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My vintage KDS-21 Kitchenaid dishwasher: 3 steps forward, 2 steps back

The other possible subtitle of this story is: I have some good news and some bad news. Which do you want to hear first?

I am a glass-half-full kind of person, so I will start with the good news:

I have a new-to-me vintage Kitchenaid dishwasher installed in the kitchen! Woooooot! Needing a new dishwasher and disgusted by the short lifespans of current dishwashers, I turned to my tried-and-true method: Buy vintage.

To research this topic, the automaticwasher “Imperial” forum was my go-to place.  There are several of models that seem popular among the experts, including old Kitchenaid dishwashers still made by Hobart or using Hobart technology. These are apparently a DREAM in terms of longevity. And automaticwasher.org is a DREAM in terms of expertise! So fun!

So I started regularly searching craigslist. Finally, I went for the pounce and recently, drove four hours roundtrip to buy this beautiful KDS-21 Kitchenaid Superba dishwasher. The dishwasher was in wonderful condition — the seller was remodeling. I also got two original booklets, a features-and-usage booklet and an installation guide.

My plumber Paul — who also had installed my Dishmaster — came the same week I called and was a dream to work with in terms of getting the dishwasher into the space and all hooked up. 

Okay, the bad news:

She won’t turn on. We are sure there is electricity coming out of the plug. 

Mind the Gap: The plumber had to add wood supports to the bottom of the dishwasher to close the gap underneath my countertop. My floors are not level, so I recall that when we installed the cabinetry, the entire line of cabinetry along this wall had to be shimmed so that the countertop was level. The dishwasher has little adjustable legs on it that also can adjust the height. Even with those extended to their fullest point, we had a 5/8″ or so gap. Yes, I need to detail clean the dishwasher’s exterior.

Before I try and find someone locally who can help get my darling Kitchenaid going, I will be reaching out to automaticwasher for help.

Midmorning update #1:  The folks at automaticwasher responded immediately to my “Damsel in Dish-tress” post on their site. Within the hour, “toploader” asked me if a “white rubber pointy thing” was where it should be, providing more info.

Well golly, wouldn’t you know it, but indeed, a little white rubber pointy thing HAD popped off the dishwasher at some point early on, and we couldn’t figure out where it had come from. Fortunately, I had saved it. And even more fortunately, I put it somewhere where I found it.

So now I need to glue it back on. It’s some kind of sensor trigger or something — when you close the door, the white rubber pointy thingy presses a metal thingy. Maybe this means “the door is really closed”? I don’t know. 

I also heard from another helpful automaticwasher-er where I could get a replacement if the glue does not hold. 

Another reason I went for this particular Kitchenaid model: The front panels can be changed out. I plan to swap out the white plastic (yes, that’s a sheet of some sort of plastic) for the aquamarine-colored steel panel on my old dishwasher. The steel for that panel was taken right from the side of an extra kitchen cabinet from my salvaged set. I will have to have the current one-piece panel cut into two-pieces to size — one for the door, one of the bottom plate (see top photo to see the KDS-21 with both cover plates). 

Interestingly, I am not particularly annoyed by how this played out — update: is playing out. After all, around here we do things The Hard Way. And even sans suds, I give this project “three steps forward” because golly, my vintage Kitchenaid dishwasher is so pretty. So collectible. So substantial. And assuming I can get her working: A proven workhorse! 

UPDATE: See my followup video — my dishwasher works like a charm!

  1. Kris says:

    I also have a KithenAid dishwasher that came with the house when I bought it 7 years ago, your photo made me run to the kitchen to check the model (KUDC)–it’s built like a tank. My 1930, large-boned Tudor-esque house with lots of open space inside, got central AC and a modernized kitchen in the mid-1980s, so I’m pretty sure the dishwasher is from around 1985. But the furnishings I’ve put in place are all midcentury walnut and teak, and the house seems to love it! All toilets and bathroom sinks are original 1928 Standard Sanitary Manufacturing Co. and I’m keeping them as-is. Thanks for the FANTASTIC writing about your dishwasher!

  2. Pat says:

    I have a Kitchen Aid dishwasher just like that, came with our house when we bought it 8 years ago, still works like a champ! One of the buttons keeps popping off, but I just push it back on.

  3. donna poynter says:

    Just curious, but would this house be located in New Mexico? We had a home in Alamogordo with what appears to be the exact same kitchen. I absolutely adored the house, but being in the military, we had to move on. All the appliances in our home at the time worked like a charm!!

  4. Troy says:

    You’re post just helped me get my dishwasher running again. It’s incredible ! I have the same model. Here all this time I thought we had an electrical problem. My junk drawer is so close to the dishwasher that I can only open it when the dishwasher door is open. The junk drawer had bent that rubber point, and it wasn’t aiming where it needed to rendering my dishwasher inoperable. I was just bored and googled my dishwasher and found your post, and viola . Thank you !

  5. Kelly says:

    The dishwasher is gorgeous and looks wonderful in your kitchen! I’m in the process of trying to find a vintage Kitchenaid dishwasher in white. So far, I have only found black and almond. Now that I know the panels can be swapped out, I may just buy a black or almond one and find a new panel to match the rest of my white appliances. I have slowly been replacing all my newer appliances for vintage. I have purchased a 1963 GE Spacemaker fridge, a 1963 Hotpoint stove and a very nice 1979 Maytag washer and dryer set. I have gotten lots of help over at automaticwasher.org with advice and troubleshooting problems. The people there are absolutely wonderful and so helpful!

    1. Dooley says:

      Just curious where you located the black and almond Kitchenaid. We are looking for a Superba 21 to replace the keypad panel on ours. Our Superba works great, but the keypad needs an upgrade. Any thoughts are appreciated.

  6. Lynn Christy says:

    I know this doesn’t solve your problem with rusting racks, but I can’t help but think about my serendipitous experience with that problem several years ago. A few of the prongs that hold things in place had rusted right off the bottom rack, and one morning I was out for a walk and there at the curb someone had put a dishwasher just like mine out for junk collection. I opened the door, and sure enough, there was a perfect rack! Needless to say, I carried it home, feeling like I had just found a real treasure.

  7. Randall P says:

    Our house was built in 1984 and we still have the original KitchenAid Superba appliances, including the KDS-21 dishwasher and KEDO-275SS oven. Unfortunately the dishwasher racks are starting to rust and we can’t find replacements. We also are torn whether we should buy a new one, as we don’t know if the new ones are as durable. Does anybody have a source for replacement racks? Are new KitchenAids as durable as these older models?

    1. Pam Kueber says:

      Racks often can be found on ebay, I think. Also get on to automaticwasher.org – some folks collect old dishwashers for parts.

  8. L.A. says:

    Great post! I just bought a house with this exact model of dishwasher and I looove it! What are your thoughts on rehabbing the removeable insert? I inherited the knotty pine one and sadly it doesn’t match our all-grey kitchen decor. Its reverse off-white side is encrusted with 25 years of kitchen residue. Would love your insight on what I can use to make the dishwasher look fresh and clean!

    1. Pam Kueber says:

      I am not an expert on this. Give the threads at automatic washer a try … 25 years of kitchen residue often can be cleaned!

  9. Jacquie Yunker says:

    You will love that dishwasher, Pam! They have the shortest wash cycles, and I read somewhere they were called “Hurricane in a box!” I have a KDS 17A, it was white, but we found an auto paint store here in Mesa that fixed me up with a good match of harvest gold. It looks so great with the cute gold stove and fridge! ????
    Are you still interested in knotty pine projects? We did one!

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