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Your dishwasher does a lot of dirty work for you, so occasionally you need to do something nice for it. Learn how to clean a dishwasher to keep it running efficiently, prevent bad odors and ensure your dishes come out shiny and clean. If your dishwasher isn't washing dishes properly, try cleaning the dishwasher itself before calling for repairs. You may want to wear rubber gloves while you do this to protect your hands.
This guide will walk you through not just the basics of how to clean a dishwasher but the best way to clean a dishwasher. But first, find out how often you should be cleaning a dishwasher and why it’s so important.
How Often To Clean a Dishwasher
Several brands recommend thoroughly cleaning a dishwasher on a monthly basis. And that means cleaning the entire interior, door, gasket and filter.
If you only use your dishwasher occasionally or prewash your dishes, you might not need to clean it that often, but don’t let it go without a cleaning for longer than six months. On the other hand, if you put your dishwasher through the wringer on a regular basis, you may want to consider cleaning it more frequently than once a month. If you aren’t totally sure how much attention your dishwasher needs, start cleaning it as a monthly chore. Then, after you have a better sense of how dirty your dishwasher actually gets in a month’s time, you can adjust your cleaning schedule.
Why It's Important to Clean a Dishwasher
Cleaning a dishwasher is a key preventative step in home maintenance. If you habitually put this chore off, unwanted residue like minerals, grease, grime and limescale will build up inside your unit. Over time, it will become less effective. compromising its effectiveness over time. In other words, your dishwasher just won’t clean things as well. Think plates with stuck-on crumbs and cloudy wine glasses. And, its poor performance might lead you to pay for costly repairs that aren’t actually needed.
A dirty dishwasher can start to smell bad, which no one wants. So, for the sake of your future dishes and the current state of your kitchen, follow the tips below and clean your dishwasher on a regular basis.
Cleaning the Dishwasher Parts
One of the easiest ways to clean a dishwasher is by starting with the removable parts. Take out the utensil holder and dishwasher racks. Rinse or wipe them to remove bits of food.
If foods are caked-on, fill your sink half-full with warm water and add 2 cups of white vinegar. Vinegar is natural and safe to use in your dishwasher and works as a DIY dishwasher cleaner. Place the parts in the sink and let them soak for 20 minutes. Then rinse them and put them back in place.
How to Clean Inside a Dishwasher
Grime can accumulate inside a dishwasher until your dishes no longer get properly clean. As mentioned before, built-up grime can also cause unpleasant odors.
To begin, you can clean a dishwasher with vinegar to eliminate the grime and odors. Here’s how: First, empty the dishwasher. Then put 1 cup of white vinegar in a dishwasher-safe bowl and place it on the top rack of the dishwasher. Run the hottest cycle on the dishwasher. Skip the drying cycle and open the dishwasher door to let it air-dry.
You can also sprinkle 1 cup of baking soda on the floor of an empty dishwasher and run a short cycle on the hottest setting to clean the interior and kill odors. As with cleaning a dishwasher with vinegar, skip the drying cycle and let the dishwasher air dry. Using vinegar and baking soda are easy, effective ways to clean inside a dishwasher, but do not use them together at the same time. Clean with the vinegar first and then with the baking soda.
Additionally, cleaning a dishwasher with bleach can deep clean its interior and remove tough stains, mold and mildew, but only if your dishwasher is not stainless steel and does not contain stainless steel. Pour 1 cup of bleach into a dishwasher-safe, bleach-safe bowl and place it on the top rack of your dishwasher. Then run a full cycle, but skip the drying cycle.
Tip: Do not use bleach in a stainless steel dishwasher or a dishwasher that contains stainless steel parts, as bleach will damage it. Also, do not use bleach at the same time you clean with baking soda or vinegar.
How to Clean a Dishwasher Door and Gasket
Clean the inside of the dishwasher door. Gently wipe around the rubber gasket with an old, soft toothbrush and a solution of 3 cups of hot water mixed with a 1/2 cup of vinegar. Some manufacturers will tell you to clean only with warm water, so follow the instructions for your dishwasher.
If the gasket still looks dirty or shows signs of mold or mildew, read the manufacturer’s directions to see if you can use an all-purpose cleaner or other product to clean the gasket without harming it.
How to Clean a Dishwasher Filter
While many newer dishwashers come with self-cleaning filters, if your model has a manual filter, remove it and clean it once a month or as often as needed. Your owner's manual will have more information on how to clean a dishwasher filter, but in general, remove and rinse the filter using these steps:
- Unlock the upper dishwasher filter and gently pull it out. If your model has a lower filter, remove it, too.
- Check the filter base inside the dishwasher for any food that might be caught there. Wipe the area with a damp microfiber towel to clean it.
- Wash the filter by hand in warm, soapy water. Gently scrub it with a small, soft-bristle brush if there are stuck-on food particles.
- Rinse the filters thoroughly under warm running water.
- Put the filters back in place. If the upper filter has a locking mechanism, be sure it's locked before you run the dishwasher again.
How to Clean a Dishwasher Drain
Cleaning the dishwasher drain is another important monthly step in the deep-cleaning process. First, put 1 cup of white vinegar in a large, microwave-safe bowl. Heat it in the microwave for 15 to 20 seconds so it is slightly warm.
Take the bowl out of the microwave and stir in 2 tablespoons of baking soda. Pour the mixture into the drain at the bottom of the dishwasher. Let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, boil a kettle of water. Just as the boil is dying down, carefully pour the water down the dishwasher drain to help clear out any debris or clogs. Do this slowly, taking care not to get splashed with the hot water.
Tip: If you have a garbage disposal, be sure it’s also clean and running well. Dishwasher clogs and draining problems can sometimes be traced to a clogged or dirty garbage disposal.
How to Clean the Dishwasher Exterior
Knowing how to clean a dishwasher on the inside is important but don’t forget to clean the dishwasher exterior, too. Use a cleaning cloth and warm, soapy water to clean the outside panel. Dry it with an old towel.
For a stainless steel dishwasher, use a glass cleaner or stainless steel cleaner.
How to Clean a Smelly Dishwasher
Sometimes dishwashers don’t just fail to clean dishes properly, they also start to smell bad. These odors often come from bits of food stuck in the dishwasher drain or in the jets on the spray arms. Knowing how to clean a smelly dishwasher can help you get rid of those bad smells.
Start by inspecting the spray arms and clean any blocked jets with toothpicks, if necessary. Use paper towels or a cloth to wipe up any debris from the bottom of the dishwasher tub. Clean the inside of the dishwasher again, or as often as needed, if the smell persists.
From built-in dishwashers to portable dishwashers, learning how to clean a dishwasher will result in cleaner dishes and an appliance that will last much longer. The best way to clean a dishwasher is to find a method that works for you, then stick to a regular cleaning schedule.
Ready to find cleaning supplies or other items for cleaning a dishwasher in your local store? Use The Home Depot app to locate products and check inventory. We'll take you to the exact aisle and bay.