What Does the Dishwasher Do

What Does the Dishwasher Do

A dishwasher is a robotic machine that carries out a series of actions to get your dishes clean, just the way you want them to be. What does the dishwasher do? Simply put, a dishwasher clean and rinses dirty dishes. The cleaning mechanism is simple. 

What Does The Dishwasher Do?
Photo Credits: Joanna Bourne, Flickr.com

How do you use your dishwasher?

The proper way to use your dishwasher is to load dirty dishes into the machine, add detergent, set the correct wash cycle, and turn the machine on. After this, the dishwasher runs a couple of cycles based on the wash settings and delivers a clean, hygienic dish to you. 

Understanding what the dishwasher does helps you maximize your machine and get your dishes cleaned.

We are going to look at the various parts of a dishwasher, how the machine works, the different wash cycles and so on.

If you prefer learning by video, this article is also explained here.

What Happens Inside the Dishwasher?

There are three primary operations that go on inside a dishwasher. They include washing, rinsing, and drying. The washing operation is achieved by combining the heating and pumping action of the dishwasher. Rinsing only requires the pump action, while the drying operation uses the drying element in the dishwasher. The combination of these operating is what enables your dishwasher to properly clean your dish.

How does the dishwasher clean the dishes?

The dishwasher cleans the dishes by spraying a jet of highly pressurized hot soapy water over the dirty dishes through its wash arm. The highly pressurized water hits the dishes forcefully, washing off all the dirt. Hot water is effective in getting rid of oil stains from your dishes and also sanitize’s your dish.

The machine uses a heating element to heat the water. The machine draws water in from water supply in your home through an external water inlet. At the commencement of the washing cycle, water is supplied to a small basin or pool below the dishwasher. 

Then a heating element below this small basin turns on and heats the water. Simultaneously, detergent and water are mixed together in the small basin. Then it is pushed into the spraying arms found at the top and bottom of the machine, or sometimes underneath the upper rack.

However, the heating of the water does not happen immediately except models that don’t have a built-in water heater. These types rely on heated water from the kitchen.

Water flows through the spraying arms forcefully and removes food stains away from dirty dishes as it forcefully hits it. This water flows back to the small basin below the machine. Here, the water is filtered, reheated, and pushed back into spraying arms.

This process is a continuous one; water is used to spray dirty dishes, filtered, and reheated. When the water is at the right temperature, the water heater switches off, and water is continuously pushed through the spraying arms.

By the end of the washing cycle, all used water drains to the pool below the machine where it is drained out of the dishwasher. Then clean water is pumped into the machine, and the rinse cycle begins.

Dishwashers vary in features. In some, used water is flushed out through the pipes underneath your sink. Others drain water through a hose into the kitchen sink. 

What is a dishwasher dry cycle?

The dry cycle is the last step in a washing cycle, but it is not compulsory. During this cycle, the heating element below the machine heats the air inside and helps the dishes get dried. This cycle is energy-consuming.

Video: Inside the Dishwasher

This video will show you everything that happens inside a dishwasher during a washing cycle.

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What Are The Main Parts of A Dishwasher?

  • Heating element
  • water pump
  • Spraying arms
  • Detergent dispenser
  • Racks
  • Drain hose
  • Water inlet valve
  • Control settings

Heating Element

They are made up of pieces of metal that convert electrical energy into heat energy. The heat elements warm up the water to the right temperature.

Water Pumps

The water pump is a motor that pushes water forcefully through the spraying arms during the cleaning process or through the drainage after a washing cycle. The mechanism of the water pumps is regulated by the machine to ensure that water moves in the correct direction.

Spraying Arms

They are hollow water arms that help to pump water around the dishwasher. The pressure of water pushed through it causes it to rotate and get the dishes cleaned in the process. 


It dispenses detergent for cleaning dishes and ‘rinse aid’ at the ideal time during the washing cycle.


There are two rack compartments in the dishwasher. They are the upper and lower racks. This is where you load your dishes prior to washing.

Water Inlet Valve

This part regulates water flow in and out of the dishwasher.

Drain Hose

It drains used water from the dishwasher through the drainage system.

