6 Ways to Fix Standing Water in the Bottom of Your Dishwasher

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If you discover a pool of water in the bottom of your dishwasher after a cycle, don’t panic.

Although standing water can be a sign that your dishwasher needs professional repair, most of the time, it’s a minor issue that you can fix on your own.

Water in the bottom of the dishwasher results from clogs in the filter, garbage disposal, drain hose, drain pump, or air gap. When food or sediment build up within these systems, the dishwasher won’t drain properly. Locating the blockage and clearing the debris will solve the problem.  

In this guide, I dive deeper into what’s causing water to pool in the bottom of your dishwasher and explain, in plain English, the steps you need to take to troubleshoot.

You’ll learn:

  • What causes water to pool in the bottom of your dishwasher
  • How to identify the cause
  • How to fix the issue and prevent it from happening in the future
  • When to seek professional help

So, before you call a professional and spend hundreds of dollars, take a few minutes to read this guide.

You might be surprised at how easy (and inexpensive) it is to get your dishwasher running smoothly on your own—even if you don’t consider yourself handy.

Let’s get started!


Click the links below to jump straight to a section.


Common Reasons Why Your Dishwasher Is Not Draining

If you have water in the bottom of your dishwasher, the first step is to figure out the root cause.

The most common issues that lead to water in the bottom of your dishwasher include clogs, poor maintenance, operating error, and broken or malfunctioning parts.

Clogs

Blockages are the most common reasons why water is not draining properly. You can easily prevent clogs by rinsing dishes before placing them in the dishwasher. There are many different parts and systems in your dishwasher that can get backed up, and I dive deep into the specifics of how to clear each in a minute.

Poor Maintenance

Most people don’t realize that they have to perform regular maintenance to keep their dishwasher running correctly. Regular maintenance can include periodically emptying the drain basket, inspecting hoses, and cleaning filters. It’s also a good idea to clean and inspect the spray arm every six months or as directed in your owner’s manual.

Operation Errors

Always consult your owner’s manual to ensure proper operation techniques. It’s important to know how to work the machine and what products are recommended. For example, using regular dish soap in a pinch could cause a clog and result in water in the bottom of the dishwasher.

Broken Parts

When parts wear out, they should be replaced by a licensed professional to prevent voiding your warranty. If you don’t know who to call, you can use Home Advisor as a resource to find highly-rated, licensed professionals in your area. It only takes a few minutes to get completely free, no-obligation quotes.

Understanding the Parts of Your Dishwasher

Before I get into how to fix standing water, it’s helpful to know about the parts of your dishwasher and to have a basic understanding of how dishwashers work.

Dishwashers often have the same types of parts, but they may vary based on the manufacturer.

Here are some common parts I’ll mention in this article:

Air Gap: An air gap, also known as an air cap, is a device that prevents dirty water from re-entering your dishwasher, ensuring that the water used to wash your dishes is clean. Not all dishwashers use an air gap; however, some states’ plumbing codes require it.

Dishwasher Air Gap
Dishwasher Air Gap

Dishwasher Filter: Depending on the manufacturer, you may have a manual or self-cleaning filter. This filter is usually located on the bottom of the dishwasher, but your owner’s manual will have exact details. Its purpose is to catch food and other debris during the wash cycle to keep the recirculating water as clean as possible.

Dishwasher Filter
Dishwasher Filter

Drain Hose: This is a hose that connects the dishwasher’s drain pump to your garbage disposal or air gap.

Dishwasher drain hose
Dishwasher drain hose

Drain Pump: This part pushes water from the dishwasher into your drain line or garbage disposal.

Dishwasher drain pump
Dishwasher drain pump

Spray Arm: This part rotates and shoots water onto the dishes during the cleaning cycle.

Dishwasher spray arm
Dishwasher spray arm

Not sure which parts your dishwasher has and where they are located?

Thankfully, you can access detailed product manuals online for your specific dishwasher brand and model.

If you have an older model, contact the manufacturer, as they may offer customer service support by phone to help you work through the problem.

Below are links to the manuals for the most popular brands:

Note: To get the most accurate manual or support, locate the model number for your dishwasher. One of the best ways is to look for the product information label, often found on the door of the appliance. It may be on the sides, top or bottom of the door, or the dishwasher door jamb.

Solution 1: Deep Clean the Garbage Disposal

Most dishwashers don’t have a dedicated plumbing line. Instead, they connect and drain through the garbage disposal, which is connected to the outside drain pipe.

Dishwasher drains through the garbage disposal
Dishwasher drains through the garbage disposal

If you don’t run your garbage disposal often, or you don’t clean it frequently, food and debris can build up and prevent water from properly draining out of your dishwasher.

