Why Are Your Dishwasher Racks Sticking Open or Closed?

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Dishwasher racks are an essential part of the dishwashing assembly. If you had to load all your dishes on stationary racks that sat inside the washer frame, it would be nearly impossible to get an efficient and well-spaced stack for each wash. That is why the tracks roll out so you can load and unload the dishwasher more easily. However, trouble arises when your dishwasher racks stop doing what they are supposed to.

A dishwasher rack that sticks doesn’t seem like a big problem until you’re struggling with the rack every time you try to fill or empty a load. Even a one-time problem can stop your dishes in their tracks and leave you hand-washing for the evening. So let’s take a closer look at what could have gone wrong and how to get your dishwasher back into performing condition.     

Silverware is In the Way

The single most common problem for a stuck dishwasher rack is silverware. Narrow pieces of flatware, straws, or utensil handles will slip between the plastic grid of your silverware basket. When that happens, there is essentially a metal (or plastic) post connecting the bottom of the dishwasher drawer to the bottom of the dishwasher cabinet. The silverware might catch on the heating element, the sprayer arms, or the actual track below the rack.

Start by crouching beside your dishwasher and closely inspect the space just below the caught rack. Wiggle it back and forth, see if one of the pieces of silverware in the basket wiggles correspondingly. Get a feel for where the blockage is, then find the metal or plastic causes. Pull out the fallen utensil and place it somewhere a little safer.

Fill your flatware basket with care to avoid this problem. For smaller-ended utensils, prop them into corners of the basket compartment where the under-grid squares are smaller. Figure out of heads-up or handles-up prevents this problem more effectively in your dishwasher. 

Something has Hooked the Basket

Another problem can be if the basket is hooked onto the basket or rack. Often, accidental connections between the two racks can be a problem. For example, if the handle of a spatula falls or the loop of a cullender catches the rack below, or if a tall item catches the rack above, this can prevent both racks from moving freely. Your dishwasher racks may act like they are stuck but in reality, they are stuck on each other.

Be careful with loading the dishwasher. Watch out for overly tall items on the bottom rack and items with long or drop-down handles on the top shelf. Do not allow the upper rack to catch the lower one, or vice versa. When you close the dishwasher, test to make sure the two racks can open and close independently from each other and that nothing is about to shake out of place when water starts to fly. 

A Pan is Blocking the Wheels or Track

A tall pan on the lower shelf has another hazard as well- sitting directly in the track. Imagine a large cookie sheet or cutting board placed in the slot closest to the side-wall of the dishwasher. As it settles, the pan leans back and the tall side winds up directly between the wheels of the upper track. When the dishwasher completes and you try to pull the top drawer to grab a glass, it sticks. It clangs. It refuses to open or pulls the bottom rack with it.

The reason for this is the pan blocking the track. Peer inside and the solution is simple: just lean that lower pan forward and two racks will unhook from each other.  You should also watch out for this phenomenon with drop-down frying pan hands. If you place frying pans on their side in the dishwasher, the handles can swivel downward until they can catch onto the rack or track below. 

Hard Water Scale has Jammed the Tracks

Another common problem is common hard water. Hard water flows through about 90 percent of American homes, to varying degrees. Hard water is water that contains extra chalky or salty minerals like magnesium, calcium, and iron. These minerals leave ‘scale’ residue, a white chalky residue that builds up on anything water passes or dries upon. Hard water is the reason for “water spots” on your glasses and that crunchy off-white stuff around every faucet.

Scale is particularly bad for your dishwasher, as it clogs nozzles and hinders the smooth actuation of your tracks. Because scale makes everything chalky, it’s bad for actuating parts. Fortunately, it’s easy to break up. Pour a cup of hot water and vinegar over your dishwasher tracks and then wipe them down (inside and outside) with a wet cloth.This will remove that crunch residue that is making your rolling tracks crunchy. Without the scale, your tracks should roll smoothly again. 

The Dishwasher Track Latch is Open

Finally, don’t neglect the latches at the end of each track. If your racks won’t come out (or are falling out) or won’t close, look at the latches. These are little flip-clips at the end of each rack post. The clips ensure that the dishwasher racks don’t roll all the way off when they roll out. However, if these latches are flipped only partially, they can seriously get in the way of the usual track operating procedure. Make sure your racks are mounted properly and that your track latches are flipped closed and locked into place. 

—Is your dishwasher not acting the way it should? SImple mechanical problems like a stuck dishwasher track can often be solved with simple solutions at home. However, if your dishwasher is acting upon an electrical or plumbing level, we are ready to help. Contact an experienced appliance repair technician to troubleshoot and repair a problematic dishwasher. You deserve to be able to wash your dishes without getting up to the elbows in soap suds. We would be proud to help make that dishwasher work for you, not the other way around.

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