Control Settings

This is used to control all activities within the dishwasher.

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Stages of Cleaning

The dishwasher cleaning cycle has 3 major stages. They are:

  1. The rinse or pre-wash stage
  2. The main wash cycle
  3. The final rinse cycle.

The Rinse or Pre-wash Stage

What is a dishwasher pre-wash cycle?

This is the initial stage in a dishwasher cleaning cycle. It involves forcing water through spraying arms to get all the dishes damp and not necessarily to do a thorough cleaning of the dirty dishes. 

Some models come with a pre-wash section for detergent. This adds an additional cleaning action to the cycle when the dishes are very dirty. This stage usually takes only a few minutes before it is completed.

The Main Wash Cycle

What is the dishwasher’s main wash cycle?

This is the major stage in the washing cycle. In this stage, water is reheated, pumped round, collected, purified, reheated, and sprayed again round the dishwasher. When the heater turns off after the correct temperature is reached, it continues spraying water.

At the completion of the main wash stage, all used water is removed from the machine. This stage takes about 20 to 60 minutes depending on the wash cycle. This stage can be repeated at different times throughout the duration of the cycle.

The Final Rinse and Wash Stage

What is a washing machine final rinse and wash stage?

The final rinse and wash cycle of a dishwasher refer to the last cleaning cycle performed by the dishwasher before the drying cycle begins. During this stage, clean water is pumped into the machine and the process begins again. This stage does not require the use of detergent. It just uses water to run this final rinse and wash stage.

The total duration of this stage is about 20 to 60 minutes. It can be repeated several times during this cycle.

In addition, some manufacturer includes other rinses and washing cycles. But the above cycles are the main stages in the wash cycle.


There are some dishwasher models that don’t have water heaters inside the machine. Instead, they pump water from your water supply in your home. So, you must first preheat the water to the recommended temperature (130-140oF) before the commencement of the washing cycle.

You should never use cold water to wash dishes as it leaves your dishes unclean or leaves undissolved detergent on the surfaces of your dishes.

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Check out other related dishwasher articles:

What Role Do Detergent Play In A Dishwasher

Solvents in a dishwasher detergent help to breaks down food particles. They have a caustic effect that scrubs baked-on dirt and removes food remains from dishes with ease. The detergent neutralizes hardness or mineral deposits of water to make dish cleaning easy.

Dishwasher detergents play an important role in cleaning dishes. Because of these functions, you must use only detergents made for dishwashers. 

As any non-dishwasher detergent can damage your dishes or form a lot of soap suds, that reduces the machine’s capacity. The choice of detergent is based on your preference. The best dishwasher detergents are the tablets or pods

What Affects A Dishwasher’s efficiency?

  1. Mineral build-up in the machine. This is caused by hard water and can block water jets, hindering water spraying around the machine.
  2. Clogged drainage which can block the drain or pump.
  3. Sudsy dishwater. This refers to excess soap suds in the water. In this state, it is difficult for the sensors inside the machine to detect the soapy suds as water. Consequently, it shuts down the drainage cycle too early.

What Are Dishwasher Maintenance Tips?

Here are tips for optimal performance of your dishwasher:

  1. Do not overload your dishwasher. Ensure all surfaces of your dishes get properly cleaned.
  2. Use dishwasher safe detergents. This prevents dishwasher-suds overflow.
  3. Do not place silverware and steel coated dishware side by side. It will lead to corrosion.
  4. Never put wood, crystal, hand-painted, or copper-coated dishes inside the machine. Instead, wash these items with your hands.
  5. Arrange your dishes properly. Arrange them in a way that their dirtiest surface faces the spray jets in the middle of the machine.
  6. Do not nest your dishes. Place spoons, bowls, and dishware with the same shape apart to prevent nesting.
  7. Use detergent that can completely neutralize hard water.
  8. Use a rinse aid mode. This is to prevent spots from settling on your dishes. It also helps it to dry faster.
  9. Do not pre-rinse your dishes before washing in the dishwasher. The machine depends on baked-on foods to maintain a good PH. But you must scrape off large food particles into a garbage can.

