How much do you know about dishwashers?

©iStockphoto.com/George Peters

The control panels on the latest dishwashers can look intimidating. They're loaded with so many dials, push buttons, and other features that the machine looks too complex to repair. This is actually not the case. With the exception of the control panel, dishwashers haven't changed much in basic design over the last two decades. You can repair most dishwasher malfunctions yourself, and we'll discuss tips for do-it-yourself service and maintenance in this article.

Dishwasher parts can be replaced as a unit, which is often easier and less expensive than having a professional service person make repairs. If you aren't sure a part is still usable, remove it from the dishwasher and take it to a professional for testing. You can then decide whether to buy a new part or have the old one repaired on the basis of the repair estimate.

­Dishwashers usually run on 115-volt or 120-volt power. The water they use comes directly from the water heater, and wastewater is drained into the sink's drainpipe. The dishwasher is not connected to the cold-water supply. For best dishwashing results, set the temperature control of the water heater to no less than 140 degrees Farenheit. Water cooler than this usually doesn't get the dishes clean, unless your dishwasher is a newer model that preheats incoming water. The water shutoff for the dishwasher is typically located below the adjoining sink.

Caution: Because the dishwasher is connected to both the plumbing system and the electrical system, you must consider both systems when working on this appliance. Before doing any work on the dishwasher, make sure the unit is unplugged or the power to the unit is turned off, and remove the fuse or trip the circuit breaker that controls the circuit at the main entrance panel or at a separate panel. Shut off the water supply to the dishwasher at the shutoff in the basement or crawl space under the kitchen.