My Old Dishwasher Runs Like New Again… After Cleaning Out All That Gunk!

So here it is 2 years later from the first time our dishwasher backed up and I was forced to do a major de-gunking in order to get it running back up to speed.

That was then, this is now…

black-growth-under-dishwasher-basket.jpg Today, when I glanced at that basket in the back of our dishwasher, I noticed lots of "black gunk" had built up underneath the basket itself.

There was so much blackness in there, that you could actually tell from a distance that there was some serious build-up going on in there. No water backing up this time, just lots of slimey black gunk.

Here’s what I did. (Much the same as last time, with 2 new steps…)


Dishwasher Repair – Take 2

I decided to get a jump on it before the dishwasher backed up again like before.

So I armed myself with all of the necessary dishwasher de-gunking materials:

  • a 1/4-inch wrench (to unscrew those 2 long screws that hold the dishwasher basket in place)

  • a flashlight (to visually confirm that, upon closer inspection, yes there was some serious black gunk building up underneath that dishwasher basket.)

  • lots of paper towels (to quickly wipe up most of the mess & toss right into the trash)

  • a soft cloth, wet (to leave the dishwasher in pristine clean condition after removing all the gunk)

  • a turkey baster (to siphon out some of the water that had accumulated up to the rim of the basket/flapper; there wasn’t water on the tub floor this time)

  • a mirror (to see way in the back and make sure that I’d removed all of the gunk)

After I removed the basket from the back of the dishwasher, I cleaned out all the gunk. (I’m telling you, this is some thick and slimy stuff!) Then, I put the basket back in place using the steps that I outlined here.

Here’s are the before and after photos: 

dirty-dishwasher-basket.jpg  clean-dishwasher-basket.jpg

2 New Steps In The Dishwasher Cleaning Process

By the looks of things, I’m guessing I’ll have to do this every 2 years or so from here on.

But this time I’m taking a few extra precautions: 4 Tips For Keeping Your Dishwasher Running Smoothly For Years.

The two that I plan to do regularly from now on are:

#1  Each time, before running the dishwasher, run cold water through the disposal for 30 seconds first — to prevent food and debris that’s in your garbage disposal from getting sucked into your dishwasher’s drain line and clogging it.

#2  Fill the detergent and the drying-agent dispensers with white vinegar. Then, run the dishwasher empty on the pots-and-pans cycle — this keeps the drain lines clean and free-flowing, as vinegar is a great de-gunking cleaner.

TIP: Some recommend pouring an entire gallon of vinegar into the bottom of your dishwasher and letting it sit for 1 hour. This will loosen the most stubborn scum and gunk that has settled in. Then, run the dishwasher on a short cycle with no detergent.

To Keep Your Dishwasher From Backing Up…

I would strongly recommend that you keep a step ahead of your dishwasher on the de-gunking process. I mean, it’s 2 or 3 times the effort (plus, much smellier and messier), if you wait until the water has actually backed up in your dishwasher and wreaks havoc on your floor!

Take a look at the first photo in this article again… see, you can barely tell there’s anything wrong. Yet, look at the next picture which shows all of the black slime and food stuck to the underside of the basket. It was also lining the entire tub of the dishwasher under the basket. Ugh!


UPDATE – A tip from The Family Handyman

dishwasher-float-switch-dishwasher-filter-by-Bill-Zuehlke.jpg When your dishwasher no longer gets your dishes clean, a food-filled filter is most often to blame. If it’s clogged, water can’t make it to the spray arms to clean the dishes in the top rack. The fix takes 2 minutes. Simply pull out the lower rack and remove the filter cover inside the dishwasher. Then, use a wet vacuum to clean off the screen. While you’re there, slide the nearby float switch up and down. If it’s jammed with mac and cheese, you won’t get any water. If the cover sticks, jiggle it up and down and clean it with water.

Lynnette Walczak

Lynnette Walczak

I like to help people find unique ways to do things in order to save time & money -- so I frequently write about "outside the box" ideas that most wouldn't think of. As a lifelong dog owner, I often share my best tips for living with and training dogs. I worked in Higher Ed several years until switching gears to pursue things I was more passionate about. I've worked at a vet, in a photo lab, and at a zoo -- to name a few. I enjoy the outdoors via bicycle, motorcycle, Jeep, or RV. You can always find me at the corner of Good News & Fun Times as publisher of The Fun Times Guide (32 fun websites).

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  • Anonymous
  • Corina

    wow…the inside of your machine looks JUST like the one I am dealing with…yep- a GE. I have bailed the water but not quite to the extent you have, I have used the last of my vinegar (ughhhh the stuff that floated up) and poured some boiling water. My gunk is more white than black… I wonder what gunk colour can tell you! Now I have put the filter basket in the top rack and I am currently running the machine with dishwasher detegent…and THEN I find your post .
    So if the machine is still not draining…I guess I’ll have to clean it a bit more thoroughly and then if that fails…call the plumber cause I’m not doing pipes. There has to be a line drawn somewheer!!! Putting LARGE bottle of vinegar on the shopping list now.

