What Is a Dishwasher Heating Element?

Lori Kilchermann

A dishwasher heating element is responsible for two things: heating the water to a very high temperature to kill bacteria and provide better cleaning, and drying the washed dishes. The heating element is very similar to the cooking element found in an electric oven. Operated by electricity, it is easily replaced if damaged, though the elements occasionally last the lifetime of the machine without needing replacement. The most common construction for a heating element in a dishwasher is to place a ceramic coating over the heavy gauge heating element wire, with the entire component fitting into several fastening brackets to keep it evenly suspended off the washer floor.

The heating element in a dishwasher functions as a dryer and a water heater.
The heating element in a dishwasher functions as a dryer and a water heater.

One sign that a dishwasher heating element has stopped working is a dishwasher that suddenly stops cleaning the dishes in the manner that it usually does. This is typically due to the water not being heated to the proper temperature. Opening the dishwasher door directly after the wash cycle has finished and not feeling a hot steam is also a sign of a bad dishwasher heating element. When this happens, a replacement heating element is usually obtained from an appliance supply store and installed at home with a minimum of basic hand tools.

Wear disposable rubber gloves when handling a dishwasher heating element.
Wear disposable rubber gloves when handling a dishwasher heating element.

If the dishwasher is a portable type, it must be unplugged while attempting to do any work on the heating element. If the unit is a built-in model, the breaker or power supply to the machine must be disabled before attempting to perform any repairs. Failure to take this precaution can result in electric shock and even death. Even though the replacement of a dishwasher heating element is a relatively simple procedure, it is imperative that time be taken to perform the repair properly to avoid any possibility of shock to the user. It is also important to replace any damaged mounting clips to prevent the element from contacting the floor of the dishwasher and damaging it.

Many dishwasher heating element manufacturers urge the installer to avoid touching the element with bare hands. This can lead to the oil from the skin damaging the exterior coating of the heating element and causing a premature failure of the element at that point of contact. By wearing disposable rubber gloves such as the ones used when doing housecleaning, the dishwasher heating element can be safely handled without fear of damaging the protective outer coating. Most manufacturers also recommend running the dishwasher through one cycle without dishes to allow the element to cycle itself in properly and make it easy to check for proper operation.

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Discussion Comments


Modern dishwashers use electronic controls that can sense a failed heater. From that point forward, the controls will not apply power to the heater circuit until reset. Even if the bad element is replaced, the controls cannot sense that. A reset must be performed manually.

I had this happen to my Kenmore 665.1304. After replacing the heater, apply power and press any three keys in succession, repeated three times (1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3), with no more than one second in between. They must be the same three keys. You know that you have done this right when all the LEDs on the front panel light up for a few seconds. For the next 20 or so minutes, the machine will execute a built-in diagnostic routine (water will run, etc), and afterwards, the heater circuit will be re-activated.

Look around behind the kickplate, and there should be an envelope containing service information. These procedures are usually summarized therein.


We had the heating element on our dishwasher go out a few years ago. The dishwasher would still go through its normal cycle but it would only use cold water. We thought we could get by but the dishes really didn't get very clean.

We finally broke down and called a repair man. It did not take that long and the work was not that expensive. Still, it was a pain in the neck.

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