January 30, 2011

Home Appliance Repair Lessons

When it's already a too-full day, hearing "Michael, the dishwasher isn't draining and it's leaking all over the floor!" isn't something you want to hear. For that matter, it doesn't matter how busy one's day is, it's not something that you want to hear ever.

Lesson #1 - Sometimes, things need to get worse before they can get better.
I needed to get at the bottom of the dishwasher and that meant I needed to tip it over.  The base of the machine was filled with water.  I bailed as much water out as I could, but a small cup and a turkey baster will only get you so far.  It took a fair amount of bailing, plenty of towels, and at least one pair of socks to empty the dishwasher.  The knees on my pants were soaked.

Who knew that a dishwasher could hold so much water?

Lesson #2 - Some things look complex, but are really quite simple.
Dishwashers, like a great many modern gadgets, are designed to seem complex.  The manufacturers and appliance repair people (the few that still exist in this Age of Disposability, anyway) don't want you to know how very easy it is to repair an appliance (once you've cleaned up the mess from its failure).  They make the interiors of the devices seem as mysterious and intimidating as possible so you're more likely to hire an expert or buy a new one because that's how they make their money.  Dishwashers, however, are very simple machines; they haven't changed much in over thirty years, as the "Do-it-Yourself Home Appliance Repair Manual" that I have from the '70s can attest.

Lesson #3 - Not all hypotheses can be tested, but you can learn a lot from trying.
My hypothesis was that the machine was clogged.  Perhaps it was caused by the pickle jar with the label still attached that Fawn had put into the dishwasher.  There were little bits of pickle jar paper all over the big trap.  I removed the big trap and pulled out several other object including old twist tie wires and a broken sewing needle.  How do these things get into a dishwasher?!

Past the trap, there was another plastic screen in the basin.  It wasn't clogged.  I would have to remove that screen to see if the drainage tube was, indeed, clogged but I wouldn't be able to see into the draining tube from that angle.  I needed to tip the dishwasher over and work from the base, disconnecting the basin so I could look inside for a clog.

I tipped the machine on its front so I could get at its base and started taking the machine apart, removing tubes and disconnecting seals and more.  I was learning an awful lot about the workings of my dishwasher!  There were dishwasher parts all over the floor.

Alas, I wasn't able to access the part that I needed to check.  And here's why...

Lesson #4 - A good carpenter can blame his tools.
Did you know that they make special six-sided-star headed screws for dishwashers?  I did.  It's a good thing that I had the appropriate screwdriver heads, right?

Alas, when the screwdriver bits are softer than the actual screws, the bits don't last long.  Stupid tools.

The dishwasher's motor is attached to the drainage basin.  I couldn't remove the motor because the bit was too soft for the final screw holding the motor onto the basin.  Without the motor removed, I couldn't angle the basin the way I needed to see inside the final screen.
Lesson #5 - Maybe your problem isn't really your problem. 
By that point, I began to wonder if something else might be the problem.  Perhaps it was the magnetic switch that controlled the opening and closing of the drainage valve?  Perhaps there was something wrong with the motor/pump?  Maybe I had inadvertently cleared the blockage?

With far more time, effort, and frustration that I care to admit, I reassembled the base of the dishwasher.  Then I turned the dishwasher on, watching closely for leaking water.

It didn't take long for the machine to start leaking.  This time, I looked to see where the leaking was coming from.

I had been told that the dishwasher "wasn't draining".  Turns out, after all my disassembly efforts, that wasn't the problem at all.  Turns out, our dishwasher is designed to hold a lot more water than it did before it started leaking.  The leaking was down the side of the door, but not because the basin was full: It was because of a bad seal with the door.

I wiped off years of accumulated food crud and tried the dishwasher again.  

The leaking had stopped.

It had been as simple as that.  D'oh!

The next time one of my appliances stops working, I'll start with Lesson #5!


yukondude said...

Good advice. I have a washing machine that decided instead to was the floor yesterday. I'll be running through a similar diagnostic routine later today.

Bonnieupnorth said...

What a great story....I can just feel all the time and effort than went into least everything is cleaned out!

Scientific Chick said...

That was a fantastic story. I think one lesson here is that to find the root of a problem, one has to start with observation, instead of assumption. :)

Richard C. Lambert said...

And don't worry about that old wives tale this black cat will bring you nothing but good luck in the kitchen. how to set up a sewing machine