One of the most common complaints we hear about dishwashers, besides that the dishwasher is not drying (which we've also written about), is that the dishwasher runs too long. This can be frustrating if you remember the way your old dishwasher used to churn through dishes! Thankfully, some dishwasher problems are easy to fix, depending on the cause.
In general, newer dishwashers approach washing dishes with a focus on stamina and energy conservation rather than speed. These models use less water and electricity, and are also much quieter, but the result is often longer cycle times than older dishwashers had. In this article, we'll explore some of the simple reasons why your dishwasher is running too long. (If it's time for you to buy a new model, check out our dishwasher buying guide!)
How Long Does a Dishwasher Run?
Before we dig into one of the most common dishwasher problems, you need to know what your dishwasher's normal run time is. This varies based on your specific model as well as the cycles you select. A regular cycle for a newer model dishwasher can be anywhere from 1.5 to 4 hours. This is partly due to new drying methods that use less energy but tend to take longer. The fastest options, generally called a Quick Wash or Express Wash cycle, will take about an hour to wash and dry, and work best for lightly soiled dishes.
Your dishwasher's manual should have lists of the cycles available and their expected durations. This manual is also a great reference for learning what the sometimes confusing cycle and option names actually mean--different brands will use different terms for things like a heavy-duty pots and pans cycle, a quick wash cycle, and various options. Generally, the more options you add on, like a high heat final rinse or "extra dry," the longer the cycle will take. Your dishwasher may wash more quickly if you select the automatic or sensor cycle and don't add on any extra options.
Now you know what you should expect out of your dishwasher run times. If your dishwasher is running too long compared to what the manual says, or if you just want to speed up your dishwasher cycle, keep reading for our quick tips and fixes for a dishwasher running too long!
1. Clogs, Kinks, and Mineral Buildup, Oh My!
One possibility for why your dishwasher runs too long is that there is a clog or other issue related to food particle buildup or mineral deposits. Your dishwasher may run longer because it is struggling to drain properly, which slows the whole process down. Check the following to make sure this is not the case:
Filters - Many dishwashers have self-cleaning filters, but this is worth a check whether you have a manual or self-cleaning dishwasher filter.
Drain Hose - Look for clogs or kinks in the drain hose, and make sure it is the correct size.
Dishwasher Air Gap/Vent - This is usually located near the sink and faucet, although not all dishwashers have one, and helps prevent dirty water from backflowing into the dishwasher. An air gap is required in some regions, but if you don't have a little cylinder sticking up from the sink next to your dishwasher, you probably have what is known as a high loop for the drain instead.
Besides an obvious clog, you might be seeing mineral deposits, which usually look like white or orange-brown streaks or splotches. Mineral deposits can build up around the hard-working parts of your dishwasher like the filter and chopper area, the heating element (if your dishwasher has one - these are becoming less common in newer models), and even clog the spray arms. There are a few ways to take care of mineral deposits in a dishwasher:
Get in there and scrub your dishwasher down yourself. Pull out the racks and go to town with a damp sponge. Check your filter while you're at it!
For light mineral deposits, run the dishwasher with white vinegar. Place a bowl of vinegar in the center of the bottom rack on a high-heat cycle. This will also help deodorize your dishwasher if you've been noticing unpleasant smells!
Use a dishwasher cleaner. Your manual may recommend a specific brand or type of cleaner, or you can turn to any number of dishwasher cleaners designed to tackle hard water and mineral buildup.
There's another reason related to mineral buildup that your dishwasher runs too long, and it's connected to one of the newer innovations in dishwasher technology: the sensor. Your dishwasher may have a sensor wash or automatic wash cycle - it's almost guaranteed if you have a newer model. This uses an optical sensor that detects the water temperature, soil level, and detergent levels inside of your dishwasher. If the loads are overly dirty, or if buildup of some kind is obscuring the sensor, the sensor will default to the longest cycle time available. A dirty sensor can't "see" the dishes getting clean as the cycle progresses. This issue can usually be addressed with running the dishwasher empty with a dishwasher cleaner added.
2. Not Enough Hot Water
Your dishwasher needs to be taking in water that's at least 120°F to avoid the dishwasher running too long. Some of the basic troubleshooting steps for making sure your dishwasher has access to hot water are:
Running hot water in the kitchen sink to get hot water into the pipes before you run the dishwasher. This is also a good time to test the temperature of the water to see if it is at least 120°F.
Check that your hot water heater is set to the right temperature and, if it is on a timer, that there will be hot water available when you want to run the dishwasher.
More serious issues related to the hot water supply that may require a repair professional are that there is something wrong with your dishwasher's water heating element, or that your dishwasher has been hooked up to a cold water flow instead of hot water. If you've recently moved into a home that came with a dishwasher that runs too long, these are important things to check since you don't know if the dishwasher was installed properly!
It takes about one minute to heat water one degree in your dishwasher. So if your hot water is only coming in at 100°F, your dishwasher has to spend at least 20 minutes heating it up. And if you're using a high heat cycle like Sani-Rinse, the water is usually heated to 140°F. Any hot water issues will be exacerbated by cycles or options that require extra-hot water!
3. Extra Cycle Settings and Options
We mentioned this at the beginning, but it's worth going over in more detail. This is another time when having your owner's manual can come in handy: some extra cycle settings can add 20-40 minutes to the cycle time. There's a possibility that you've been unintentionally creating much longer cycle times than necessary through something as innocent as choosing a Sani-Rinse high-heat wash cycle along with a heated dry option! Any cycles or options that involve adding extra heat tend to extend cycle times.
Make sure you understand what different cycles and options do and how they effect your dishwasher's run time. We know it's not fun to deal with an appliance that seems overly complicated, so we're here if you need any help deciphering your dishwasher or choosing a new dishwasher that won't drive you crazy!
That's it: three quick areas to check if your dishwasher runs too long, one of the most common dishwasher problems. If you're shopping for a new dishwasher and want to avoid longer run times, you may want to look for models with that quick wash cycle we mentioned in the beginning. This is usually a one-hour wash, best for lightly soiled dishes. This cycle may be called Express Wash (Bosch), 1-Hour Wash (Amana), or something else entirely!
Keep in mind that some fast washes may not include drying time in their cycle duration calculations, and these faster cycles will use more energy and be noisier than normal wash cycles.
Have you had to troubleshoot dishwasher problems before? What features do you look for in a new dishwasher? Leave us a comment below - We'd love to hear from you!