Cups and glasses getting washed in a dishwasher

How long should a dishwasher last? About 10 years, according to most of the 20-plus manufacturers we asked.

CR members tell us they expect the same life span, on average, but that doesn't necessarily mean 10 trouble-free years. Survey data from our members' experiences with more than 70,000 dishwashers reveals that about 30 percent of all newly purchased dishwashers are likely to develop problems or break within the first five years.

So how do you get through a decade without calling the repair guy? A number of factors can affect how long your appliance will last—including how you care for your dishwasher.

MORE ON DISHWASHERS & Reliability

That's according to our own in-house dishwasher expert, Larry Ciufo, as well as engineers from manufacturers and repair technicians we asked for advice on how to get the most from these machines. 

One tip all these experts called out: Heed the advice in the instruction manual, especially the part about rinsing out the filter if it's a manual-clean type. If you're not sure whether you have a manual filter or a self-cleaning filter, or what we're even talking about, see "Why Your Dishwasher Filter Makes a Difference."

Here are eight routine maintenance tips that will help make your dishwasher last longer.

1. Scrape the plate—but don't rinse it. Most dishwashers don't require a prerinse, but be sure to scrape off bones, toothpicks, and other solid items before loading your dishes. These hard bits can clog the drain hose, tear the filter, or damage the pump.

2. Give the filter a hand. The remaining stuck-on food has to go somewhere, and unless your dishwasher has an old-school food grinder, you’ll have to clean the filter manually. Adam Hofmann, director of dishwasher engineering at GE Appliances, says to do it every month or so, more often if necessary. “A telltale sign it’s time is when you notice a decrease in wash performance or dishes feel gritty,” he says.

Remove the bottom rack and you should find a plastic cylinder that you can unscrew to lift out (if it’s not there, consult the dishwasher manual). Rinse the filter under running water until it’s free of debris. It’s fine to use soft sponges and warm soapy water for stubborn food bits, but abrasive brushes or steel wool can damage the filter.

And if you find any holes, replace the filter immediately to prevent seeds or bits of bone from slipping through and into the pump. Otherwise they can damage the pump impeller and motor seals, which are costly parts to repair.

3. Degunk the door seal. As needed, use a rag and white vinegar to clean the seal between the dishwasher door and the tub, where residue and food particles collect. Buildup can cause odors, lead to mold growth, and potentially keep the door from sealing properly.

Richard Tarrant, director of dish care for Bosch and Thermador, says to avoid using bleach-based wipes, harsh chemicals, scouring pads, and anything abrasive on a stainless door and tub.

4. Remove hard-water residue. If you live in an area with hard water, the inside of your dishwasher is likely to develop mineral films and discoloration. These deposits look like a cloudy film on your dishes and the interior of your machine, and you may notice the rack rails and wheels moving with resistance, according to Hofmann. He recommends using a citric-acid-based dishwasher cleaner, such as Affresh or Finish, to remove the deposits monthly. Follow package directions for removing hard-water film from your dishwasher.

Bosch's Tarrant also suggests using a regeneration salt in the water-softening system of the dishwasher if you live in an area with hard water. This improves cleaning, helping to prevent spotting and clouding. The salt also helps prevent mineral buildup in the dishwasher.


Which brand tops our reliability chart? Check out the winners and losers in CR's first-ever Appliance Brand Reliability Rankings.
 

5. Inspect the spray arms. Every few months, check the holes in the wash arms—spray nozzles—to make sure they’re clean and unobstructed. If you see food debris clogging a spray nozzle, gingerly try to remove it with a toothpick or pipe cleaner. “You want to be gentle and make sure not to deform the hole,” says Larry Ciufo, who runs CR’s dishwasher test lab. “It can affect the spray pattern and how well the dishwasher does its job.”

If you need to remove the spray arms to clean them, the bottom one should lift off its base with a gentle tug. Unscrew the center wash arm from the bottom of the top rack using a Phillips head screwdriver.

6. Rustproof the racks. If the plastic coating wears off, repair it as soon as possible with vinyl paint or replacement tine tips. Otherwise the racks could corrode and allow small shards of rusty metal to enter the pump, according to Chris Zeisler, technical service supervisor at RepairClinic.com. Imagine the pump is the heart of the dishwasher and rust flakes are like plaque buildup, threatening the system with an inevitable clot and full-system shutdown.

7. Don't overload it. Cramming too much into one load will restrict the water spray patterns and prevent proper cleaning. You’ll have to rewash your dishes, running the machine unnecessarily, which whittles away the life span of the machine. “Mechanical parts wear out the more they are used,” says CR's Ciufo. “You don’t want to run partial loads either, for the same reason.”

8. Dishes only—don't wash anything else. You might find videos online that suggest you use the dishwasher to clean car parts. "Bad idea," says Ciufo. "Car parts are greasy, and the dishwasher and detergent aren't made to handle this kind of grease. It can clog the filter and ruin the pump."

Zeisler says the biggest problem he sees is people washing candlestick holders. The hot wax embeds into every crevice and essentially destroys all components of the machine.