The dishwashers arms are essential parts of the cleaning process, and if they stop spinning the contents are very unlikely to get properly cleaned. If you notice that your plates, cutlery, pots and pans come out dirty after completing a full wash cycle, we strongly recommend checking the spray arms as the first thing. More often than not, you can easily fix this issue yourself, with no need to contact professionals nor the manufacturer.
For dishwasher arms to turn properly, the water has to be able to flow through the system with no obstructions. In most cases, debris may have been building up inside your spray arms or connecting parts, causing a complete or partial blockage and restricting water to flow freely through the system. The spraying water is actually what makes the internal parts move during a wash cycle.
How dishwasher arms turn without motors
In this video you can see an interior view of a dishwasher with a full load. Notice how the arms start spinning once the water is forced through the holes, and then immediately stop once the water pressure is reduced:
The vital parts of your dishwasher include the following:
- Water pump
- Spray arms
The pump is what powers the entire system, and it’s therefore considered the “heart” of your dishwasher. For the water pump to work properly, it needs to be able to distribute the water through internal tubes.
A filter at the bottom of your dishwasher makes sure that no food waste gets circulated throughout the system, and these filters may need to be cleaned from time to time.
Finally, the spray arms shoot the water out onto the contents of the upper and lower tray, making sure that water is in contact with every surface in need of cleaning.
Dishwasher arms rely on water pressure to turn, and therefore your entire system has to function properly in order for water pressure to build up and exit through the spray holes found in the dishwasher arms.
Common causes of spray arms not spinning
A telling sign that your spray arms are unable to spin properly, is if the dishwasher doesn’t sound like it usually does during the wash cycle, or if the plates and cutlery come out dirty.
After analysing this issue and consulting field experts, we came to the conclusion that a few issues are very common and could appear out of nowhere for one reason or another.
Fortunately, the most common causes could be easily fixed with a little elbow grease.
#1 Spray arm debris buildup
According to SF Gate, one of the most common reasons that your spray arms aren’t spinning is debris buildup. Maybe the water wasn’t filtered properly before being circulated through the inner workings of your dishwasher, and that could very likely cause a blockage inside your spray arms. If the water isn’t able to flow properly through all the small holes of the spray arms, they aren’t able to spin either.
How to fix – The user manual may come in handy here, as you’ll have to detach the spray arm for a proper inspection and cleaning under running water. It is easily cleaned with a small toothbrush, fingers, or a few toothpicks. Inspect all openings, and use a little dish soap to remove any dirt or debris.
#2 Spray tower debris buildup
Some dishwashers have a spray tower attached to the spray arm. It’s basically an extension of the spray arm, and it could be blocked by debris as well as the spray arm. If the spray tower is blocked and water is unable to flow freely, the dishwasher may not be able to clean your plates and cutlery properly.
How to fix – Just like your spray arms, the spray tower should easily disconnect after checking the manual for directions. Clean it with warm water and a toothbrush, and make sure you inspect all cracks and crevices for debris.
#3 Spray path is blocked
If your dishwasher works well most of the time, it is likely that a pan/pot handle is just in the way and blocking the spray arm from turning. This happens more often than you may think, especially in smaller dishwashers with a third rack where handles from pots and pans could easily get in the way of the spray path.
How to fix – The easiest way to ensure that the spray path isn’t blocked, is to push the racks in and push each spray arm manually. If they hit anything, move the offending object out of the way to clear the path. Give it another try, and once it successfully rotates all the way around you’re good to go.
#4 Damaged spray arm
You may not be aware of this, but a spray arm could be damaged externally or internally. If the dishwasher arm is damaged, it may be unable to spin properly and your plates and cutlery turn out dirty after running a full program. Damages could be caused by normal wear and tear or by accident, if it happens to get pulled or pressed too hard.
How to fix – Consult your manual for directions on how to detach the spray arm, and inspect it for any cracks or damage. If any damage is found, call your manufacturer for a replacement spray arm. This is easily obtained from most manufacturers, or you could look at Amazon for replacement parts as an alternative option.
#5 Dirty filters and/or pump
If your filters and/or pump aren’t cleaned regularly (at least 2-3 times every year), they may stop working properly. This could ultimately cause a drop in water pressure, which then affects the entire dishwasher system. If the water pressure drops, your spray arms may not be able to turn.
Another telling sign that your filters need cleaning, is if your dishwasher starts smelling.
How to fix – If you haven’t cleaned your filters and/or pump before, consult your manual for directions on how to do so. Usually you’ll have to detach the filter and rinse it under running water. We recommend using a regular dish soap and a brush to loosen any grease and get into all little cracks and crevices.
Check out how to clean and deodorize your dishwasher for further advice on how to keep your dishwasher neat and clean.
#6 Connectors and tubes disconnected or leaking
Sometimes a connector or tube could break off or disconnect by accident. It could also start leaking, and these issues could cause water pressure to drop significantly. This could ultimately lead to serious water damage of your kitchen if connectors and/or tubes are broken and leaking water onto the floor. Luckily this rarely happens, and if it does you’re likely to spot it right away since water would quickly leak onto your floors.
How to fix – This may require professional assistance, unless you’re able to detach the dishwasher yourself and remove the side panels for inspection of connectors and tubes. While inspecting the system, look for any disconnected parts or leaks, and never hesitate to call a professional if you’re unable to identify the issue yourself.
Call a professional for a thorough inspection
First of all, we recommend calling a professional if you’re unable to solve the issue or feel insecure whether something else is wrong with your dishwasher.
Calling the manufacturer’s customer support could also help solve the problem, as they’re likely to know exactly what issues are common for your specific dishwasher model.
The older your dishwasher is, the more likely it is that something could be failing and causing an issue at some point. If it isn’t cleaning sufficiently although the spray arms turn as they should, the issue may be more serious than expected.