How to Clean a Dishwasher: A Step-By-Step Guide

Dishwashers are the best invention ever, right? But with all this convenience comes a little bit of maintenance, as dirt and grime can build up on your dishwasher's filter and interior walls over time. This means your dishwasher needs some TLC every now and then to keep it clean and working properly. In this step-by-step guide, we'll cover: 

  • How Often Should You Clean Your Dishwasher? 
  • How to Clean a Dishwasher in 8 Easy Steps 
  • Other Helpful Dishwasher Cleaning Tips 
  • FAQs About How to Clean a Dishwasher 

How Often Should You Clean Your Dishwasher? 

As a general rule, housekeeping experts recommend cleaning your dishwasher every month or two. If you have hard water where you live, then it's best to clean your dishwasher more often. But if your water isn't particularly hard, and most of what goes in there is soft food (like pasta), then a monthly cleaning is enough. 

You should also clean your dishwasher if you notice a decrease in the quality of wash cycles (if the dishes come out with spots or streaks) or if it takes longer than usual to clean your dishes and you see food particles at the bottom of the machine. You should also clean your dishwasher if you notice a bad smell coming from inside the appliance when you open it, if you see rust or corrosion inside the dishwasher, or if there are signs of mold on the seals, door, or bottom plate. 

How to Clean a Dishwasher in 8 Easy Steps 

Here's how to clean your dishwasher: 


Step 1: Remove all dishes from the dishwasher 

You need to empty your dishwasher before starting the cleaning process. First, check for any food that may be stuck on the door seal or inside the unit, and remove it. Second, scrape off any stuck-on food or gunk clinging onto the dishes. This will make for a much easier cleaning process later on. 

Step 2: Take out removable parts and hand wash 

Dismantling your dishwasher will make it easier for you to clean its components more quickly. You will need to open your dishwasher door and remove the door panel to get inside. The panel can be removed either by unscrewing or undoing the clips that hold it in place (the type of removal depends on the model of your dishwasher). When you have removed the door panel, you can remove the racks. 

If your dishwasher has spray arms, they will be held in place by screws. Unscrew these, and then lift the arms out. Clean the jets and spray arms with a toothbrush and soapy water to remove any soap deposits or food particles that may have accumulated there. 

Step 3: Clean the dishwasher interior 

The inside of the dishwasher accumulates grease, food particles, and mineral deposits that need to be removed with a cleaning agent. Vinegar is a natural cleaner that will clean a dishwasher by eliminating both odors and grime. Mixing one part white vinegar with two parts water, placing it in a bowl on the top rack, running a regular cycle, and then wiping down all interior surfaces will thoroughly disinfect your dishwasher. Baking soda is another natural cleaner, and its slightly abrasive nature cuts through stains and accumulated grime. Sprinkle baking soda in the dishwasher after running the vinegar cycle and gently scrub. Run a short cycle and then wipe dry with a soft cloth. 

Bleach is an effective option for cleaning stains and mold in your dishwasher. However, it is a corrosive substance and may damage the internal surface of your dishwasher. Don't use it if your dishwasher has a stainless steel interior or parts. To clean your dishwasher, mix bleach with water in a spray bottle. Spray onto the interior surfaces and let sit for 10 minutes. Rinse, wipe dry, and run the dishwasher through a short cycle for the best results. 

Side note: Do not use vinegar and bleach at the same time.  

Step 4: Clean the dishwasher interior door 

Wipe off any smudges on the door with a damp cloth or sponge. Give the door handle and edges a good wipe down as well with warm, sudsy water. Pay close attention to the dishwasher controls and around its hinges to ensure you don't miss a spot. Use a soft toothbrush in hot, soapy water to remove any residue in the crevices. 

Step 5: Clean the gasket 

The next step is cleaning the door gasket and seal. Your dishwasher door gasket is a thin seal around the door that stops water from leaking out of your dishwasher when it is running. The door seal is a rubber strip that goes around the edge of the outside of your dishwasher. The gasket and the door seal need to be kept clean and dry to prevent mold from growing over time. 

Step 6: Remove and manually clean filter (if not self-cleaning) 

Inside your dishwasher is a filter that catches food particles and helps prevent odors. The pump filter is located at the bottom of the dishwasher. It has a plastic guard over it that needs to be removed and washed with warm water and detergent to remove any food particles or residue that may have accumulated there. Take the filter basket out and put it in a bowl of soapy water. Leave it for half an hour, then rinse and dry thoroughly. 

Step 7: Clean the dishwasher drain 

The drain is another area that needs to be cleaned regularly. This will prevent any food particles from going down the drain and causing a blockage. Use a soft brush to remove any debris that may have accumulated there. 

Step 8: Wipe down the exterior of the dishwasher 

It is not just the inside of your dishwasher that needs to be cleaned. The exterior surface also needs to be wiped down periodically, which can make a huge difference in your dishwasher's appearance. Fingerprints, dirt, and grime can build up on the surface of your dishwasher over time and make it appear dull. Complete the job by doing a thorough wipe-down with an all-purpose cleaner or water mixed with vinegar to remove any fingerprints from the exterior surface of your dishwasher for a perfect finish. 

To clean the outside of your dishwasher, start by cleaning the door and the handle. You can use just warm water to clean these areas. Then, you can use a sponge dipped in water and mild detergent to clean the control panel. If you still have trouble removing stains, try using a product designed for cleaning stainless steel. These products work well on appliances like your dishwasher. 

Side note: Avoid using steel wool or abrasive cleaning products such as bleach and solvents on the exterior of your dishwasher. They can scratch off your dishwasher's finish.  

