How to Achieve a Squeaky-Clean Dishwasher in 5 Easy Steps

how to clean your dishwasher

Design: Jessica Nelson; Photo: Carina Skrobecki Photography

When was the last time you cleaned your dishwasher? Maybe it was last month or last year—or maybe you can't quite remember. Perhaps you assumed that while it was cleaning your new dishes and utensils, your dishwasher was also cleaning itself. Unfortunately, that's not the case, so you should add this task to your spring cleaning checklist.

Just like your other kitchen appliances, to function at its highest level, your dishwasher needs to be cleaned regularly. Over time, leftover food particles, detergent residue, grease, and mineral deposits build up inside your dishwasher, causing it to work less effectively. This can also create an environment for odor-causing bacteria to thrive. If your dishes aren't getting as clean as they used to (or you've recently noticed a strange smell when running a wash cycle), it's time for a good deep clean.

If the thought of bacteria trapped inside your appliance makes you cringe, read on to learn five easy steps to clean your dishwasher in a jiff.

How Often Should You Clean Your Dishwasher?

We recommend completing steps one through three—cleaning your drain and filter, as well as wiping down the door—weekly. However, you can save the vinegar and baking soda deep cleans for your monthly task list.

It might not be the most glamorous task, but once you've seen the build-up inside your dishwasher, you should make a habit out of cleaning regularly.  After all, in order have to those sparkly-clean dishes, you need a sparkly-clean appliance to keep them fresh.

Things You'll Need:

  • Paper towels
  • Soapy sponge
  • Dishwasher-safe measuring cup
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • All-purpose cleaner
  • Stainless steel cleaner
  • Hydrogen peroxide (optional)
  • Rubber gloves (optional)

How to Clean Your Dishwasher

how to clean your dishwasher

Casa Watkins Living

Step 1: Clean the Drain

Before you begin, you'll need to empty your dishwasher. Once you've put away the dishes from the last wash cycle, remove the bottom rack of the dishwasher and inspect the drain.

There's likely build-up of food, gunk, and other mystery items hiding in there—so you might want to put on your gloves for this one. Take a paper towel and give the drain a few swipes, thoroughly removing anything that doesn't belong. Clearing out the drain will help your dishwasher run more efficiently, and it will also go a long way in preventing odors from building up.

Step 2: Focus on the Filter

Once you've cleaned the drain, it's time to move on to the dishwasher filter (which is usually located under the bottom spray arm or in the back corner of your dishwasher). Remove the filter from the bottom of your dishwasher and rinse it with hot water while using a toothbrush to gently scrub away any grease or food found on the mesh screen. Once both the mesh and plastic parts of the filter are squeaky clean, lock it back into place.

If your filter is especially dirty, it's helpful to soak it in the sink in hot, soapy water while completing the next steps.

Step 3: Wipe Down the Door

Your dishwasher door likely gets a lot of traffic, and that means it picks up a lot of fingerprints and germs. To clean the inside of your dishwasher door, take a soapy sponge and wipe off any debris or grease. Be sure to clean the top and sides of the door as well.

Step 4: Run a Cycle with Only Vinegar

After completing steps one through three, place a dishwasher-safe measuring cup filled with two cups of distilled white vinegar on the top rack of your dishwasher. Run the dishwasher on a normal hot cycle without adding any detergent or dishes. The vinegar will break down any leftover particles or grease still remaining after wiping down the surface.

Step 5: Sprinkle Baking Soda

After your vinegar wash cycle is complete, remove the measuring cup and sprinkle one cup of baking soda along the bottom rack. Run another normal hot cycle—again, with no dishes. This is the icing on the cake of your deep clean, as the baking soda will act as a deodorizer and double-down on any remaining grime.

How to Keep Your Dishwasher Clean Longer

White kitchen with open shelving and stainless steel dishwasher.

Calimia Home

Since you'll only need to put deep cleans on your schedule about once per month, you should practice a few preventative steps between cleanings. The most important task to complete weekly is cleaning your filter—which, luckily, only takes a few minutes. If you don't use your dishwasher very often, bi-weekly filter cleanings should suffice to keep the appliance running smoothly (and your dishes sparkling).

How to Get Rid of Streaks on Your Dishwasher

how to clean your dishwasher

Brophy Interiors

On the front of the door, use paper towels and an all-purpose cleaner to wipe away surface germs. If you have a stainless steel dishwasher, polish away any fingerprints with a quality stainless steel cleaner (like Weiman's stainless steel wipes or spray cleaner) to keep your dishwasher looking just as good on the outside as you'll have it looking on the inside.

DIY Dishwasher Cleaner Solution

how to clean your dishwasher

Design: Jessica Nelson; Photo: Carina Skrobecki Photography

Vinegar and baking soda usually clear up most smells and bacteria hiding in your dishwasher, but sometimes, a deeper clean is necessary. For an easy DIY cleaning solution, mix two cups of baking soda with about three tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide, then reserve one scoop to the side. Let the scoop harden before adding it to the bottom rack of your dishwasher for another hot water cycle.