Look into the disposal with a flashlight and give the area a sniff. If you see buildup around the disposal blades or smell a pungent odor, a clogged disposal could be causing your issue.

As a first step, run hot water and then turn on your disposal to make sure it is clear of food matter.

Then, run a dishwasher cycle to see if that fixed the problem. If not, follow the steps below to deep clean your disposal.

Instructions:

  1. Turn off the power to your garbage disposal by unplugging it or switching off the circuit that powers it in your electrical panel. Even after cutting power, try turning it on to make sure it is completely disconnected.
  2. Use a flashlight to look down into the disposal. If you see objects that need to be removed, use tongs. Never put your hands in the disposal, even with the power off.
  3. If you see buildup on the disposal blades, place two cups of ice into the disposal and a half-cup of rock salt.
  4. Restore power to the garbage disposal, turn on the water, and let the disposal run for one minute.
  5. Using the flashlight, check to see if the blades are clean. If not, repeat step 4. When the blades are clean, cut off the power the same way you did in step 1.
  6. Next, pour one-half cup of baking soda into the disposal, followed by one cup of white vinegar. Allow the solution to fizz for at least 15 minutes.
  7. As it fizzes, use an old toothbrush to clean the inside of your disposal gently.
  8. Finally, restore power to the garbage disposal and fill the sink with warm water using a stopper.
  9. Remove the stopper and allow the water to drain as you run the disposal. Turn off the disposal once the water has completely drained.
  10. To freshen the smell of your disposal, you can place lemon or orange peels in the disposal, run water and turn on the disposal until they are completely gone.

After following these steps, run your dishwasher without dishes to see if that solved the problem. If not, try the next solution.

Solution 2: Clean the Filter and Drain Basket

The dishwasher filter and drain basket work together to catch food matter during the wash cycle, preventing contaminated water from recirculating onto your dishes as they are cleaned.

Over time, they can get clogged with food scraps and soap scum, causing water to back up in your dishwasher.

Clogged dishwasher filter
Soap scum clogging the dishwasher filter

The filter and basket are usually located at the bottom of your unit, but use your owner’s manual to find them on your specific dishwasher. Some dishwashers have separate filters and drain baskets, but others have one part that does the job of both.

As you can see in the picture below, my dishwasher basket and filter are one unit.

Dishwasher filter and basket
Dishwasher filter and basket

Once you located the filter and basket, take a close look to see if there is any food or debris built up.

If there is, follow the steps below to clear the blockage.

Even if there is no visible blockage, it’s still a good idea to clean the drain basket and filter occasionally—doing so will prevent blockages in the future.

Instructions

  1. First, always cut power to your unit for safety.
  2. To clean a drain basket or filter, remove the parts using instructions in your owner’s manual.
  3. Empty the basket and then clean it using an old toothbrush and a solution of warm water and mild detergent.
  4. Rinse basket thoroughly to remove the soapy residue and place the drain basket back into the dishwasher.

Please note that some filters are self-cleaning.

If your dishwasher doesn’t have a removable basket, clean the filter and simply tend to the area around the drain. Remove debris and other objects obstructing water flow with the hook of a wire hanger or needle-nose pliers.

Run your dishwasher through a cycle without dishes to see if this fixed the issue. If not, try a different solution.

Solution 3: Unclog or Straighten the Drain Hose

The drain hose, as its name suggests, is the tube that drains the dirty water out of your dishwasher.

At times, the drain hose can get clogged with food debris, or folds or kinks in the hose can suppress water flow.

When this happens, water can’t drain properly, causing a backup in your dishwasher.

Here’s how to fix this issue.

Instructions

Note: This solution will require a comfort level with getting on the floor and looking under your dishwasher and the adjacent sink.

  1. Make sure there is no power flowing to your dishwasher.
  2. Locate the drain hose. Typically, one end of the drain hose is connected to the pump on the back of the dishwasher, and the other end is connected to the garbage disposal. If you can’t quickly locate your drain hose, check your owner’s manual. Also, this quick video shows you an example of how to locate and remove the drain hose.
  3. Check to make sure the hose is not folded or bent. There are often things under the sink that obstruct the hose from hanging freely. If your hose is okay, check for clogs.
  4. To check for and remove a clog in your drain hose, you’ll need a straightened wire hanger or auger (also known as a snake).
  5. Using instructions from your owner’s manual, disconnect the hose. Be sure to have a small bowl to catch excess water that may spill after disconnecting.
  6. Once you disconnect the hose, use the hanger or snake to remove the clogs gently. You can also flush the drain hose with a high-pressure stream of water from a garden hose.

To prevent your drain hose from becoming clogged in the future, use the high-loop installation method.

Create a high loop by fastening the drain hose to the underside of the countertop or high against the top side of the cabinet. The top of the loop should be at least 32 inches about the floor.

