Inner view of a loaded dishwasher


Dishwashers are nothing short of mighty when it comes to cleaning dishes and leaving them ready to use for next time. They can significantly cut down on cleanup time, especially when compared to having to wash everything by hand. If you’ve ever wondered how dishwashers do such a standup job at cleaning your dishes, deep dive into how a dishwasher works and how each cycle leaves your dishes clean. 

Below, we’ll cover each part of the dishwashing cycle and its function:

  • Detergent 

  • Wash system 

  • Heat 

How a Dishwasher Works on the Inside

There are three elements to dishwashing that make it so effective at leaving dishes bright and shiny. Dishwashers combine detergent, wash systems and heat to help your dishes come out clean. For a heavy-duty clean that adds steam, check out the PowerBlast® cycle by Maytag brand.

Overview of how a dishwasher works

1. Detergent

A combination of cleaning agents gets dispensed at the optimal time during a cycle.


2. Wash System

Water is recirculated through spray arms, washing away food and soils. These soils are collected by filters to prevent them from being redeposited on the load then disposed of through the drain system.


3. Heat

The heating element in your dishwasher heats up water, creating optimized conditions for the detergent to break down food.

Dishwasher detergent being added to dispenser Dishwasher detergent being added to dispenser


An important component is the detergent that will be dispensed during the cycle. A combination of chemicals that help remove food particles and residue, detergent also typically includes water-softeners, anti-corrosion chemicals and enzymes that help boost wash performance. The detergent will dispense at the optimized time. While you should always stick to dishwasher detergent and never use dish soap, the specific kind of dishwasher detergent you use is completely up to you. In general, tablets and pods are more effective than powder, liquid or gel detergent. Make sure you know how to use detergent pods in the dishwasher. Always check your machine’s use and care guide to ensure you are using the appropriate detergent.

Though often overlooked, rinse aid is also an essential part for dry dishes, while also reducing leftover spots and white residue. If you’ve ever been frustrated by the dried water droplets that sometimes form on your glassware, the use of rinse aid can help prevent this problem.

Wash System

During a wash cycle, your dishwasher’s pump will force water into the water jets. Multiple spray arms will rotate as they blast water throughout the tub to remove food particles from dishes. As the food washes away, particles are trapped in a filter. The dirty water and collected soils are then disposed through the drain hose and into your garbage disposer and/or your home’s waste system. Learn more about the wash cycles and settings on your dishwasher. If your dishwasher has an air gap, that also works to prevent contaminated water from re-entering your dishwasher.

If you are looking for a dishwasher that is able to filter and disintegrate, Maytag® dishwashers offer Dual Power Filtration that flushes out food particles, making dishwasher clogs less likely.

View of dishwasher bottom rack and silverware basket View of dishwasher bottom rack and silverware basket


Another element that also plays a large role during a dishwasher cycle is heat. Your dishwasher has a heating element that is usually located at the base of the tub. This heating element heats up the water, which can reach temperatures upwards of 155ºF–hotter than the hot water from the faucet. The high water temperature is what helps break down food, while also dissolving and activating the detergent. Select Maytag® dishwashers feature a Sani Rinse option that removes 99.999% of food soil bacteria. 

While technically an optional step, the last stage of a cycle is a heated dry. The heating element that heats the water during the wash cycle will heat the tub and in turn evaporate the water off the dishes. However, if you prefer to conserve energy, you can skip this step.

Bulb icon for a Maytag Tip

Stick to detergent in the dishwasher—it’s specially formulated to activate with the high heat and dynamic wash action of your dishwasher. You can also use rinse aid in addition to detergent to help improve dishwasher drying performance at the end of a wash cycle. Don’t use dish soap–it creates suds that help when handwashing but may leak out of the dishwasher. Regular dish soap also hurts the wash performance of a dishwasher, since the foam generated cannot be pumped out so water can no longer be recirculated.

Hand pressing start button on dishwasher panel Hand pressing start button on dishwasher panel

Dishwashers typically come equipped with a control that will regulate how long the dishwasher runs. They also have sensors that can detect how much soil is present on the dishes, which allows the dishwasher to know how much water to dispense and how long to run the cycle for. 

Most dishwashers have a “quick wash” that will run 30 to 60 minutes, a typical “normal” cycle that runs about 90 to 120 minutes and a “heavy-duty” cycle can last up to four hours. Some options, like heated dry, add time so check your settings if you want a shorter wash. Your home and hot water heater temperatures can significantly alter run time.

Learn more about how dishwashers can help save water.


Today’s dishwasher cycles are able to use low amounts of water, but cycles last slightly longer. A new ENERGY STAR® certified dishwasher uses less than half as much energy as washing dishes by hand and saves an average 3,870 gallons of water within the machine’s life span.1 Learn how to compare dishwasher energy usage with this article on how to read an Energy Guide label. You can also compare different types of dishwashers to determine which option is best for your household.

Explore Maytag® dishwashers

Maytag® dishwashers offer features you can trust to get the job done. With features like a PowerBlast® cycle and a Steam Sanitize option on select models, you can tackle your family's tough messes.




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