How to Clean a Dishwasher

Did you know that cleaning a dishwasher is a thing? I know, it sounds crazy to clean the inside of a machine whose job is cleaning dishes, but the inside of your dishwasher can become stinky and lose efficiency over time because of food and grease build-up. Luckily, learning how to clean a dishwasher takes just a few minutes and helps keep an expensive kitchen appliance running well.

person placing dishes into the dishwasher

I’m sure you’ve never thought about cleaning the inside of your dishwasher before…I know I hadn’t, until I read about it in a cleaning book a few years ago.

It turns out that while your dishwasher is washing the food debris from your plates, glasses and silverware, some of that debris can stick to the inside of the machine, and over time, its build-up can cause bad odors and even staining.

Fortunately, dishwasher cleaning takes only a few minutes, and some very inexpensive cleaning products!

How to Clean a Dishwasher

Cleaning a dishwasher couldn’t be any easier, but you’ll want to plan ahead so that you have a completely empty dishwasher. That’s right…you’ll need to wash and put away all the dishes before you can clean the dishwasher!

To begin, check the filter at the bottom of the dishwasher for any food debris. If you aren’t sure how to take out your filter, check on YouTube for a good tutorial for your model.

filter inside a dishwasher

This step is important because the dishwasher can’t drain effectively if there is food or small items blocking the filter. A few years ago, our dishwasher had stopped running, so we called a repair service to come out. The repair guy found a plastic straw from a sippy cup stuck in the filter, along with some odd plastic pieces that had chipped off of some plate or bowl over the years. So it’s important to check out the filter 🙂

If your filter is gummed up with food or grease, soak it in some soapy water for about 10 minutes or so, then wipe it clean and place back into the dishwasher.

Pour about 2 cups of white or vinegar into the bottom of your dishwasher, close it, then run on a hot water cycle. The vinegar will freshen any odors and remove any built-up grease or soap scum.

If you find that your have some stains on the walls of the dishwasher, run a second cycle with 1 cup of baking soda in the bottom of the dishwasher. Make sure to use hot water, which will help the baking soda remove the food stains.

After your cycle is done, you’ll have a fresh-smelling, clean dishwasher again!

How often should I use vinegar in my dishwasher?

Many of the cleaning professionals have different opinions on how often a dishwasher needs to be cleaned. Some people think that the dishwasher needs to be cleaned once a month, others say once every 6 months.

racks inside an open dishwasher

I guess the real answer depends on how dirty your own dishwasher gets. If you check your dishwasher after a month and it still smells fresh, then I might wait to clean it. But if it starts to smell off after a few weeks, then I would run a cycle of vinegar.

Can you use apple cider vinegar to clean your dishwasher?

Sure! Apple cider vinegar should work just fine, but I find that it’s usually much more expensive, and isn’t more effective at cleaning than plain white vinegar, so I wouldn’t personally use it to clean the dishwasher.

You can get a whole gallon of plain white vinegar for just a couple of dollars, which is great for household cleaning.

Can you put bleach in the dishwasher to clean it?

If you have a problem with mold inside your dishwasher, you can put 1/2 cup of bleach into the bottom of your dishwasher and run a cycle.

Make sure, however, that you don’t combine the bleach with any vinegar! Just run the bleach in a cycle by itself. You also don’t want to use bleach inside a stainless steel dishwasher because it can damage the finish.

Helpful dishwasher hacks

Make sure that you scrape any bits of food off your plates and silverware before putting them in the dishwasher. You don’t have to wash the dishes before you put them in the dishwasher, but you just want to make sure the majority of the junk is off of them.

bottom rack inside the dishwasher

Dishwasher soap is very good at cleaning the food off your dishes, and I’ve read that leaving too little food residue on your dishes can cause the soap to harm the finish.

Before you start a load of dishes in the dishwasher, turn on the kitchen faucet until the water runs hot. Dishwashers work best with really hot water, so making sure that the hot water is ready when the cycle starts helps get your dishes clean more efficiently.

Never pack your dishwasher full of dishes. When there are too many dishes, cups and silverware inside the dishwasher, nothing can get really clean. On the other hand, you don’t really want to run a half-full dishwasher either, because it’s wasteful. Try to run a full, but not too-full dishwasher.

Are you going to try cleaning your dishwasher? Let me know how it goes in the comments below 🙂

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2 thoughts on “How to Clean a Dishwasher”

  1. blank

    Great tips Erin. If you can believe it my mom used to have us clean the dishwasher when I was young. It seemed too weird to me to be cleaning a dishwasher that was supposed to clean the dishes but she was right. They need to be cleaned.

    The last two dishwashers we’ve owned have not had a food grinder in them. I had to learn how to clean the micro screens in the drain. It’s a yucky job but I find if I clean them once every 6 months the dishwasher works great.

    I also noticed in our old dishwasher a gummy film that would build up around the seal and I would need to clean it off. The new dishwasher hasn’t been forming this sludge which I’m thankful.

    I’m pinning this post to my homemaking board.

    1. blank

      Oh dear, what a chore that must have been to clean out that dishwasher that didn’t have a grinder in it! I’m glad that our current dishwasher has one 🙂

      Thanks for the tip about cleaning the film off the seal! I haven’t noticed it on mine before, but I think I need to go check it to make sure 🙂

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