-limit thermostat is a safety device that prevents your dishwasher’s heating element from getting too hot. If it malfunctions, however, it can shut the heating element off before the dishes are dry.
You’ll need your multitester for this procedure, set to the lowest ohms setting, as well as an assistant aiming a flashlight towards your work area. Before getting started, unplug the dishwasher and then remove the bottom panel by unscrewing it with a Phillips screwdriver. Look inside the access area underneath the dishwasher tub for the high-limit thermostat—a silvery disk roughly the size of a quarter towards the right side of the tub. Slip off the two wires connected to it, and then unclip the thermostat, or use your screwdriver to remove the screws holding it in place, and remove the thermostat from the dishwasher.
Touch the two probes of the multitester to the terminals on the high-limit thermostat. While at room temperature, the reading should be at infinite resistance. Now, hold the thermostat near a hot lightbulb or space heater and check the readings again. The needle should now show zero. If you get some other readings, your high-limit thermostat is faulty and needs to be replaced. This is a job best carried out by a professional appliance repairperson.
Help your dishwasher do its best with these tips.
Even after you’ve solved the problem of your wet dishes, you can do your part to help the dishwasher dry them completely by loading the
- Before starting your dishwasher, run the water tap nearest to the appliance—usually this will be the kitchen sink—on hot to purge cold water from the lines. This helps your dishwasher come to full temperature more quickly.
- Cups, bowls, and glasses should be on the top rack with their openings facing down. This keeps them from filling with water during the wash cycle.
- Put your plates, pots, and pans on the lower rack facing towards the center of the dishwasher.
- Don’t overfill your dishwasher. There should be a little bit of space between all of the dishes, cups, bowls, and other items, otherwise, water and detergent won’t be able to reach all surfaces of the dirty dishware, nor will they dry evenly.
- Mix up your silverware in the utensil holder, rather than putting all the spoons in one compartment, forks in another compartment, etc. Putting too many like silverware together tends to lead to nesting, which prevents optimal cleaning and drying.
- If your dishwasher has a heating element, keep all plastic dishware on the top rack to prevent melting. If your dishwasher doesn’t have a heating element but relies purely on condensation drying, it doesn’t matter if plastic items go on the top or bottom rack.
- Once the dishwasher completes its cycle, crack the door open a bit to allow moist air to escape. Let the dishwasher sit for half an hour or more before emptying it so that any remaining water has a chance to evaporate.
- Unload the bottom rack first. That way, any water that might drip down as you unload the top rack won’t rewet the plates on the lower rack.