What Does the Dishwasher Do

What Does the Dishwasher Do

A dishwasher is a robotic machine that does a series of complex 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 mechanisms are quite simple. 

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

Humans load dirty dishes into the machine, add detergent, sets the correct wash cycle and turn the machine on. After this, the dishwasher achieves series of different functions by itself

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?

Video: Inside the Dishwasher

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

The main mechanism of cleaning dishes and giving it a sparkling and clean look is its use of hot water. Inside the dishwasher, water is heated to a temperature of about 130-140-degree Fahrenheit. 

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.

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

Then a heating element that is below this small basin turns on and starts to heat 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.

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, it gets purified, 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 cycle starts again.

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. 

The dry cycle is the last step in a washing cycle, but it is not compulsory. During this cycle, the heating element that is below the machine heats the air inside and helps the dishes get dried. This is sometimes not advisable so energy can be saved.

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Main Parts of The Dishwasher

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:

The Rinse or Pre-wash Stage

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 Stage

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 like earlier explained.

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

During this stage, clean water is pumped into the machine and the initial processes commence again. This stage may use detergent or only water for the 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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Relationship Between Detergents and Dishwasher

Dishwasher detergents play an important role in cleaning dishes. Detergents contain solvents that help to breaks down food particles. Also, they have a caustic effect that scrubs baked-on dirt and remove food remains from dishes easily.

The detergent neutralizes hardness or mineral deposits of water to make dish cleaning easy too. Because of these functions, you must use only detergents made for dishwashers. 

This helps it to work maximally 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

Other factors that can affect your machine’s efficiency are:

  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 which is when there are too many 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.

General Maintenance of Dishwashers

You have a role to play in the maintenance of your dishwasher. Here are tips to help it to function optimally.

  1. Do not overload your dishwasher, so all surfaces of your dishes get properly cleaned.
  2. Use dishwasher safe detergents to prevents dishwasher-suds overflow.
  3. Do not place silverware and steel coated dishware side by side, it may 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 in a way that their dirtiest surface faces the spray jets in the middle of the machine.
  6. 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 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.

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