Whirlpool Dishwasher Fills But Does Not Wash. How To Fix It?

So, you just finished a meal and loaded the dirty dishes into your Whirlpool dishwasher, only to discover that it fills but does not wash.

This can be one of the biggest inconveniences because you will most likely have to remove all the dishes from the dishwasher and hand wash.

In the meantime, you’ll also have to troubleshoot to see what the problem is.

If your Whirlpool dishwasher fills with water but does not wash dishes, there are 2 common reasons caused by a malfunctioned circulation pump (wash motor) or by clogged holes on the spray arm.

Here’s how to troubleshoot and fix these two common repairs.

Whirlpool Wash Motor (Circulation Pump) Malfunctioned

The most common reason a Whirlpool dishwasher fills with water but does not wash is due to a malfunctioned wash motor.

The first thing you’ll want to do is locate the motor and check to see if it’s bad.

If the wash motor is bad, you can hear clicks coming from the area where the motor is.

You need to pull the dishwasher out from the countertop and listen to the motor.

If the motor will not start washing in a couple of minutes right after it filled with water, 99% wash motor is failed.

You can also check the wash motor for the continuity, this is how to check it:

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  1. Disconnect all power to the dishwasher by flipping the appropriate circuit breaker
  2. Locate the motor which should be behind the lower kick plate or access panel
  3. This panel will be secured by either two or four screws, remove all of them so the panel comes all the way off
  4. On some dishwasher models you must open the door to remove some screws. Just be sure to close the door before removing the panel
  5. Disconnect the two wire leads from the wiring harness that are attached to the motor
  6. Using a multimeter, set the device to R x 1.
  7. Touch each of the multimeter’s probes to one terminal each
  8. The motor should show very little resistance, such as a reading of zero or close to it
  9. Also check the ground connection by placing one probe on the bare metal housing of the motor, and the other on each terminal (one at a time)
  10. This test should show no reading on the meter
  11. If either of these tests show readings other than what they should, then the motor is bad and needs to be replaced.
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Here’s how to replace the wash motor on your Whirlpool dishwasher:

  1. Disconnect the power by unplugging the unit or turning off the appropriate breaker
  2. Again, locate the motor which should be located behind the lower access or kick panel
  3. Remove the screws that hold it in place
  4. Open the dishwasher door and remove the lower dish rack
  5. Remove the spray tower
  6. Remove the lower spray arm assembly. This is usually held in place with one single bolt
  7. If your unit has a filter assembly under the spray arm, you’ll need to remove that as well
  8. Disconnect the two wire leads from the wiring harness that are attached to the wash motor
  9. Next, you’ll need to remove the drain hose from the pump
  10. You should now be able to life the pump and motor assembly from the base of your Whirlpool dishwasher
  11. Remember it’s important to keep your work area as dry as possible to prevent dangerous electrical shocks
  12. Reverse these steps to install the new motor assembly.
  13. When you have all components back in place you’ll need to pour one gallon of water into the dishwasher’s tub
  14. Check under the unit for any water leaks
  15. If there are no leaks present, go ahead and restore the power to your dishwasher and run the unit through a test cycle
  16. Check under the unit again for leaks
  17. If you find no leaks, replace the lower access panel or kick plate. If there are water leaks you’ll have to determine where they are coming from and fix them.

Once you’ve replaced the wash motor, your Whirlpool dishwasher should not only fill with water, but it should also wash your dishes. If this alone didn’t solve your problem, keep reading.

Sprayer Holes are Clogged

If your Whirlpool dishwasher is not cleaning your dishes the way it used to, or at all, the problem may be that your sprayer holes are clogged.

This problem can usually be solved with the help of some wire length. For example, you can cut a metal clothes hanger, and use it to clear the holes on the spray arm.

Whirlpool Dishwasher spray arm clogged

There’s no doubt that you’ve noticed the spray arm in the bottom of your dishwasher. This part shoots water out to clean your dishes.

However, over time it can become clogged with food and even hard water, or mineral, deposits. When this occurs you’ll need to clean it.

To clean it, you can use part of a metal hanger as we mentioned above. While you can do it while the sprayer arm is still installed, for best results you may want to disconnect it and pull it out of the unit.

Most Whirlpool dishwashers secure the arm using a simple locking knob on the bottom.

Once you determine if you’ll leave the arm in place or remove it, you’ll use the wire or tooth stick to clear out the holes. Be sure to poke the wire all the way through to the bottom.

This will ensure you remove as much of the food or mineral deposits as possible.

If the sprayer arm is really caked with debris, you can soak it in a tub of warm water with some vinegar added to it. The vinegar will help dissolve deposits inside.

Once the arm is clear you’ll simply put it back in place, and lock it on to ensure it’s securely in place.

The most important step is to make sure you spin it once you have the arm positioned correctly.

It should spin freely, if it doesn’t you’ll have a new set of problems. Your best bet is to also clean the spray arm at the top too. If you do this, the dishwasher will work like new.