When the drain hose is looped high above the floor, gravity helps water in the drain hose flow in the right direction and prevents water and debris from settling in the hose.

Solution 4: Unclog the Drain or Drain Pump

Sometimes the dishwasher drain or pump can become clogged with food matter or other debris.

To check the drain or pump for clogs, you must remove the filter to expose the drain and the pump at the bottom of the dishwasher.

I’ll walk you through the steps, but I have to warn you, this solution is slightly more complicated than the others I’ve covered so far. 

So, if you’re not 100% comfortable with the necessary steps below, get in touch with a professional on Home Advisor.

Instructions

  1. Before troubleshooting, disconnect the power on your dishwasher.
  2. Use your owner’s manual to locate the drain and drain pump. You may have to remove the filter and drain basket to access the drain, but it varies depending on your model.
  3. Remove any visible clogs with a straightened wire hanger or a drain snake.
  4. Once you have removed what you can, use a mixture of white vinegar and baking soda to remove the remaining debris and gunk.
  5. Place a half-cup of baking soda down the drain and then pour in one cup of vinegar.
  6. Allow the fizzy solution to sit in the drain for at least 15 minutes.
  7. Then, pour hot water down the drain. Note: Chemical products are not recommended because the risk for chemical contamination of your dishes is possible.
  8. Next, locate the drain pump and check it for blockages. If you need to reach inside, wear protective gloves as you may encounter sharp objects such as glass shards or shell fragments. If there is excess water in the pump, you may need a sponge to soak it up before you can check for clogs.

Once you’ve cleared all clogs, restore the power, and run a cycle without dishes to see if the problem is solved.

Solution 5: Unclog the Air Gap

Not all dishwashers have an air gap, but if yours does, there’s a chance it has become clogged with debris, which can cause water to back up in your dishwasher.

How do you know if you have an air gap?

It’s a small cylinder usually located near the sink and is often plastic with a protective metal casing. Here’s an example:

If you don’t see anything like that, you can skip this section.

Instructions

  1. Disconnect power to the dishwasher and garbage disposal.
  2. Next, remove the casing and the diverter, a plastic cap that covers the air gap.
  3. Remove any food particles. You may need tweezers or needle-nose pliers.
  4. Use a small tube or pipe brush and warm, soapy water to clean the inside thoroughly.
  5. If there are clogs deep in the air gap, you may want to feed a slim drain snake through the air gap until you see it appear in the garbage disposal area. That way, you know the entire pipe is clear.
  6. Reassemble the air gap, restore the power, and run the garbage disposal.
  7. Next, run a wash cycle without dishes to see if the problem is still present. If you still have water pooling in the bottom of your dishwasher, try another solution.

If you’re a visual learner, check out this quick video that walks you through these steps.

Solution 6: Clear Blockages on the Spray Arm

Although unlikely, a blocked spray arm can also be the culprit of water pooling in the bottom of the dishwasher. 

As a reminder, spray arms are propellers that spin and spray your dishes with water during the cycle. Food or hard water deposits can block the tiny holes in the spray arm, which disrupts the flow of water.

Dishwasher spray arm holes
Dishwasher spray arm

It’s a good idea to clean the spray arms periodically, not only to prevent water from pooling in your dishwasher, but also because to maximize the cleaning power of your dishwasher. If the spray arm is clogged, it can’t distribute water throughout the entire chamber properly.

Instructions

  1. Disconnect power to the dishwasher.
  2. Locate and remove spray arms and check for blockages. The spray arms are usually at the center and bottom of the dishwasher. They disconnect easily but consult our owner’s manual before attempting to remove them.
  3. Use a toothpick or a thin wire to clear each spray hole.
  4. If the debris has hardened and you can’t clear it with a toothpick or wire, soak the spray arm in a tub of warm water and vinegar for 30 minutes. The water and vinegar will soften the debris, making it easier to clear. 
  5. Replace the spray arms, restore power, and run a wash cycle without dishes.

When to Call a Professional

It can be scary to open up your dishwasher after a cycle and find a pool of water at the bottom.

The good news—in most cases, it’s a problem that can be fixed without the help of a pro.

As I outlined, the underlying problem is usually a blockage in the system that’s preventing water from draining correctly. Fixing it is a matter of identifying and clearing the blockage.

What if you’ve tried all of the solutions in this article and are still having a problem? Unfortunately, there might be something else wrong with your dishwasher that only a professional can troubleshoot.

If you don’t already have a plumber or appliance repair specialist that you trust, you can get free, no-obligation quotes from licensed professionals in your area on HomeAdvisor.com.

If you found this guide helpful, you should also check out:

Do you know of any other tips for dealing with water in the bottom of your dishwasher? Let us know in the comments below!

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