Refusing to be floored by dishwasher problems


A BIG LESSON in life - and in attempted home repairs - is knowing when to admit defeat. Raising the white flag and calling in the professional repairman may be a blow to the ego, but, generally speaking, it is a boon to the malfunctioning machine.

That is what I told myself recently after battling a dishwasher afflicted with wash quality problems. That meant nasty grit was stuck on supposedly "clean" glasses. A dishwasher is one of the marvels of modern life. You load dirty dishes, push buttons and soon the machine has straightened out your mess. If only other aspects of life, income taxes for example, could be cleaned up so easily.

Of the fearsome foursome of home appliances - the washer, the dryer, the refrigerator and the dishwasher - the dishwasher is the most difficult to get a wrench on. To get serious with a dishwasher you remove the kickplate under its door. This means you have to get down on the floor, flop on your belly or back, and peer into a 3-inch-high dark recess of the motor and hoses.

The other method of access, disconnecting the screws that fasten the top of the dishwasher to the kitchen cabinet, dislodging the machine from its "home" and flipping it over, seemed too risky.

Before doing the belly flop, I tried easier solutions to my grit problem. I tested the temperature of the water by sticking an instant read thermometer in a cup of hot water drawn from the tap closest to the dishwasher. It registered well over the 120 degrees minimum recommended in the dishwasher manual. Armed with my model number (stamped inside the door) I called the KitchenAid customer service line and quizzed its representatives. Basically, they told me to call a repairman.

Instead, I read up on dishwasher theory, buying a copy of Dishwasher Repair Cheap and Easy (seventh edition) written by Douglas Emley. I found this paperback at Trible's, an appliance parts shop on Greenspring Drive in Timonium. The author said his 50-page illustrated work was written for people who have some mechanical aptitude yet needed a little coaching when it came to appliances. I thought I fit that description.

In Chapter 3, I learned that grit on glasses fell under the heading of "wash quality problems" and that a potential remedy was cleaning or replacing something called the air gap.

I couldn't find my air gap. According to the book it could be a "little chrome or brass blob" sitting next to the kitchen sink faucets. I also looked for it under the sink by tracking the path of the dishwasher drain hose. It was supposed to lead to the air gap. I found the hose. One was connected to the bottom of the garbage disposal in the kitchen sink. The other end of the hose disappeared into the darkness under the dishwasher.

I considered exploring these nether reaches. But my heart, and my joints, were not up to it. I did nothing for days, scanning the repair book for other possible solutions to the problems. Meanwhile the wash quality issues mounted and the door began to leak. My family was losing patience I had visions of myself, splayed on the floor, soaked in water, trying to install a dishwasher part I couldn't see.

That was when I bowed out. I called the store where I had bought the dishwasher, Cum- mins Appliance, one of those old-fashioned outfits that services what it sells. Two repairmen ministered to the dishwasher on two separate occasions.

During the second visit, I looked on with a combination of curiosity and admiration as George, a technician of some 16 years' experience, knelt on the hard floor and replaced parts. To stop the leak, he installed a new float valve and new gasket around the door. To remedy the gritty glasses, he rigged and rerouted the drain hose so it did the work of the air gap.

Grit from the garbage disposal had been siphoning into the dishwasher though the old drain hose, he figured. I handed George a check for a little over $180, parts and labor. That, coupled with the $16 I paid for the repair book, meant my wash quality problems had set me back about $200.

Now our dishes are cleaner, if not immaculate, and I have a new appreciation of dishwasher dynamics. But I am still reluctant to get down on the cold, hard kitchen floor.

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