What to Do When the Dishwasher Sprayer Arms are Not Working

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Dishwashers have a few basic functions that work together to get your dishes clean. Nozzles in various locations, both static and moving, surround dishes with soapy water, then clean water, which ideally leaves your dishes sparkling clean. So when your dishes come out of the washer less than sparkling, you investigate why. We usually start by changing the dish arrangement, trying a new detergent, or adding a rinse aid. Howeber, if it seems like your dishes are being washed unevenly or barely washed at all, the trouble could be with your sprayer arms.

If your investigations determine the problem is likely non-functional or impaired sprayer arms, then we’re here to help you with solutions you can try safely at home. Before taking your dishwasher apart, try these steps which can quickly restore your sprayer arms back to working order.

Spin the Arms Manually

Start with a quick manual test. Pull out any intervening dish racks, then test the sprayer arms with a touch. Push the arms to see if they spin in both directions. Some sprayer arms are one-directional only, some spin both ways. What you’re really testing is the ease of the spin, how smoothly it moves. Does the sprayer arm spin freely? Does it continue to spin when you stop pushing? If so, does this seem correct or is it wobbling and loose?

If the sprayer arm is stiff or won’t spin, this can mean a chalky mineral buildup (hard water residue) that is preventing the sprayer arms from spinning, or there might be a small mechanical blockage. Or a piece of the sprayer arm mechanism might have broken internally. A quick mechanical test will give you a few clues if the mechanical operation is hindered.

Poke Out Each Sprayer Hole with a Paperclip

Hard water is water that contains extra minerals, and it runs through 90% of North American home taps. It also leaves those minerals behind everywhere the water passes or dries. Plumbers call this common mineral residue “scale”. This is water spots on your glass, chalky residue in the bathtub, and buildup in your pipes. It also clogs the tiny holes in dishwasher sprayer arms.

Interestingly, the solution is a paper clip. Straighten out one end of a paper clip, safety pin, or similarly sized tool. Then poke the tip into each of the sprayer arm’s tiny nozzles. This will break away the mineral scale cap that has formed and is stopping water from spraying out of the arms.

Run the Dishwasher On Empty with Vinegar

Scale can also be dissolved with mild acids. White vinegar is the best and most common solution to scale. Vinegar melts the scale and helps to wash it away, even when it has formed solid caps and clogs. If you don’t want to manually remove or scrub away the caps (and get rid of all other scale building up inside the dishwasher), is to run a load with vinegar instead of detergent. 

Place a bowl filled with white vinegar upright in the upper rack of the dishwasher. Splash some vinegar into the bottom of the washer and fill the soap dish for good measure. Then run the dishwasher empty on the hottest water setting, but without heated dry. This should break up the sprayer arm caps and clean the inside of your dishwasher.

In the future, you can also run an open vinegar cup in the top drawer for a cost-effective rinse aid and to prevent these caps from forming again.

Reinstall or Replace the Sprayer Arm

Finally, you may consider removing or replacing the sprayer arm. If it is truly damaged or non-functional, someone with technician experience can remove the arm. A reinstallation or new connective parts might be the answer. Or you might solve the issue with a replacement sprayer arm. 

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