A closeup of the inside of a KitchenAid® dishwasher.

HOW DOES A DISHWASHER WORK?

Your dishwasher works hard to keep up with your creative culinary endeavors. It may help you master the mess of making, but have you ever wondered how dishwashers work? This guide can show you the parts of a dishwasher and help you understand how a dishwasher operates during a normal wash and dry cycle.

A woman placing a bowl on the counter of a modern kitchen next to a KitchenAid® dishwasher. A woman placing a bowl on the counter of a modern kitchen next to a KitchenAid® dishwasher.

WHAT ARE THE PARTS OF A DISHWASHER?

Even though there are different types of dishwashers, the  major interior parts are similar. On most models, you can typically find a heating element, detergent dispenser, control pad and spray arms that operate during a dishwasher cycle. Read on to learn about the parts of a dishwasher and how they work.

The heating element of a KitchenAid® dishwasher.

1. HEATING ELEMENT

The heating element is located at the base of your dishwasher tub. It heats the water used during a wash cycle and raises air temperature during a dry cycle.

The detergent dispenser of a KitchenAid® dishwasher.

2. DETERGENT AND RINSE AID DISPENSER

The dispenser is a small, rectangular-shaped container with a latch usually located inside the dishwasher door. It automatically releases detergent and rinse aid at the proper time during a dishwasher cycle.

A closeup of a person using the control pad of a KitchenAid® dishwasher.

3. CONTROL PAD

You choose your dishwasher cycles and settings from the control pad. It’s a touchpad with buttons on the top or front of your dishwasher door that offers varying wash and dry functions to get the right clean for your dishes.

The racks of a KitchenAid® dishwasher.

4. RACKS

When loading a dishwasher, dishes and utensils are placed on a dishwasher rack. Dishwashers generally have two or three racks. Third rack dishwashers, like KitchenAid® dishwashers with FreeFlex Third Rack, have an additional level of storage.

The silverware basket of a KitchenAid® dishwasher.

5. SILVERWARE BASKET

Dishwashers typically come with a moveable silverware basket on the lower rack that holds cutlery. You can sometimes shift it around to a more convenient place if you are washing larger items like pots, pans and casserole dishes.

A closeup of a spray arm at the base of a KitchenAid® dishwasher.

6. SPRAY ARMS

A dishwasher has two or three rotating wash arms that circulate water throughout the interior during the wash and rinse cycle. They are usually located underneath the upper rack and beneath the lower rack in the base of a dishwasher tub. Select models have a third spray arm on the ceiling, above the top rack.

The door latch of a KitchenAid® dishwasher.

7. DOOR LATCH

The door latch ensures that the dishwasher door remains closed. Once you select a cycle and start your dishwasher, it activates a safety switch that secures the door while it’s running.

The water inlet valve of a KitchenAid® dishwasher.

8. WATER INLET VALVE

The water inlet valve controls the flow of water into the dishwasher tub by opening and closing the valve during a cycle.

The circulation pump and motor of a KitchenAid® dishwasher.

9. CIRCULATION PUMP AND MOTOR

The circulation pump and motor control the powerful streams of water delivered through the spray arms. The pump pushes the water into the spray arms, while the motor increases water pressure to activate the rotation.

The filtration system of a KitchenAid® dishwasher.

10. FILTRATION SYSTEM

During a dishwasher cycle, the filtration system filters out food particles as well as clears dirty dishwater. A clean dishwasher filter can help ensure that your dishes come out ready for your next meal.

WHAT HAPPENS INSIDE A DISHWASHER?

The following can give you a general idea of how a dishwasher operates during a normal wash and dry cycle. This may vary depending on the features, settings and cycle you use to clean your dishes.

The interior of a KitchenAid® dishwasher releasing water.

1. INLET VALVE RELEASES WATER

When a dishwasher cycle begins, the inlet valve releases water into the dishwasher tub to a certain water level, just underneath the bottom rack. An overfill protection float on the bottom of the tub can detect the water level and signal it to stop filling the tub. Learn ways to troubleshoot your dishwasher if it’s not filling with water.

A closeup of a person removing a clean glass from the top rack of a KitchenAid® dishwasher.

2. WATER HEATS UP

The heating element in the base of the dishwasher tub typically heats the water to 130–140°F for a normal cycle. The hot water dissolves and activates dishwasher detergent, breaks down grease on your dishes and helps glasses dry spot-free.

The detergent dispenser of a KitchenAid® dishwasher.

3. DETERGENT DISPENSES

Once the water is the proper temperature, your dishwasher dispenses the detergent into the water in the tub.

A closeup of a spray arm at the base of a KitchenAid® dishwasher spraying water.

4. WATER CIRCULATES

The circulation pump and motor push water through the spray arms as they spin water in a steady stream throughout your dishwasher tub. Food particles and other debris are cleared from your dishware and trapped by the filter at the base of the tub.

The bottom of the interior of a KitchenAid® dishwasher.

5. FILTERED WATER DRAINS

Dirty water and other debris collected by the filter are drained through a hose and into a garbage disposal and/or your home’s waste system.

The top rack of a KitchenAid® dishwasher during a wash cycle.

6. RINSE CYCLE

A rinse cycle does not use detergent, it simply spritzes dishware with heated, clean water to rinse detergent residue. After the rinse cycle is complete, the water is once again drained out of the dishwasher through a hose.

The top rack of a KitchenAid® dishwasher with utensils and glassware.

7. DRY CYCLE

During a normal dry setting, the heating element generates hot air and circulates it around to evaporate residual water and dry dishware. Drying cycles can vary depending on the features and settings of your dishwasher.

HOW MUCH WATER DOES A DISHWASHER USE?

Typically, a modern dishwasher may use around 3–4 gallons of water. Check your product manual for specific information as water usage varies depending on the make and model of your dishwasher. Learn more about water usage for dishwashers vs. hand washing dishes.

DO DISHWASHERS REUSE WATER?

Dishwater is drained after both a wash cycle and a rinse cycle. Once the cycles are complete, dirty water and other debris is drained through a hose and into a garbage disposal and/or your home’s waste system.

DO DISHWASHERS USE HOT WATER OR HEAT THEIR OWN?

Whether a dishwasher uses hot water or can heat its own can depend on the make and model. Some dishwashers rely on a heating element at the base of the tub that heats cold water to the proper temperature. Other dishwashers use hot water from the hot water valve on a kitchen faucet.

HOW MUCH ELECTRICITY DO DISHWASHERS USE?

For a modern dishwasher, you can expect to use around 1200 watts of electricity per cycle. For a more accurate electricity usage, consult your product manual as this may vary depending on the make and model of your appliance.

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SHOP KITCHENAID® DISHWASHERS

KitchenAid® dishwashers offer loads of flexible features to help you get the clean you need to create your next dish. With features like the FreeFlex™ Third Rack, Fan-Enabled ProDry™ System and Advanced Clean Water Wash System available on select models, you can find a KitchenAid brand dishwasher to clean up what you cook up.

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