How To Clean Dishwasher Heating Element: 5 Methods

If you notice a coating of mineral deposits or that plastic has melted on your dishwasher’s heating element, it is time to clean it. The plastic or scale buildup on the heating element can cause it to fail

Luckily, cleaning a dishwasher’s heating element is easy. Use these simple methods and your appliance will work like it’s new again in no time.

How To Clean Dishwasher Heating Element

The methods below offer multiple ways to clean the dishwasher heating element, either to remove mineral deposits or melted plastic.  

Before beginning, turn off the electricity and the waterline to your dishwasher. Empty the appliance and let it cool down.

Remove Limescale

Minerals in hard water, such as calcium and magnesium, can build up in appliances that use heated water. 

In a dishwasher, once the water evaporates, you can notice light gray or white chalky, lumpy, mineral deposits behind.  

This harmless residue can build up rather quickly and transform into a thicker layer that becomes difficult to remove. You may even see these white-colored stains on your glassware and dishes, indicating that you have hard water. 

You will need to check and clean your heating element more often if you have hard water.

It is not advisable to remove the heating element from the dishwasher for cleaning, since it may cause further damage. 

However, if you choose to remove it, this video shows how to take out and replace it:

Use one or both of the following methods to remove scale deposits. 

1. Use Vinegar and Steel Wool

Vinegar contains acetic acid, a substance that can dissolve grease and mineral deposits, and kill bacteria.

Things you need:

  • Pouring cup (dishwasher safe; minimum of 1-cup capacity)
  • White vinegar (distilled)
  • Steel wool pad or brush

Make sure your dishwasher is empty and cooled down, and then complete the following steps:

  1. Pour the white vinegar into the pouring cup. Then pour the vinegar directly onto the heating element tubing. 
  2. Let the vinegar sit on the heating element for five minutes.
  3. Use steel wool to scrub the deposits off. Wrap the steel wool around the element and scrub underneath as well.
  4. Pour more vinegar into the pouring cup and set it upright on the top shelf of the dishwasher. Reconnect the electricity and plumbing, as needed. 
  5. Run your dishwasher on its hottest setting. This will clean all interior parts, including the chunks of mineral deposits you scraped off.

Note: A steel wool pad is the best choice for cleaning the heating element. The pad allows you to apply softer pressure compared to a brush. If you decide to use a brush, avoid applying too hard pressure that could damage the element.

An alternative is to use lemon juice as an acidic cleaner. If the mineral deposits are stubborn, you can repeat this process or try the following method.

2. Use CLR And A Toothbrush

Calcium-Lime-Rust Remover (CLR) is a commercial cleaner you can use for removing mineral deposits from toilet bowls, shower walls, and appliances like dishwashers. 

This is a non-toxic product, but you should read the safety label for your particular bottle before using it.

Then complete the following steps:

  1. Run the dishwasher without any detergent to spread hot water all over the interior. Refer to your owner’s manual, and stop the appliance mid-cycle. Generally, all you have to do is push the pause button to unlock the door. 
  2. Open the door and spray a generous amount of CLR on everything, including the heating element. Let it sit for two minutes. Scrub the heating element with the toothbrush. 
  3. Resume the dishwasher cycle until it is finished.
    • If you still notice deposits, repeat with CLR or scrub using the vinegar and steel wool method described above.
  4. Run the dishwasher one more time (empty cycle) to rinse it thoroughly.

If the above methods do not work, then the heating element likely needs replacement

You should also consider if your whole-house water system needs filtration or a water softener to reduce or eliminate mineral deposits in your plumbing system.

Remove Melted Plastic

Melted plastic will adhere to the heating element, making it stop working or ineffectively heat. The heating element will also heat the chemicals in the plastic, releasing them into the air, which can be toxic to breathe in.

Even dishwasher-safe plastic can melt if it is on the bottom rack of the dishwasher near the heating element, or falls from the top shelf and touches it. 

Melted plastic on the heating element should be removed immediately to get rid of the odor and to keep your heating element functioning as it should. 

Open windows to ventilate, turn off the electrical source, empty the dishwasher, and allow it to cool down completely.

Try the following three methods before replacing the heating element or buying a new appliance. 

