How I Used A Hacksaw To Clean My Dishwasher

Caution: This post contains disturbing imagery. Do you view unless you have time to clean your dishwasher immediately.

This week’s learning experience: I attempted a minor household repair that people often outsource. I made a tremendous hash of it, but with the help of Internet strangers, I ultimately prevailed.

See, the dishes were not getting clean in the dishwasher. A vinegar cleaning was not effective, so I knew I needed to take the floor apart and clean the underneath.

This is supposed to be a simple procedure with a few basic steps:

  1. Remove lower spray arm by removing the nut holding it in place.
  2. Take out screws with special star-shaped screwdriver.
  3. Disconnect white tube thing at back and remove the screw under it.
  4. Lift up filter, clean, then reassemble.

That seemed straightforward, so I started by turning the nut with needle nose pliers. Or sometimes I held it still and spun the arm.

Oops.

Oops.

Now that would have been fine. There were two problems with my plan: One, the nut in my particular machine doesn’t actually come off. As I was told in the MMM forums, the arm is supposed to sort of walk up the nut and come off, leaving the nut behind.

Two, it’s a right hand bolt. I had been turning it in the wrong direction for like half an hour. By now, I could not get the nut to move. The arms were jammed underneath the threads of the nut and would not “walk” back up. I waited thirty-six hours for Mr. FP to come back from his trip because he’s better with unscrewing things. No dice. Still stuck.

I despaired. There may have been tears. Since he got back Thursday, New Year’s Eve, I knew that even if I had wanted to blow a bunch of money calling a plumber, I wouldn’t be able to do that until Monday. And I emphatically did not want to drop a hundred some dollars on plumbing, especially with my car needing work this month.

Instead, I decided to destroy the nut. Lacking any suitable cutting tools, I bought a mini-hacksaw at Walmart and sliced off the top of the nut. Removing the top was super satisfying. Then I had to poke around in there with a screwdriver and whatnot until I was able to pull up the spray arm.

20160103_172359

What was left of the retaining nut after I hacked at it.

That exposed the screws I needed to unscrew. I already owned a set of star-shaped and other “precision” screwdrivers left over from when I tried unsuccessfully to disassemble my phone. It was a little flimsy for the task, but got the job done. Then I needed to sort of yank on the white tube on the back to expose another screw and detach it from the bottom tube, but that came off surprisingly easily.

I think I paid $5 for these at Home Depot.

I think I paid $5 for these at Home Depot. I put the dishwasher one in backwards so I’ll remember which one to use next time.

Friends, under there was the most disgusting thing I have ever been a part of in my entire life. And I have children. It was like a slime palace. It was like there was a slime emperor, the Nero of slime if you will, and he had stripped all the riches of his slime kingdom and used them all to build this extravagant, vulgar imperial monument to his own slimy grandness.

20160103_170757 20160103_170748

I read that you should remove the water under there with a wet vac if you have one. I don’t, so rather than use towels (ewwww), I used my turkey baster. I’m sure I can disinfect it later. I removed a lot of the loose goo with a plastic putty knife before I started wiping. This part was not actually that difficult, although it was gross and smelly. All the goo wipes up with a damp paper towel, no chemicals or elbow grease required. The hard part was accessing the goo, much of which was in hard-to-reach places. I often used a pipe cleaner.

Just when I thought I was done, I discovered that the filter comes off the little table thing underneath and discovered a new store of ickiness to clean.

This would have seemed pretty gross had I not seen the rest of it already.

This would have seemed pretty gross had I not seen the rest of it already.

Having done that, I was still left with the problem of having destroyed the retaining nut. A little searching gave me the part number, then I found it on Amazon. Unfortunately, it’s an $18 piece of plastic. On the other hand, it was available with Prime shipping. (Amazon did not recognize my model number, so I had to consult other sources.) I was emotionally prepared to wait at least a week for the part, so you can imagine how psyched I was to get two-day shipping. ‘Cause I am not enamored of sink-washing dishes.

It arrived. I remembered where it went and installed it. I put back in all the little star-shaped screws. And then… I could not get the spray arm back on. It wouldn’t engage with the threads. Indeed, I had the disorienting sensation that the spray arm was threaded backwards from the nut.

The indented part at 9 o'clock should be pointing up and the flat part at 6 o'clock should be pointing down.

The indented part at 9 o’clock need to be pointing up and the flat part at 6 o’clock needed to be pointing down.

That’s because it WAS. I went back to the Mr. Money Mustache forums and consulted again with my new friend, the one who told me about how the arm is supposed to walk up and encouraged me to try the hacksaw. From a picture I posted, he diagnosed the problem–I had deformed the spray arm. I was all set to buy a new one, but he said I could fix it with some needle-nose pliers and a screwdriver. I just needed to push one side up and the other side down, forming a sort of helical shape to engage with the threads. Once I had done that–and it was not pretty work, but since the damn thing was already broken, I had nothing to lose–I gave it one more try and it spun right back on. Phew! I would have done an end-zone dance right there in my kitchen, but I was too busy starting the dishwasher. (Empty load with vinegar to finish cleaning it out.)

Hats off to zolotiyukeri, whoever he may be in the real world, the nicest guy on the Internet. He took apart his own functioning dishwasher to better examine its workings so that he could advise me. He answered questions again and again and again. I have no doubt I would have had to call a repairman without a little hand-holding on this one.

I would rather not have spent the $21 dollars, but at least  didn’t have to shell out for a plumber. And next time I clean my dishwasher, the chances are excellent that I will manage NOT to destroy the retaining nut, and it won’t cost my anything.

I probably won’t even need my hacksaw.

Have you ever overcomplicated a simple job? What was your outcome?

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About frugalparagon

I'm a part-time librarian and mom to two small boys. I blog about striving for the long-term goal of financial independence while running a tight ship at home.

2 responses to “How I Used A Hacksaw To Clean My Dishwasher”

  1. Sara says :

    This was amazing… I laughed out loud at the slime emperor and I am now fearful about what is lurking under my own dishwasher. Great post!

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