  • Eyliu99

    thanks for share your dishwasher repairing experience

  • Mrs. Fix-it

    Well I was having the same problem with water not draining. I went to remove the drainage basket but mine have no screws. So I took a screw driver and just inserted into the holes to make sure there were no clogs. Some of the holes were clogged. Then, since there were still some water remaining. I used a plastic cup like a plunger. Seems like its working. I guess the final verdict will be when I run a full cycle of plain water.

  • Voc

    your article helped and was very entertaining as well. thanks!

  • Ang

    You saved my bacon, friend! My husband was NOT thrilled that I had clogged the garbage disposal and dishwasher. I followed your directions while he was at work and am running the test cycle now. THANK YOU!

  • Sturdivant Family

    thanks lady you showed me the way to go. you helped our family so much

  • Gevendin

    This was the best advice ever. Just fixed my dishwasher. It was not emptying. Did all the above steps. Put it on the rinse cycle to check and water is not emptying properly. Excellent diagnosis and repair suggestions.

  • Rossgreen

    this was great. thank you. i am running it now on a short cycle to see if it worked. i did find some plastic and glass. i did not have a mirror so i used a toothbrush on the opening that i couldn’t see. if this does not work i will do the vinegar.

  • Carlc44

    Thanks for the info.  I will try your method tomorrow.  Wish me luck.

  • steve

    Whoever posted this fix thank you. I did exactly what you recomended and it worked! Thanks I thought I might have to replace a dishwasher that I cant afford to replace. Cheers

    • FunTimesGuide

      Glad it helped, Steve! 

  • bobfairlane

    Cool. I have the same crappy dishwasher, and had to boil off the gunk that was under the plastic screen. We’ll see if the baking-soda-and-vinegar fix works again or if we have to call the maintenance man.

  • Andrea Alarcon Midkiff

    I have to thank you for saving us $ 100 just to get a diagnostic on the dishwasher. I found your page and did the vinegar step and my dishwasher stopped jumping to speed cycle! Thank you :)

  • Hugh_Jazscheens

    Uhh, it’s easier (and less gross) to siphon without sucking. Fill the tubing/hose with tap water then hold a thumb over each end. Put one end under the sitting water, put the other end (lower) into a basin. Release both thumbs and sitting water should siphon out.

  • Patrick Whitehead

    Your dishwasher’s drain line should not run into your garbage disposal. In every area that I have lived it’s against code to do so. Code or not, it’s just a bad practice. If your sink’s drain plugs up, all of that nasty crap will flow back into your dishwasher.

    • nomark

      The dishwasher is supposed to go to the disposal, just not directly. It’s supposed to go thru a device called an “air gap” which keeps it from siphoning, or stuff from the disposal going back to the dishwasher. Also the air gap can become clogged as well. There is a very easy way to clean it. Just take a roll of paper towels and pull off the top of the air gap (usually just lift straight up.) Then put the tube of the roll of paper towels down over the air gap and make a seal by pushing down firmly on the roll of paper towels to the kitchen sink. A full roll is usually too big to work, about a half roll works best. Then put your mouth to the other end of the tube of the paper towels and blow as hard as you can. If there is a blockage you’ll feel the resistance and then it opening up. You might have to do this a few times after each running of the dishwasher till you have the system free of debris.

  • nomark

    Just FYI, (because someone asked) white gunk is usually grease/oils. Black gunk is mold/bacteria/algae from the decomposing food.

  • Rebecca Cartwright

    The other day a co-worker gave my husband a portable dishwasher. This was awesome because “Hello there” I am this family’s dishwasher lol. What is not so awesome….the nastiness of this dishwasher. We had no idea until the guy brought it over. I am crossing my fingers that thoroughly cleaning it will be easier than getting rid of it. Gunk in it (like what you described in yours) but I am willing to bet anything that you have seen not anything grosser than our new dishwasher. There was fuzzy mold and (I’m not kidding by this next part at all!) chicken bones. My guess is someone thought they could cook a chicken in the dishwasher. Plus a few cigarette butts when I was down in there deep cleaning. Finding your blog through Pinterest, a YouTube video how to on taking apart the inside of the dishwasher and a few more Pinterest and Google searches, I’m really hoping in one more hour this thing will be clean enough to wash my dishes in.

  • bobfairlane

    If you’re having dishwasher drain issues (stuff left in the tub) get a mop bucket and unclamp the hose under the sink. You will probably find gunk in there which you can get out with a “brush” made from a coat hanger (bend an oval shape with no sharp points). You can also run the dishwasher with pine sol so it drains in the (5gal) bucket.