1. Use A Razor Blade To Scrape

Gather the following supplies:

  • Liquid pouring cup
  • Razor blade
  • Steel wool pad
  • Baking soda
  • Tap water
  • Small bowl for mixing
  • Lemon juice

Complete the following steps:

  1. Open the windows to ventilate the kitchen and eliminate any odors. Remove the bottom shelf from the dishwasher.
  2. Pick off the large pieces of melted plastic with your fingers. Try using metal tongs if you need a longer reach. Be cautious to not pull at the heating element so that it becomes warped.
  3. Use the razor blade to carefully scrape any of the remaining plastic off, using care not to damage the heating element.
  4. Make a baking soda paste with warm water. Mix ½-cup of baking soda with three tablespoons of water. Add more baking soda or water to get a thick, yet spreadable paste as needed.
  5. Dip the steel wool pad into the baking soda paste and scrub at the remaining plastic residue. Rinse with warm water, connect the electricity, and then run the dishwasher through a cycle.
  6. If the dishwasher smells of burnt plastic, clean the machine with bleach or vinegar. 
    • Continue to ventilate the area when working with bleach. 
    • You can also pour a half-cup of lemon juice into the bottom of the machine and run it through a cycle.

2. Use a Hairdryer to Remelt The Plastic

You should only use this method if you can plug the hairdryer into a Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) to prevent electrical shock near water sources. 

Gather the following items:

  • Metal tongs
  • Wooden kitchen utensil or ruler
  • Hairdryer
  • Steel wool pad
  • Baking soda
  • Lemon juice

Complete the following steps:

  1. Open windows to ventilate the plastic odor out. Empty the dishwasher and allow it to cool down. Remove the bottom shelf.
  2. Using your hairdryer at the highest heat setting, heat the stuck plastic. 
  3. As the plastic softens, use a wooden utensil or ruler to scrape it off of the heating element.
  4. Sprinkle baking soda on any remaining plastic, and scrub over it with the steel wool pad.
  5. Pour a half-cup of lemon juice into the machine and run it through a cycle to eliminate odor.

3. Use Ice Cubes To Harden The Plastic

Polypropylene, polystyrene, and PVC plastics become brittle in temperatures below 32°F. 

If the melted plastic is one of these materials, then you can freeze and break it off. Even if you don’t know what kind of plastic is melted on your heating element, this is worth a try!

Gather the following materials:

  • Ice cubes
  • Zippered plastic bags
  • Razor blade
  • Acetone 
  • Warm water
  • Baking soda
  • Clean dishcloths or rags
  • Steel wool pad
  • Lemon juice

Complete the following steps:

  1. Put four or more ice cubes in the zippered plastic bag. You will want the ice bag to sit on top of the melted plastic, so adjust the number of cubes accordingly.
    • Remove air from the bag by squeezing it out as you zip it up. 
    • If you have multiple sections with plastic on it, make an ice bag for each part.
  2. Lay the ice bag on the melted plastic for 20 minutes to freeze it. 
  3. Once 20 minutes have passed, check the plastic to see if it is hard enough to be removed or break off. If not, try waiting an additional ten minutes. 
  4. Carefully use the razor blade to scrap at any stubborn pieces, taking care not to damage the heating element.

If plastic remains:

  1. Soak a dishcloth with acetone and place it over the plastic for ten minutes to break it down further. Use the razor blade again.
  2. Sprinkle baking soda on the plastic and scrub with the steel wool pad.

To Finish:

  1. Use warm water to rinse the heating coil and remove any loose remnants. 
  2. Remove any visible plastic pieces that have fallen off into the machine. 
  3. Run the dishwasher on a full cycle with a cup of lemon juice sitting on the top rack to remove odor.


Does my dishwasher have a heating element?

Many new models of dishwashers use condensation drying without an exposed heating element at the bottom. 

If you see a black ring at the bottom of the dishwasher, then you have a heating element.

What causes a dishwasher heating element to fail?

If the water does not heat up enough to clean the dishes, then the heating element has likely failed. 

This can be due to limescale formation, a broken heating element, or a short circuit. 

Cleaning or replacement of the heating element will need to take place.

How do I remove the melted plastic odor from my dishes and glassware?

Put baking soda in the soap compartment of your dishwasher. Run it on a full cycle with the dishes and glassware inside. If the odor remains, repeat until it is gone.

In Conclusion

Water scale deposits or melted plastic can build up on the heating element in your dishwasher. 

To ensure that your dishwasher functions properly, remove these from the heating element using deposit removers and gentle scraping. 

When in doubt, contact a professional before replacing the heating element or buying a new appliance.

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