Here are the steps to unclogging the spray arm holes:

  1. Remove the spray arm from the dishwasher
  2. Use a piece of wire that is slightly smaller than the spray arm holes to clean it effectively
  3. Put the arm back in place and make sure it turns easily
  4. When the arm is extremely clogged, soak it in warm water and vinegar to dissolve all mineral deposit and other debris

Have you dealt with this issue before? What model Whirlpool dishwasher do you have and what was the problem? Comment now and let’s discuss.

Reader Comments (28)

  1. Dishwasher is filling but not starting it’s cycle, I pulled the pump, terminals are reading 7.46 ohms, terminal to ground is nothing. Is the terminal to terminal reading good or bad? Your article says closest to 0 but I’m not sure if my reading would be considered good.

    • Motor terminals should read approximately 7.5 ohms and infinite to ground.
      Your motor resistance readings are good.

      There should be trouble-shooting instructions in a plastic envelope attached to the kick plate. Look behind the insulation.

      Review the resistance checks for the control board. Remove the dozen or so T15 door panel screws for access. Note that some plugs are numbered right to left, others right to left.

      Instructions say if both motor and control resistance checks are good, suspect the controller.

  2. Hello, I have a Maytag MDB8989SHZ0. It fills with water but won’t start wash cycle. Water will just sit there, it will drain after I open and close the door. I cleaned the wash arms and replaced the circulating pump. It’s still doing the same thing. Any suggestions as to what to look into next? Thanks.

  3. I have a Whirlpool dishwasher mod#WDT750SAHZ and the circulation pump was bad and i replaced it and after replacing it,it fills up with water and washes for maybe 1 second and then stops for like 2-3 seconds and washes for another second and stops again all through the cycle and so far i’ve replaced every electrical component that i can think of(control board,every single sensor and i’ve replaced the wiring harness like i said everything i can think of,i’m a technician and i’ve had this happen to me multiple times with different appliances,all whirlpool and all that the circulation pumps were bad and i had to replace and so far i have not been able to figure it out,so if you have any advice just let me know

  4. I’m chasing this problem, and I have replaced the recirculation pump. I managed to get it to run once after re-assembly, then replaced the pump after the problem re-appeared. I can open the dishwasher and it is obviously heating, steamed up my glasses. It will fill, and then just sit there. I can cancel, and it will drain fine. The soap door opens, but that re-circulation pump never kicks on.

    I am down to replacing the control board, but can’t find anything that tells me it could be the problem. Hate to replace it just blindly hoping that might fix the problem. whirlpool wdf520padm5

    • Tim, unfortunately I don’t have your answer only the same problem with my Maytag (part of Whirlpool) MDB4949SHZ0. I’ve replaced the “door latch”, checked the “overfill control switch” removed cleared and re-installed the pump and still nothing more than water filling and draining. At this point I’m leaning towards replacing the “control board” unfortunately it’s some what costly and I haven’t been able to locate the part anywhere on line (BACK ORDER date unknown). I would welcome any additional insight and/or problem solving steps that you’ve taken.

    • The trouble shooting guide (located in a plastic envelope behind the kick plate insulation) says to check motor terminal resistance (7.5 ohms, approx.) and control board fuses ( less than 3 ohms). If all check ok, instructions say to suspect the control board.

  5. Hi I have a kitchen aid dishwasher makes a lot of noise when washing. Took the chopper out now it is much quieter.
    Do I need the chopper ?????

  6. Hi Eugene,
    I had handyman look at whirlpool wdta50sahz0 – water fills up but not cleaning dishes. He mentioned control board is not working. Please let me know if you have any recommendations on fixing this?

  7. My dishwasher lights up sounds like water is filling on bottom a Lil does and just sits there … what’s wrong anyone know ?

  8. Just replaced my wash motor and drain assembly washer fills with water and doesn’t wash gets hot tried to run but atops

  9. I have a wdp340pafw0 it fills with water then nothing. I have cleaned it. Cleaned the holes in the arms. Still does the same thing. The dishwasher does drain the water.

  10. Water runs in, just sits there—doesn’t actually wash anything, then water drains. All of that within 15 minutes. Why is it completely skipping the wash cycle? Seems if it was the motor we would hear it trying to engage, but that doesn’t happen. Doesn’t sound like arms are spinning either. Dishwasher is only about 6 months old.

  11. My dishwasher suddenly started pouring soap side out the bottom of the door. My wife said she used the same soap and amount. I changed the deals on the lower arm because I saw they needed replacement. What would cause the side to pour out the door bottom?

    • Sounds like air mixing with detergent. It should not be like that.
      Open the dishwasher during the first 5-10 minutes. Do you see a lot of suds inside?

  12. Hi dear
    Thanks for helping
    I wonder if you could help me with my dishwasher machine issue,
    Recently facing error whenever starts giving F11 which interpreting the cycle of running.
    The whirlpool dishwasher number is WFC3C26
    Thank you so much for supporting

    • My daughter has a Whirlpool 184 Standard dishwasher. Today, the door won’t stay closed. She told me there is no latch on this model. Any idea what might have happened? I will probably be the one to try to fix it.

      • Every dishwasher has a latch system. No exception. Also, check the door to make sure it aligns with the dishwasher (in case if you have a plastic tub)

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