A broken water heater can be a massive annoyance and inconvenience. One of the things you might be worried about when your water heater breaks is using your dishwasher.

So, does your dishwasher work even if you have a broken water heater?

You can run a dishwasher with a broken water heater because most modern dishwashers have their own heating elements.

Additionally, even if your dishwasher doesn’t have its own heating element, you can run it with cold water, as doing so doesn’t damage the dishwasher or the dishware.

The rest of this article will discuss whether a dishwasher works without hot water and why hot water is important to use when washing your dishes.

Let’s get started!

Do Dishwashers Work Without Hot Water?

An open dishwasher loaded full of dishes in a white kitchen operating without a water heater
Dishwashers can work without hot water thanks to independent heating elements.

Most dishwashers work without hot water, but if your water heater is broken, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re without hot water for your dishwasher.

How is this possible?

Most modern dishwashers have their own heating elements independent of your home’s water heater.

Even if it’s broken, the machine can heat cold or lukewarm water to a sufficient temperature.

One downside is that your normal dishwashing cycle may take longer because it’ll take time for your machine to register the right temperature and clean the dishes.

Usually, it takes around one minute to heat the water one degree.

Therefore, if the water entering your machine isn’t hot because your water heater is broken, you’ll have to wait a bit longer for your dishes.

Typically, this heating element is located at the base of the tub.

Water from a water heater usually enters the dishwasher at 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius). The heating element can bring it to 155 degrees Fahrenheit (68 degrees Celsius).

Some older dishwashers don’t have a separate heating element. In this case, you can still run the dishwasher with a broken water heater, but your dishes won’t get as clean as with hot water.

However, if your dishwasher is set up to pull from the hot water supply, it will only work if you didn’t completely cut off the supply to the water heater.

If you turn off the water completely, the dishwasher won’t have access to any water and won’t run at all.

Cold water doesn’t damage the machine, so you don’t need to worry about potentially breaking your dishwasher if you use it while your water heater is broken.

However, you may notice that the performance significantly decreases, and your dishes aren’t as clean.

Additionally, if you habitually run the dishwasher with a broken water heater, you might end up overworking your machine and reducing its longevity.

Why It’s Important To Use Hot Water in Your Dishwasher

Why is having hot water so important?

There are many reasons dishwashers pull water from the hot water supply and have their own heating components to increase the temperature even further.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why it’s important to use hot water in your dishwasher when you can.

Hot Water Breaks Down Food Residue More Effectively

A row of dirty dishes loaded into a dishwasher rack
You need hot water to get rid of messes like these on your dishes.

Hot water melts fatty deposits and loosens sticky and stubborn foods and any residue on dishes.

Therefore, you risk not getting as thorough of a clean if you use cold water.

You also risk damaging or breaking your dishes and glassware if you spend too long scrubbing at a stubborn piece of food, which you’re less likely to do using hot water than cold.

You can rectify this issue by rinsing and scrubbing your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher.

Alternatively, you can try hand-washing your dishes with cold water.

However, keep in mind that hand-washing dishes is often less environmentally sustainable than using a dishwasher.

For more information, check out my article comparing the sustainability of using a dishwasher versus hand-washing dishes.

If you’re forced to hand-wash dishes because of a broken water heater, I highly suggest boiling water beforehand so you have hot water to use.

Wear rubber gloves to protect your skin from the hot water.

Hot Water Cleans Dishes More Quickly

In many cases, you’ll have to spend more time cleaning the dishes to get them as clean as you’d like them to be if you’re using cold water, whether by spending more time hand washing them or running them through the dishwasher more than once.

Additionally, hot water dries more quickly than cold water on dishes.

Therefore, you’re less likely to see any water spots or streaks on your dishes and glassware if you use hot water, and you’ll save time.

How Water Kills Germs and Bacteria

Another reason why you should use hot water to wash dishes is that hot water can kill germs and bacteria more effectively than cold water.

However, you should always use dish detergent to ensure everything is completely clean. I also recommend soaking dishes in a sanitizing solution.

Using hot water instead of cold water also makes your dish soap more effective, especially if using powdered formula.

This enables you to use less while still getting a great clean, so you’ll save money on cleaning products without sacrificing health and hygiene.

Signs of a Broken Water Heater

Now that it’s recommended to use hot water in your dishwasher for efficiency, what are the tell tale signs that your water heater is broken?

Read on to find out.

  • No hot water: This is the most obvious reason that your water heater is faulty. If the water heater is not functioning correctly, it won’t supply hot water to the dishwasher.
  • Inadequate hot water: If the water coming into the dishwasher is not hot enough, it may indicate a problem with the water heater. This could be due to a faulty thermostat or heating element in the water heater.
  • Fluctuating water temperature: Fluctuating water temperatures during a wash cycle may be a sign of an issue with the water heater. Inconsistent temperatures can be caused by a malfunctioning thermostat.
  • Leaking water heater: Water pooling around the base of the water heater is a sign of a problem. Leaks can be caused by various issues, including a corroded tank or a faulty pressure relief valve.
  • Rusty water: If the hot water coming out of your taps or into your dishwasher appears rusty or discolored, it could be a sign of corrosion inside the water heater tank.
  • Reduced water flow: A reduction in the amount of hot water reaching the dishwasher may indicate a blockage or other issues in the water heater’s plumbing.


You can run a dishwasher with a broken water heater, especially if it’s a modern dishwasher.

Many recent dishwashers feature independent heating elements that can help bring the water to an appropriate temperature for cleaning.

While using cold water in a dishwasher doesn’t hurt the machine in any way, it is more difficult and time-consuming to get dishes completely clean.

Also, have you ever wondered if hand-washing dishes saves water (and money) vs. using a dishwasher? If so, check out our complete article on that exact topic here.

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