Summary of What the Dishwasher Does

  1. Water pulls into the machine and fills the small basin below the dishwasher.
  2. The heat elements below the small basin heat up the water. If the machine does not have a built-in heater, it pull-in water into the machine from the home water supply.
  3. Adds detergent spontaneously at the right wash cycle stage. It is regulated by the dishwasher’s timer.
  4. Wash dishes. The detergent and heated water are pushed through the spraying arms. The resultant pressure causes it to rotate and spray water on dirty dishes, cleaning it in the process.
  5. Used water is flushed out of the machine.
  6. Clean water pulls into the dishwasher and is heated. The water is pushed through the spraying arms to rinse dishes.
  7. Drains the used water.

Finally, I hope you found this article useful. It should guide you in putting your machine at its best. You can drop your suggestions, questions, or comments below so we can continue the conversation.

What Does A Dishwasher Do? — Related FAQs

Will A Dishwasher Work Without Hot Water?

Your dishwasher will not work without hot water. Most dishwashers are installed close to the sink so they can draw hot water from the sink. However, if there is no hot water coming from the sink, then the dishwasher will automatically heat the water. The dishwasher heats the water using the heating element on the machine.

Hot water is effective in breaking down food particles on the dishware, making the wash cycle more efficient. Hot water, along with the dishwasher’s dry cycle, helps to sanitize your dishware, giving it a hygienic wash.

Do Dishwashers Really Clean?

New models of dishwashers are very efficient in cleaning dishes. They are equipped with soil sensors that tell the dishwasher how dirty the dishware is. The sensor determines if a wash cycle will be long or short. This improves the cleaning efficiency of the dishwasher.

The dishwasher is also able to spray a high-pressure jet of water directly on the dishware. The higher temperature cleans the dishes faster and effectively.

Old models of dishwashers do not get dishes clean. Therefore, to get a better result, you must pre-clean the dishes before sending them to the dishwasher for a wash cycle.

What Happens If You Put Something Not Dishwasher Safe In The Dishwasher?

If you put something not dishwasher safe into the dishwasher and run a wash cycle, you will damage the dishware. Some dishwares that are not suitable for the dishwashing wash cycle will survive a few wash cycles in the dishwasher. However, if you repeatedly wash those items in the dishwasher, you will ruin them.

Items such as gold-trimmed dishes, delicate glass, insulated travel mug, wood, and cast iron should never be washed in a dishwasher.

The water jets from the dishwasher will wash off the gold flakes on the gold-trimmed dish. At the same time, wood will deform because of the heat in the dishwasher. Cast iron will rapidly rust when washed in a dishwasher.

Can You Wash Clothes In A Dishwasher?

You can load your clothes into the dishwasher and run a wash cycle. However, your clothes will not come out clean. Unlike the washing machine, a dishwasher is not designed to turn anything inside it. The washing machine achieves its cleaning action by moving the clothes around inside the washtub.

Should you decide to wash your clothes in the dishwasher, your clothes will come out dirty and wet even after running a dry cycle. Ensure you do not place the clothes on the lower rack. The heating element in the lower shelves will ignite the clothes if they are placed too close to it.

Why Are Some Cups Not Dishwasher Safe?

Some cups are not dishwasher safe to indicate that washing them in the dishwasher over time will rapidly cause them to deteriorate. Such cups are delicate glasswares that will be destroyed if washed in a dishwasher.

The dishwasher detergent is very harsh and will cause these cups to corrode. Also, high washing temperature is not ideal for plastic and glass cups. High temperatures will cause the plastic to deform or melt while glass cups will result in glass etching.

Is It Safe To Put Stainless Steel In The Dishwasher?

It is not safe to put stainless steel in the dishwasher. It is better to wash it by hand rather than in a dishwasher. Dishwasher detergents, coupled with the excess humidity in the dishwasher, will lead to corrosion of the stainless steel. Also, the polish on the stainless steel will tarnish the polish on the stainless steel.

However, should you decide to wash your stainless steel by hand, then you must place them on the top rack of the dishwasher. The stainless dishwasher must be spaced sufficiently and kept apart from the other items in the dishwasher. This will ensure the dishwasher is adequately cleaned and dried.

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