How to Clean a Dishwasher

Evelyn Long

Jun 30, 2023

how to clean a dishwasher - a beautiful island style kitchen featuring a stove

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We all dread the somewhat tedious task of cleaning the appliances that are supposed to do the cleaning for us. But when you use your dishwasher on a daily basis, it’s bound to become grimy with soap scum and food particles. This build-up will eventually impact your dishwasher’s ability to effectively wash your dishes. Whether you’re looking for a quick spruce-up or a deep clean, the tips below will teach you how to clean a dishwasher to leave it working better than before.

Gather Supplies

Before deciding what method you will use to clean your dishwasher, you will need to gather up your supplies. You should already own everything you need, but if not, plan a grocery trip or online order ahead of time so you’re prepared when you start the task.

You will need:

  • Warm water
  • Your cleaning product of choice (vinegar, baking soda, dishwasher cleaning tabs or detergent)
  • Gentle soap
  • Sponge
  • Toothbrush
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Rubber gloves

Natural Clean with Vinegar 

Vinegar is a great natural cleaner. Not only do you already have it in your home, but it is effective at removing dirt, grime and grease due to its acidic nature. Vinegar is also effective at killing bacteria – making it a perfect cleaning tool.

Before beginning, make sure to empty your dishwasher of all plates, cups and utensils. To clean with vinegar, fill a dishwasher-safe mug or bowl half-way with distilled white vinegar. Place the mug or bowl upright on the top shelf of your dishwasher. Then, run your dishwasher on a normal setting with hot water. During the cycle, the vinegar will help break down any dirt, soap scum or food in the interior of your dishwasher.

While it works well for cleaning, be careful not to use it too often as the acidity of vinegar can eventually break down the rubber in your dishwasher.

DIY Clean with Baking Soda

Another great alternative to clean your dishwasher with supplies you already have at home is baking soda. Similar to vinegar, baking soda has the capabilities to remove tough stains and grime in difficult areas like microwaves and ovens. Paired with the power of your dishwasher’s cycle, baking soda will do the cleaning for you. Sprinkle a cup of baking soda in the bottom of your empty dishwasher, run it on a normal cycle with hot water and enjoy your clean appliance.

Dishwasher Cleaning Tabs or Detergent

If you desire simplicity and ease, pop over to your local grocery store and buy dishwasher cleaning tabs or dishwasher cleaning detergent. Simply pop the tab or detergent in your dishwasher according to the instructions on the package and run your dishwasher as normal. These have similar fighting powers as vinegar and baking soda so it will leave your dishwasher fresh and clean.

Deep Clean

If none of the solutions above will cut through the dirt, grime, and smell of your dishwasher, it may be time for a deep clean.

Learn the Parts of Your Dishwasher

Before you begin a deep clean, you should familiarize yourself with the different parts of your dishwasher and how they function. If you can’t find your dishwasher manual at home, look up the brand’s manual online. Pay close attention to the racks, silverware basket and filter. When it comes time to deep clean, you will need to understand how to remove and replace these items back in your dishwasher.

Clean the Racks and Utensil Holder

Once you’re familiar with the different components of your dishwasher, pull out the racks and utensil holders. These should be easy to remove and replace, but ensure you know how to do so prior to removing them. 

If you have the space, soak these items in warm soapy water, or soak them in a mixture of water and vinegar. Leave them to soak for 20-30 minutes while you continue cleaning your dishwasher. Then, scrub off any remaining grime, grease or food particles that are left with a sponge.

Your Filter is the Culprit

While cleaning your racks and utensil holder will help, the main focus when deep cleaning your dishwasher should be the filter. The filter collects the food particles so that they do not clog the drain. But when the filter becomes built up with food particles, it can impact your dishwasher’s ability to function and produce an unpleasant odor. 

To clean your filter, locate and remove the filter in one of the bottom corners of your appliance. Soak your filter in warm soapy water for 20-30 minutes to loosen any grime sticking to the filter. Then, run it under hot water to clean off any food particles that may be stuck on. If needed, use a gentle soap and a toothbrush to get the filter clean.

Before placing the filter back in place, clean out underneath the filter with a toothbrush and a damp sponge. It is likely that this area has also accumulated some build-up that should be cleaned. Once this area is clean, put your filter back in its place.

Clean the Interior Walls 

Once you have thoroughly cleaned your filter, you will want to clean the interior walls of your dishwasher. Scrub the sides and bottom of your dishwasher with equal parts vinegar and water, or with a gentle soap. Wipe the interior of your dishwasher dry with a microfiber cloth. Then, replace the racks and the utensil holder in their place.

Clean the Exterior Walls

As a last step to your deep clean, use warm soapy water to clean off any dirt, grime or fingerprints on the door of your dishwasher. Finish off by wiping it dry with a microfiber cloth.

Create a Cleaning Routine

Like with any cleaning you do in your home, you will want to clean your dishwasher on a routine basis. Adding either a deep clean or a quick cleaning cycle with vinegar, baking soda or dishwasher cleaning tabs once a month will help you stay on top of any build-up or odor that occurs.

Keep Your Dishwasher Squeaky Clean

Cleaning your dishwasher may feel like a huge, stressful task. But proper preparation and a routine cleaning schedule will keep you from feeling overwhelmed every time you notice your dishwasher is no longer clean. Get in the habit of routinely cleaning your dishwasher and you can continue to avoid the tedious task of hand-washing your dishes.


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