Dishwasher Leaving White Residue – Soapy Dishes!

Updated: | Author: Brad Javernick | Affiliate links may be present.

Discovering white residue or soapy residue on your dishes after they’ve gone through the dishwasher can be unpleasant.

Not just because it alters the taste of your food and drinks, but also because having to additionally wash them by hand negates the whole point of using a dishwasher in the first place.

If your dishwasher is leaving soapy residue on your dishes, this may be caused by using too much detergent, or not using the right one for your dishwasher.

You should also check the dishwasher’s water heater to ensure that the water is hot enough to wash off the detergent properly. It’s also a good idea to give your dishwasher a thorough cleaning every once in a while.

Hard Water – The Obvious Culprit

If your area is notorious for hard water, this might be the primary reason behind this issue. Ideally, you should be using a dishwasher with a built-in water softener to combat this.

But even if your model doesn’t have this feature, you can get hold of an external water softener or even a ready-to-use powder that acts against hard water.

So, how does hard water achieve this unwanted result exactly, you might be wondering. It does so thanks to the presence of minerals like calcium and magnesium, which result in the white film/residue that you see on your dishes.

It’s the same thing that does exactly the same to your bathroom fixtures. So, unless you install a whole house water softener, you’ll never get sparkling clean dishes and glasses out of your dishwasher unless you use specific detergent booster products or softening solutions for your dishwasher.

Are You Using Too Much Detergent?

Using too much detergent is one of the most common reasons for finding excess residue on your dishes. Look for any soap left in the bottom of the dishwasher – that’s a good indication that this is the issue you’re dealing with.

Pay attention to the manufacturer’s guidelines about how much detergent should be used, and see if your detergent has any specific instructions as well.

Some detergents are stronger than others and require a smaller amount – sometimes just a fraction of what you’d normally use with a regular detergent.

Try a New Detergent

If your dishes are still soapy after a dishwasher cycle, this could also be caused by using the wrong type of detergent. Dishwasher detergents come in tablet, gel, and powder forms.

Sometimes your dishwasher might not work well with a specific type. It can be hard to know which one is ideal for your specific dishwasher without trying all options and observing the results.

You can’t trust online discussions for a quick answer either, as the detergents available on your local market may be completely different from those in another part of the world. Manufacturers often adapt their products to regional factors like water hardness.

Unless you can guarantee that the discussions you’re reading are specific to your local area, they might not provide you with any good insight into your situation.

Check the Dishwasher’s Water Heater

If your dishwasher is not rinsing soap residue properly, this could be caused by issues with the water heater. If the water isn’t hot enough during the rinse cycle, the excess soap residue will not get washed off completely.

It can be difficult to diagnose and repair a dishwasher water heating element by yourself. This is usually a job that requires a specialist, both for your own safety and for the safety of your dishwasher.

These appliances are usually very complex internally, and one small mistake can compromise the entire operation of the machine. Stay on the safe side and pay a professional to take a look and repair/replace any parts.

There’s also a tiny possibility that your machine is simply using less water than what’s required for any reason. Perhaps there’s a setting for it somewhere, or some sensor is not functioning as intended. In any case, I’d recommend resetting your dishwasher once to rule this out.

Run a Cleaning Cycle

Some stores sell special dishwasher cleaning solutions that can be used to give your dishwasher a thorough cleaning. These can work very well but are usually a bit expensive.

Alternatively, you can use vinegar and baking soda. This is a classic combination for cleaning various household appliances – not just dishwashers, but also washing machines and electric kettles.

Simply fill a small container with a couple of cups of vinegar, place it in the top tray, and run the dishwasher for a short cycle. Make sure there’s nothing else inside other than the container of vinegar.

You can then run an additional cycle with a little baking soda sprinkled around the bottom. Once this is done, your dishwasher should look brand new on the inside. And it should smell that way too.

Rinse Your Glasses Before Using Them

This doesn’t really address the core problem, but it’s still something worth trying if none of the above solutions produce any satisfying results.

Before filling a glass with drinking water (or whatever else you’re going to use it for), give it a quick rinse with cold water. This will help get rid of small buildups of detergent residue.

Of course, this is far from an ideal solution, and it only works with glasses. You can’t easily rinse out dishes before using them. At this point, you might as well wash them completely.

If you need a temporary solution until you’re able to resolve the main problem, this should work fine. But be ready to deal with whatever is causing your dishwasher to not rinse out detergent properly in the near future. If you don’t address this problem early enough, it will only get worse over time.

Wrong Way of Loading Your Dishes

We often get a new appliance, unbox it, and don’t hesitate at all before throwing aside its user manual.

If you’re like that, you might have missed some dish loading instructions meant for your specific machine. Ignoring that is probably leading to some of your dishes (or parts of them) not receiving adequate water, resulting in white residue.

Just to rule this possibility out, I recommend quickly going through your dishwasher’s manual once (if you can’t find it anymore, just search for it online with your model number).

Clogged Spray Arm of Your Dishwasher

This is less common than the other causes mentioned above, but if you’re not getting any success even after following the advice above, it might be worthwhile to take a look at your dishwasher’s spray arm.

If your house has specifically hard water, or if you rarely get your dishwasher serviced, its spray arm (the part that sprays water on your dishes) tends to get clogged.

In that case, your machine fails to throw water evenly in all directions, resulting in some dishes receiving inadequate amounts of water, and are thus left with a white, soapy residue.

I wouldn’t really recommend a DIY fix for this, but if you’re too eager and can identify and access the part, it might get fixed with the help of a diluted vinegar solution (it’s known to dissolve hard water salts). My best advice would be to simply call your dishwasher’s support department and get it serviced.

When I faced this personally a couple of years ago with my GE Dishwasher, it took only 3 days for them to arrive and fix the issue by servicing the part. In the worst case, they might ask you to replace it altogether.


If your dishwasher keeps leaving residue on your dishes, this is indicative of a problem that requires immediate attention.

Sometimes the solution is as simple as using a different type of detergent, or just using less of it. In other cases, you might need to call a professional to do some maintenance on your dishwasher.

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About Brad Javernick

Brad is a licensed home inspector and the editor of Home Oomph. He's a massive DIYer, and loves to take on new home renovation projects!

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