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How Does A Dishwasher Work?

How A Dishwasher Works

Basically a robot that cleans and rinses dirty dishes, dishwashers have become a great machine that many households have today. Simply load the machine, add detergent, choose the washing cycle and press go.

The functions performed happen in a controlled sequence, with the machine:

  • Adding water

  • Heating the water up to the chosen temperature

  • Automatically opening the detergent dispenser at the correct time in the cycle

  • Pushing water through the jets to get the dishes clean

  • Draining the dirty water

  • Performing a rinse with fresh, clean water

  • Draining once again

  • Heating the air to dry the contents

To control all of this, the machine contains a timer that regulares the length of each cycle, a sensor which detects the temperature of the water and air, a different sensor that controls the water level as well as activating the draining function, with even some machines containing sensors that can detect the dirtiness of the water so that when it's finally clear, the dishwasher knows the dishes are clean.

Inside The Dishwasher

Unlike a washing machine that fills with water, only the small basin at the bottom fills up with water. This is where the heating element heats up the water to anywhere between 50-70 degrees for it then to be sprayed against the dirty dishes through the spray arm. This also needs an appropriate amount of pressure for the water to effectively clean the dishes. The force that the water is pumped through also makes the spray arms rotate, helping to get an even clean.

Who Invented The Dishwasher?

The beginning of the dishwashers we know so well these days began more than 100 years ago in 1886. A women called Josephine Cochrane invented the dishwasher to stop her servants from chipping her fine china while hand washing it. Developing a rack and water jet system, she debuted her creating at the 1893 Chicago World Fair, with the company she founded going on to become what we know now at KitchenAid.

When this has finished, the water drains down to the basin again, the pump draining the water from the machine.

The Parts Of A Dishwasher

Control Mechanisms

The control mechanism is located inside the door behind the control panel (the buttons your press to choose the settings). Most units are simply just a mechanical system with the timer controlling how long each part of the cycle lasts, activating each function at the right time.

Inlet Valve

This is where the water from your water supply enters the dishwasher. The inlet valve openes, allowing water to flow through into the machine, pushed by the pressure of the water.


The pump is powered by an electric motor, with two sections each having different jobs. During the wash cycle, the pump's job is to force water into the spray arms. However, during the draining, the pump directs water to the drain hose and out of the machine. It is situated beneath the tub of the machine in the centre of the dishwasher.

Top Tips For Using A Dishwasher

  • Don't use regular washing up liquid - the soap will bubble and overflow the dishwasher

  • Don't overload the machine - make sure to leave space for the jets to spray onto the dishes

  • Face the dirtiest part towards the spray arms so that the dishes can clean

  • Don't place steel items near silver - this is the perfect recipe for corrosion with two different metails in contact in a humid place

  • Don't stack items that fit together - the water might not be able to reach the dirty parts and you'll be left with dirty dishes

  • Don't put wood, cast iron, fine china, crystal, or hand painted items into the dishwasher - this may risk damage or even breakage of your items

  • Use the dishwasher at a time when you have the highest water pressure available (so when no one else is showering, or the washing machine is on) - this will let the machine clean better

  • Use slightly more detergent if your household supply is hard water

  • Don't put plastics at the bottom of the machine as this is where the water is hottest, and it may risk melting

  • Don't pre-clean dishes. Dishwashers depend on the dirty food to maintain an appropriate level of pH in the inside of the dishwasher. However, make sure to scrape large pieces of waste otherwise you can clogg your drain.

  • Clean the filter regularly and if your machine needs salt, make sure to regularly refill the supply

Common Propblems

For most poeple, a common problem is the dishes won't clean. This cfan be down to several things, but most usually it is a lack of water pressure caused by any one of a number of reasons. Read here: if you're experiencing problems with your dishwasher to diagnose the problem that's keeping your dishes from sparkling.

Another common problem is the dishwasher not draining properly, possibly due to a clog or an issue with the pump. Again, read here: for a more in depth article discussing this issue, hopefully shedding some light on the issue you're experiencing.

Commercial Dishwashers

Similar to their household cousins, dishwashers used in the food service industry clean the dishes in the same way with jets of hot water. The difference between these machines are the parts: designed to withstand constant, repeated use, the machines are comprised of heavy duty materials. They are also capable of washing dishes much quicker, with an entire rack of glasses or plates in a few minutes.

For restaurants - and all of the food service industry - sterilization is the most important. Commercial dishwashers can actually wash between 80 and 100 degrees to sterilize dishes completely.

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