Tuesday, March 13, 2018

It was the dishwasher, in the kitchen, with a gel-pack that did it

We have been going through DISHWASHER WOE.  Woe to me, to the husband, and stress with dishpan hands!

But seriously, read this - it could end up saving you a couple hundred bucks in repair bills.

The woe to me is that the blasted thing started leaking water after two years.  Couldn't figure it out.  It's a Kitchen Aid for God's sake.  So it took three visits from the repairman before we figured it out.  The washer arm split at the seam, in a Kitchen Aid, for God's sake!

How Queer?  Seriously, why did this happen?

So the suspects were:

1) The manufacturer
2) The operator(s)
3) The gel pack detergent
4) The water pressure
5)  The water heater
6) The house
7) All of above

The Facts:

1) The manufacturer built this wonderful tri-spray arm.  One arm has a stationary head, one arm has a large head and the other is small head at the end of the last head.  The small head turns rapidly, the large head turns more slowly.  The arm is made of plastic that ruptured.  But why?

2) The operators read the manual, ran the hot water on in the sink, running it until it was HOT.  We plopped a gel-pack into the hopper, and the door closed easily enough.  We set the cycle for normal and we walked away.  In an hour and a half, we opened the door when the cycle ended and a big cloud of steam rose up revealing clean dishes.  So?

3) The gel-pack was from a major label - no off brand.  Bought them at a nation store.  Innocent enough, right?

4) The water pressure was fine, but water can flow, and when it's under pressure, it's going to find a way to break through and it will break through at the weakest point. Which it did, shooting water out between the bottom of the door and the flood pan.

5)  The water heater - a couple-year-old, this one is traditional, nothing newfangled here.  It is supposedly the brand that the plumber's plumber recommends for his plumbing clients.  And they aren't cheap.  In fact, when we bought the house, it was in the + column.

6) The house.  90-years old, traditional.  Center hall colonial, living room with fireplace on one end and the dining room and kitchen on the other. Newer copper plumbing.

The Detective:

I called Trusted Appliance Repair because everyone recommended them.  I mean everyone.  Even the women who turn up their noses at foods at the neighborhood progressive dinner, which are potlucks, and say "I only eat raw organic vegan cuisine harvested by virgins under a new moon because I have* blah-blah and everything upsets my stomach and agitates my Balfour** gland***."

So they send in BatMoe, and BatMoe is terrific. With him is his trainee, Robin, the boy wonder, who hasn't shaved yet.

They come once to look at the problem.

The come twice with the replacement part, which they think is installed correctly according to the training video.  Why are they unfamiliar with the part?

"Yours," says BatMoe, "has this three arm designed that came out about two and a half years ago and it takes a while for these to fail.  Yours is the first to fail that I 've encountered - this just doesn't happen.  So I am doing what the video says to do, but the new arm is just flying off and getting stuck."

Boy Wonder, who is actually really good at looking at stuff on his first day of work says "What's all this jelly doing in here?"  He starts to pull out gunks of junk that look like shredded condoms. "It has no smell, no decay."

I could go one, but it took another day to unravel the mystery, including a call to the detergent manufacturer.  Long story short the solution is on the third visit:


All of the above.  It was a FUBAR all along the way.

First: The water temperature has to be 125 degrees for every dishwasher, throughout the entire cycle.  That 125 degrees is important because a) The materials in the detergent are formulated to work at that temperature for the detergent, and b) the gel-pack dissolves fully at that 125 temperature.

Second: We run the water at the beginning of the cycle to get it up to temperature, but the temperature reduces filling the dishwasher and reduces further hitting the cold dishes since the dishwasher is in on...

Third: ...an uninsulated outdoor wall.  Plus the water in the pipes cools down between fillings because the hot water tank is under the far wall in the living room because that's where the chimney is.  And even though the copper pipes are insulated there's a long enough time between cycles to let it cool down just enough.

Fourth: When the gel-pack is unable to fully dissolve that gel - which is a starch compound - gunks up the washer ports and then the heads and then the secondary holes, and when under pressure...

Fifth: The arm wall breaks, causing the leak.  BatMoe also points out that...

Sixth: The training video for the arm replacement fails to mention the correct position the arm needs to be in AND says nothing about a secondary clip that locks the arm into place by turning the assembly three clicks clockwise.  He shows me the manual, he shows me the training video and he shows me using to parts from the warehouse. And none of them say to do any of this.  So we run the washer and voila! The arm stays seated, the excess rocking is solved and it clears the racks!

Seven, and this is humiliating, but Cookie always found those products to clean out your dishwasher to a be a load of hooey, but as it turns out, not only do they descale, but they also have an enzyme that breaks down the gel-pack residue.

The Fix

I can stop using gel-paks and opt for the old-fashioned liquid or the detergent brick.

I can throw the gel-pack into the washing chamber instead of in the detergent shute in the door.

I can turn up the hot water tank.

I can choose high-temperature wash which will raise the temperature of the water by heating it in the chamber itself.

I will clean the dishwasher using a product designed to keep this from happening again.

So, why share this?  Because this really shouldn't happen, and it is better that you learn from me than have it break your wash arm and land you in a mystery of your own.

So remember, if you use gel-packs, keep the water at 125 or above.  Use a cleaner or vinegar in a bowl with a normal wash cycle, or whatever the manual says to do.   Just don't throw the damned thing in there and not think about it.

* Disease/condition of the moment, or what was covered on The Doctors on the last episode that they watched.
**It's always a body part that has some obscure, or made up name, or the name is hatched up.  Cookie's mother got dreadfully sick when he was about seven.  She was in the hospital for a week.  Turned out it was a Brenners Tumor, which she called a "Bruins Glan Tumor".  Anyway, that was for real, and scary.  And I knew it was serious when the family from Marion drove to Cleveland to see her.  We always went there, they never came to Shaker.  So it was a bad thing.
***Its always a gland.  Until it becomes a tumor.  See above.


  1. I have a 1 year old LG. I use liquid detergent and run the dishwasher empty 1x/week with a cleaner (we have hard lime water). no problems so far!

  2. Thanks for the warning--I never heard of gel-packs, but I'll be on the lookout. How are they different from or better than liquid detergent? Actually, in my last house in Moreland Hills the dishwasher (also a KitchenAid) I didn't run for 10 years, as I prefer to wash dishes by hand. I know you are supposed to run an empty cycle occasionally to keep the seals flexible and so forth, but I just never thought of it.

    1. We wash anything that has a pattern or "art" by hand, the dishwasher is for stainless, inexpensive ceramic plates, glassware. But I love a dishwasher. In the last house in Baltimore, there was no place for one in that tiny kitchen. There was no place to dry dishes, either.

  3. I wash up. In a bowl. In the sink. Jx

    1. But do you "red" up like they do in Pittsburgh?

    2. No idea what that means.

      "The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language." - GB Shaw


    3. In Pittsburghese, Red Up is to "staighten your household things up".

    4. Nothing's "straight" in this house, dearie... Jx

  4. Gel paks have to be the worst invention to come along. I ruined a washing machine using the same little nightmare modern convenience. Gummed up drain holes and solidified moving parts. Plus they COST MORE!!! What is the point of these?
    I now use basic liquid detergent in my washing machine and powder in my dishwasher. I had a very kind repair person who basically told me they LOVE gel paks, they bring lots of business. He said repair people NEVER use them at home. That's the lesson learned.

    1. Yup - they are a bad thing, if you don't run the cleaning cycles.