Why Isn't My Dishwasher Drying? Plus How to Fix It

Discover how to repair a dishwasher that isn't drying properly.

After a big family meal or get-together, the last thing you likely want to do is stand over a sink, scrubbing dishes by hand. Dishwashers are helpful appliances that improve kitchen cleanup, both washing and drying plates and bowls so they come out free of food residue, dry, and ready to put away.

If you find that your dishes aren't dry by the time you return to unload the dishwasher, there may be a problem with the appliance. However, the cause of the issue might also be due to user error. Use this guide to find out more about why a dishwasher might not be properly drying and how to fix it.

white kitchen shelves with silver dishwasher

Brie Williams

Heating Element vs. Condensation Drying

Before trying to resolve the dishwasher drying problem, it's necessary to understand the difference between the two drying types, including heating element drying and condensation drying.

Heating element drying is common in older dishwasher models. These appliances have a heating element in the bottom of the dishwasher tub that heats up when the wash cycle is complete. A fan then blows hot air throughout the interior of the dishwasher, similar to a convection oven, rapidly drying the dishes.

Condensation drying is the most popular option for new dishwasher models because it is more energy efficient and the dishwasher is quieter. During the final rinse cycle, the dishwasher uses hot water to heat up the dishes. Any moisture remaining on the dishes should evaporate due to the residual heat from the high-heat rinse cycle and condense on the dishwasher walls. The moisture then runs down the walls of the dishwasher and into the drain. However, it should be noted that while condensation drying is more energy efficient, heating element drying is more effective.

Dishwasher Drying Issues

If your dishwasher isn't drying properly, the problem could be as easy as correcting the way you put the dishes into the dish racks, topping up the rinse-aid levels, or adjusting the cycle settings. However, if you find that there is a broken or faulty dishwasher part, it's best left to a professional appliance repair technician.

1. Poor Dish Placement

When there are just a few plates left in the sink or only one pot leftover from a big dinner, it can be tempting to try to find space in a packed dishwasher. But if the dishes aren't positioned with enough space between them, it can impact the function of the dishwasher. Not only will improper spacing and poor dish placement impede the wash cycle, but they can also obstruct the airflow within the dishwasher, leaving some dishes wet or water-marked.

You can resolve this issue by ensuring there is enough space between the dishes for proper airflow. Spread out utensils in the cutlery rack and avoid stacking items like cups and bowls.

2. Incorrect Cycle Settings

A factor that is often overlooked is that many newer dishwashers are designed for energy conservation. New models may automatically skip the heated dry cycle to reduce the energy consumption of the appliance. However, if your dishes are coming out wet or water-marked, you may be able to solve the issue by manually turning on the heated dry function.

It's also important to mention that even if a dishwasher defaults to a heated dry cycle during a normal wash, it's likely that the dishwasher will skip the heated dry cycle when it is on the quick-wash or express-wash setting. In this situation, you'll likely need to choose between dry dishes or a quick cycle.

3. Low Rinse-Aid Levels

Rinse aid is a solution that helps reduce streaks and water marks by preventing the accumulation of water droplets on the dishes. Not every dishwasher is designed to use rinse aid, but if your dishwasher does have a rinse-aid dispenser, it's recommended to check the levels before the next wash cycle. Also, take the opportunity to inspect the rinse-aid chamber and make sure the cap opens and closes without issue. Add rinse aid to the recommended level to improve the drying process and make sure to open the dishwasher door when the rinse cycle is complete to help leftover moisture evaporate.

4. Blocked Vent

If you've checked the rinse-aid levels, verified the dishwasher is on the right setting, and ensured that dishes are properly spaced, but the dishwasher is still not drying the dishes, the issue is likely with the appliance itself. Check the vent in the dishwasher door to determine if it is open, partially closed, or completely closed. You should be able to open the vent if you find that it is closed or partially closed, but if the vent door seems to be seized in the closed or partially closed position, it may need to be replaced.

Dishwashers have a variety of parts that need to be installed correctly for the appliance to function. Unless you have substantial experience working on dishwashers, it's advised to contact a dishwasher repair professional to repair or replace the vent.

5. Faulty Heating Element

Another part of the dishwasher that may be causing dishes to come out wet or water-marked is the heating element. Not every dishwasher dries dishes with a heating element and fan, but if you have an older dishwasher model, there's a good chance that it uses a heating element to dry dishes. If the heating element isn't working properly, the dishes will not dry at the end of the cycle.

To check if the heating element is working, you'll need a multimeter. Start by unplugging the dishwasher and removing the bottom cover of the appliance to access the heating element. Visually inspect the heating element for any areas that look broken or burned out. If you can't spot any problems, disconnect the heating element and attach or touch the multimeter probes to the two terminals.

Ideally, there should be a reading between 15 to 30 ohms. If the multimeter doesn't register at all or moves the way to zero, the heating element needs to be replaced by a professional dishwasher repair technician. However, if the reading is normal, you've verified that the heating element is not the issue.

6. Malfunctioning High-Limit Thermostat

One of the devices that ensures the proper functionality of a dishwasher is the high-limit thermostat. This safety device prevents the heating element from becoming too hot, but if the thermostat malfunctions, it can lead to the heating element turning off before the dishes finish drying.

To test the high-limit thermostat, remove the bottom panel of the dishwasher and use a flashlight to look underneath the dishwasher tub for the thermostat. It resembles a silver disk that is about the size of a quarter. It should be located on the right side of the dishwasher. Disconnect the high-limit thermostat and use a multimeter to test if the thermostat is functioning properly.

At room temperature, the multimeter should read overloaded or infinite resistance, but if you hold the thermostat near a space heater, the reading should show zero. If the multimeter displays any other readings, the thermostat is faulty and will need to be replaced by a professional dishwasher repair technician.

Dishwasher Drying Tips

There are a few steps you can take to improve the drying function of the dishwasher. If your appliance is in good condition, but for some reason there are still a few dishes that come out wet or water-marked, try these tips for dishwasher drying.

  • Check the water heater thermostat to ensure it is set to at least 120 degrees.
  • Remove dishes from the bottom rack before the top rack to avoid splashing the dishes below.
  • Make sure to open the door after the rinse cycle to help facilitate evaporation.
  • Split large dishwasher loads into two smaller loads to improve airflow.
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