Project Guide

How to Clean a Dishwasher

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Cleaning the Dishwasher Parts
Someone removing a dishwasher rack and getting ready to clean a dishwasher.

One of the easiest ways to clean a dishwasher is by starting with the removable parts. Take out the utensil holder and dishwasher racks and rinse or wipe them to remove bits of food. 

If foods are caked-on, fill your sink half full of warm water and add two 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
A woman wearing rubber gloves and using a sponge to clean the interior of a dishwasher.

Grime can accumulate inside a dishwasher until your dishes no longer get properly clean. Built-up grime can also cause unpleasant odors. 

Deep clean the dishwasher with vinegar to eliminate the grime and odors. First, empty the dishwasher. Then put a 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 a 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 the 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. 

You can also use bleach to deep clean the interior of a dishwasher and remove tough stains, mold and mildew if the dishwasher is not stainless steel and does not contain stainless steel. Pour a 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. 

Remember: Do not use bleach in a stainless steel dishwasher or a dishwasher that contains stainless steel, 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
A woman wearing yellow gloves using a cloth and a bottle of spray cleaner to clean a dishwasher door.

Clean the inside of the dishwasher door and 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
Someone wearing yellow gloves to remove a dishwasher filter for cleaning.

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 the 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
A woman wearing rubber gloves cleaning a dishwasher drain.

Cleaning the dishwasher drain is another important monthly step in the deep cleaning process. First, put one cup of white vinegar in a large, microwave-safe bowl and slightly warm it in the microwave for 15 to 20 seconds.

Take the bowl out of the microwave and stir in two tablespoons of baking soda. Pour the mixture into the drain at the bottom of the dishwasher. Let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes.

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. Be safe, and don't get splashed.

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
Someone using a microfiber cloth to clean the exterior of a dishwasher.

Knowing how to clean inside a dishwasher 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 Dishwasher That Smells Bad
A woman wearing rubber gloves and wiping out a 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. 

To eliminate bad smells, first inspect 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. 


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