Yes, You Need to Clean Your Dishwasher — Here's How

White kitchen with dishwasher

Cottage + Sea

It may have been a long time since you've cleaned your dishwasher. And while it seems like your dishwasher should be cleaning itself, the truth is that even appliances designed to make our best dinnerware sparkle need to be washed from time to time.

Over time, bits of food, grime, and soap scum accumulate in your dishwasher—which can not only leave behind an unpleasant smell, but it can also cause your appliance to work less effectively. No one loves reaching into a clean dishwasher to find plates and bowls covered in film or detergent residue. The good news? This task is relatively easy, and you can do it while focusing on deeper kitchen cleaning jobs. Here's what you need to do to keep your dishwasher clean.

How Often Should You Clean Your Dishwasher?

When it comes to cleaning your dishwasher, wipe it down weekly (when used regularly) and schedule a deeper clean at least once a month. If you're noticing a faint odor or your dishes aren't as clean as they used to be, it's time to wash your appliance. You may also notice small pieces of food in the filter or an unusual sound each time you run a load of dishes.

Things You'll Need

  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Sponge
  • All-purpose cleaner
  • Stainless steel cleaner
  • Warm, soapy water

How to Clean Your Dishwasher

Gray kitchen sink

Arbor & Co.

Step 1: Clean the Drain

The first step is to reach into the drain and clean out any gunk you find. Pull out your dishwasher's bottom rack, then check the drain for any food or debris that has become stuck. We recommend wearing rubber gloves for this task—it can be a pretty gross job depending on how long it's been since you've cleaned your kitchen appliances. Removing built-up food debris will help your dishwasher drain much faster and reduce any film left behind on dishes.

Step 2: Clean the Filter and Spray Arm

If the filter isn't clean, your dishes won't be, either. Leave the bottom dish rack out to reach the filter, and fill your sink with hot, soapy water. Locate the filter—underneath the spray arm in the center of the appliance, or in the back corner—and remove it. Begin soaking it in the sink while running the deep cleaning cycle.

The spray arm may also be susceptible to debris build-up. Remove each arm and scrub the small holes on the bottom side to clear any blockages and enhance water flow during cycles.

If there are any particles stuck on the mesh or plastic pieces of your filter, use a soft toothbrush to carefully clean inside every nook.

Step 3: Replace the Bottom Rack

Once you've finished removing the filter, you can place the bottom rack back inside your dishwasher while the filter soaks in the sink. Include the rack in your deep cleaning cycle to ensure it's sterilized, food and debris are washed off, and no streaks of detergent or grime are left between its built-in pegs and dish holders.

This will give you a fresh surface to place dishes on during your next full dish cycles once you've finished the deep clean. It's also helpful to gently scrub the silverware holder with a toothbrush to clear stubborn streaks and debris before running the vinegar wash.

Step 4: Run a Cycle With Vinegar

To deep clean your dishwasher, place a glass filled with two cups of distilled white vinegar on the top rack. White vinegar is a serious workhorse when it comes to cleaning tasks, and it is perfect for loosening up dirt and fighting off lingering odors. With the glass of vinegar placed inside, run your dishwasher on a normal hot cycle (no dishes, please!) without detergent or soap.

Step 5: Scrub Down the Outside

While you're waiting for the vinegar cycle to end, take this time to wipe down the outside of your dishwasher. Use an all-purpose cleaner and a microfiber rag to clean smudges and grime from the door, handle, and buttons.

Step 6: Run a Cycle With Baking Soda

Once the vinegar cycle has finished, remove the glass from the top rack. Now take one cup of baking soda and sprinkle it evenly over the bottom rack of the dishwasher. Repeat the deep clean cycle (again, no detergent) on the hottest water setting. The baking soda not only neutralizes the smell of vinegar, but it will also help dislodge any remaining grime and act as a deodorizer.

Step 7: Keep It Clean

Even the most beautiful kitchen sink for hand-washing dishes doesn't compare to a dishwasher. When there are hundreds of other chores to do, a dishwasher can be a truly time-saving appliance in your home. The best way to keep your dishwasher working well is to clean it frequently.

Between monthly deep cleanings, keep a rag handy to wipe down the components, and remember to check the filter weekly for bits of food stuck inside. Maintaining your dishwasher will not only keep it looking its best, but it will also help ensure your dishes come out clean and sparkling every single time.

How to Remove Streaks on Your Dishwasher

Cottage + Sea

Cottage + Sea

If you have a stainless steel dishwasher, a cleaner such as Weiman's is a great final step to remove streaks and repel future stains. It's helpful to give the exterior of your appliance a full scrub with cleaner each time you run a monthly deep cleaning cycle to prevent the buildup of dust and grime on the surface. Between scheduled cleanings, stainless steel wipes are a great option to quickly wipe down your appliance and remove fingerprints, watermarks, or grease.

How to Get Rid of and Prevent Smells in Your Dishwasher

Cathie Hong Interiors

Cathie Hong Interiors

If vinegar and baking soda cycles still aren't making your dishwasher smell fresh, the problem may be located in the drain hose. Pull your appliance out and locate the hose (on the bottom of the back-facing side of the dishwasher). For those that are harder to remove from the wall, locate the other end of the hose that connects to the drainpipe underneath your kitchen sink. Clear the hose of any blockages or kinks that cause water to build and create unpleasant smells.

DIY Dishwasher Cleaner Recipe

Amy Bartlam; Design: Sandra Fox Interiors

Amy Bartlam; Design: Sandra Fox Interiors

If your dishwasher is really, really dirty, consider using a homemade cleaner with items you already have around the house. To get started, mix two cups of baking soda with three tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide until the mixture thickens into a paste. Drop a dollop of the mixture onto parchment paper, and wait about an hour for it to harden. Place it (without the parchment paper) on the bottom rack of your dishwasher and run the cycle on the hottest setting for an even more powerful clean.

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