How to Fix Standing Water in Dishwasher

When handling maintenance requests for your rental property, you may encounter the common problem of standing water in the dishwasher.

Sometimes, after a cycle, water will gather at the base of the dishwasher and not drain properly. This can be both annoying and unsanitary; no one wants old, dirty water swirling around under what’s supposed to be clean dishes. Standing water in a dishwasher can be caused by a number of things, but fixing it is usually quite simple. Most of the time, the repair won’t require any tools or special skills on your part.

Why Standing Water is Dangerous

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), standing water, also referred to as stagnant water, can pose major health risks in the home. As a landlord, you should always keep the warranty of habitability in mind. All tenants are entitled to a safe, clean environment, and you may be liable for damages if you don’t tend to potentially dangerous maintenance issues immediately.

Standing water is a breeding ground for all sorts of insects, so the space is more likely to attract pests. Insects, of course, are not only unpleasant but also hazardous. They can carry diseases and all sorts of bacteria, putting your tenant and your property at risk. In addition, standing water can promote the growth of mold and mildew inside the home.

Mold and mildew come in all shapes and colors, usually in the form of dark-colored spores on the floor, walls, ceiling, and appliances. Standing water in the dishwasher will likely cause mold, especially with the lingering presence of old food.

Common Causes

As mentioned before, standing water in a dishwasher can occur for a number of reasons. Here’s a list of common causes:

  • Food clogged in the drain. Check under the rack and look for pieces of food that may be preventing the dishwasher from draining correctly.
    Loading the dishwasher incorrectly. Always read the manuals that come with appliances and relay the information to your tenants accordingly.
  • Failing to clean/empty the drain. A lot of people don’t know that a dishwasher has a filter that needs to be cleaned out regularly. Make yourself aware of this maintenance task and inform your tenants if they are responsible for the dishwasher’s upkeep.
  • A stuck drain valve. Check your drain valve, which is found on the valve bracket, usually located at the bottom of the dishwasher. Wiggle it around and make sure it can move around freely.
  • A broken drain pump or motor. If the dishwasher is making a buzzing, humming, or clicking sound, these parts may need replacing. You may also just need to clean it. The dishwasher’s pump consists of two impellers: the upper one pumps water into the dishwasher and the lower one pumps it out to the drain. It’s possible that broken glass, food, and other debris can get stuck inside and prevent the impellers from turning, causing standing water. Remove any debris you find that could be creating these blockages.
  • An air gap in the garbage disposal. Remove the drain hose where it connects to the garbage disposal and clear blockages with a flat-head screwdriver. After you’ve removed any clogs, make sure the kitchen sink drain isn’t clogged and run the disposal. Remember to never put your hands down the garbage disposal as this could result in serious injury.
  • Clogs in the supply line. Locate the supply line under your sink and place a bucket underneath it to catch any falling water. Then, disconnect the plumbing line that feeds into the main drain. While you allow the water to drain into the bucket, look for clogs, and run a snake (or a bent wire hanger) through the pipe to dislodge it. After removing any clogs, attach the plumbing line again and run an empty cycle through the dishwasher.
  • Debris in the drain line. Locate the drain line near the back of the dishwasher, right under the filter screen. You can get rid of debris by mixing ½ a cup of baking soda and ½ a cup of water to make a paste, and pouring it into the drain line through the filter screen. After that, pour ½ a cup of vinegar down the drain line and let the solution set for about 15 minutes. Then, pour hot water down the drain line rinse out the paste.

Before Trying to Fix the Dishwasher

Before trying to fix the dishwasher, you should do a bit of troubleshooting and make sure the dishwasher is safe to be inspected. Follow these steps:

  1. Unplug the dishwasher or turn off the power. Standing water in the presence of electricity can be a serious hazard, putting yourself at risk of electrocution. So, make sure the dishwasher is completely turned off before doing anything else to it.
  2. Remove the standing water as best as you can. You can do this by lining the floor under the dishwasher with towels and scooping the water out with a large cup, ladle, or plastic container. Make sure you put a large bowl in front of the dishwasher to empty the water into. You can also use the sink if you’d like. When the standing water becomes too shallow to scoop, you can soak up the rest with a dry towel, cloth, or paper towels.
  3. Check the drainage system. Standing water in a dishwasher is usually caused by pieces of food getting clogged in the drain. It’s important to clean your machine’s drain and dispose of any food debris. Before cleaning out the screen, remove the bottom sprayer arm, rinse it, and set it aside. After cleaning both areas, it’s time to remove the screen. To do this, rotate the pressure lock in the middle of the dishwasher where the sprayer arm goes. Look inside the screen to see if there is any grime or debris clogged up inside the device. You can also clean the drain’s holes by poking through them with a wire hanger and rinsing it with warm water. Then, put it all back together. After that, you’ve probably solved the problem.
  4. Run an empty cycle. To check if the standing water issue has been resolved, run a complete dishwashing cycle. Once the cycle is complete, open the door and see if any standing water remains at the bottom of the dishwasher. If there is, then there is more to the problem. Refer to the common causes section above to figure out what the problem may be. An abnormal amount of standing water may suggest a larger issue that requires professional help.

If you need more help, here is a video on how to troubleshoot a problematic dishwasher.

How to Prevent Standing Water in the Future

Here’s how you can prevent standing water from gathering in the dishwasher:

  • Use the correct dishwashing detergent. Different dishwashers require different detergents. Whether your dishwasher uses pods, powder, or liquid detergent, it’s essential that you choose the right detergent to avoid clogging the drain. Read your manufacturer’s manual carefully and make sure you know how to use the machine properly. The manual should also include information on their recommended detergent.
  • Make sure you’re loading the dishwasher correctly. Loading the dishwasher improperly may make it more difficult for water to drain during a complete cycle. Read the manufacturer’s manual for directions and tips on how to best load the dishwasher.
  • Listen to your machine. During a wash cycle, listen for sounds like humming, buzzing, or clicking. These sounds may warn you of an underlying issue that can lead to standing water and other problems.

When to Contact a Professional

If you’ve investigated all of the potential causes of standing water and your dishwasher is still not fixed, you may need to contact a professional. As a landlord, it’s important that you have both landlord insurance and homeowners insurance. Your tenants should have renters insurance as well. Usually, a home warranty will cover the repair or replacement of a broken dishwasher.

Once a service technician enters your property, they’ll determine if a repair or replacement is necessary. If a repair is needed, they’ll most likely repair the dishwasher that day. If a replacement is needed, you’ll have to schedule a follow-up appointment for the professional to remove your old dishwasher and install your new appliance.

Talk to the professional and verify what the specific cause of the issue is. If it’s because a tenant is not using it or maintaining it properly, they may be responsible for the cost of the dishwasher’s repair or replacement. Tenants should know that they must maintain the cleanliness of their rental unit. If the damage is due to wear and tear or other environmental conditions, the landlord is usually responsible. Always refer to your lease agreement and state laws before taking any action.