Other Helpful Dishwasher Cleaning Tips 

Use natural cleaners in your dishwasher 

The dishwasher detergent you use in your dishwasher might leave a residue on the dishes and not break down as it should. If you are looking for a way to reduce your dishwasher detergent use without sacrificing clean dishes, consider adding some natural cleaners to your machine instead of chemical-based ones. Some of these natural cleaners work better than chemical-based cleaners and do not leave any residue or odors behind. 

Use citric acid or a similar product to clean the inside of your dishwasher. A lemonade mix contains citric acid and cleans just as well as vinegar. Unsweetened lemonade mix is recommended because it does not leave any stains. You can also use pure lemon juice in place of the lemonade mix. To clean, fill a cup with the juice, put it into the top rack position of the dishwasher, and run it through a short cycle. 

Don't pre-wash dishes 

While it may seem like a time-saving method to get ahead and start cleaning your dishes, pre-rinsing actually causes problems with your dishwasher. According to experts, most modern dishwashers have sensors that regulate the wash cycle. Dirtier dishes mean higher temperatures and longer wash cycles. On the other hand, pre-washing “fools" the dishwasher into thinking the dishes are clean, making it release a weaker jet and resulting in a less thorough finish. 

Additionally, dishwashing detergents are specially formulated to work on the grime and gunk on your dishes. The enzymes must have something to bind to for them to work effectively. Consequently, pre-rinsing means the soap creates a lot of foam during the cycle and is rinsed off before it can do any good. You should only scrape off food particles and then let the dishwasher do its job.  

Install a home water softening system 

If you have hard water, then chances are the interior of your dishwasher is coated with a thick layer of lime. This can make it difficult to clean and maintain the appliance. While this is a common problem, it can be solved easily. 

One way to eliminate this problem is by installing a whole-home water softening system. This will reduce the buildup of mineral deposits inside your home's dishwasher, shower, and other water systems. 

Break down your dishwasher cleaning schedule 

Cleaning your dishwasher thoroughly every month or so is an effective way of maintaining its condition. However, you don't have to wait. You can implement smaller steps like wiping down smudges immediately after they appear on the exterior of your dishwasher. Another tip is to remove visible leftover food particles before the wash cycle daily. 

Add salt to your dishwasher 

If you have found that your dishes are coming out of your dishwasher with spots and streaks on them, then you may need to add salt to your dishwasher. Salt will cause soap scum and other mineral deposits to loosen so they can be removed during the wash cycle. 

  • Open the door to your dishwasher, and sprinkle salt on a sponge 
  • Scrub the inside of the dishwasher with the salt-soaked sponge 
  • Run a cycle without detergent 

FAQs About How to Clean Your Dishwasher 

What is the best way to clean and deodorize a dishwasher? 

If you have a stinky dishwasher, the best way to clean and deodorize it is by using vinegar. First, fill your sink with warm water and add about 2 cups of white vinegar. Step two would be to pour some into the bottom of your dishwasher. Once that's done, run your machine on its hottest setting with nothing but hot water inside it before starting a new load of dishes. 

Can you clean your dishwasher with bleach? 

Yes! Bleach will kill any bacteria or other harmful substances lurking inside and make sure that all those dishes come out as squeaky-clean as possible. But before you get out the bottle of chlorine in hopes of removing hard water stains or bad odors from your appliance, confirm what the interior of your dishwasher is made of. Bleach can actually corrode metal parts inside your dishwasher over time, making it less efficient when cleaning dishes. Don't use bleach in dishwashers with stainless steel interiors or features. 

Can you self-clean a dishwasher? 

Most modern dishwashers have an "auto clean/sanitize" cycle that will thoroughly wash and dry all of the dishes inside it with the press of a single button press. These dishwashers have advanced self-clean technology that alerts you when it's time to run the self-clean cycle based on the design. That typically happens once every two weeks or monthly. These timelines work great for machines without the self-cleaning function as well. 

Can you put vinegar and baking soda in the dishwasher at the same time? 

You can, but it will have absolutely no effect on your dirty dishwasher as vinegar is acidic, and baking soda is basic, and mixing the two substances triggers an acid-base chemical reaction known as neutralization. The best way to clean your dishwasher using the two substances is by running a cycle with vinegar first and finishing off with baking soda on a shorter cycle.  

Will vinegar damage your dishwasher? 

There are some precautions you should take before using vinegar in your dishwasher. The acidic pH level, which helps break down soap scum and other residues inside the machine, can also damage rubber parts and surfaces in your dishwasher. Using low-concentrated vinegar is one way you can avoid any problems. Measure the appropriate amount, fill a dishwasher-safe cup in the top rack of your dishwasher, and then run a regular wash cycle. 

Can you run bleach through a dishwasher? 

It is definitely possible, but it is not advisable. Bleach is great for killing germs and eliminating mold and mildew, but it is harsh on metallic parts. Do not run bleach through dishwashers with stainless steel interiors or features that can be easily damaged by harsh chemicals. 

Why is my dishwasher so dirty? 

Over time, the buildup of grease, food particles from dirty dishes, or soap scum will eventually affect how your dishes come out of the washer. If there is an accumulation of food particles on dishes during loading, this can also lead to clogging and blackened streaks around items, so scrape off food particles before loading the dishwasher. If your dishwasher has been out of service for a while, there could be a buildup of mold, mildew, grease, and other substances that need to be removed.  

Final thoughts 

If you have followed these tips and the dishwasher is still not performing as you expect, it may be time to consider an upgrade. We have an extensive catalog of dishwashers and are happy to provide you with helpful info anytime you need it. Your dishwasher is the silent, unsung hero of your kitchen. Clean monthly or after every two months with natural cleaners like vinegar and baking soda for a sparkling, odor-free dishwasher.