Someone wiping down the interior of a dishwasher door

How to Clean a Dishwasher

Your dishwasher works hard to keep your dishes clean. It sees a lot of gross, smelly stuff, which means you occasionally need to give your dishwasher a thorough cleaning. Whether you’re learning how to clean a dishwasher for spring cleaning or holiday preparation, it’s a good task to include in your kitchen cleaning routine. Still, cleaning the inside of your dishwasher can be a bit confusing. Learning how to clean a dishwasher will help you keep the working parts in top shape. It will also eliminate the odors that come from trapped food.

How Often Should I Clean My Dishwasher?

Your dishwasher should get a complete cleaning once a month.

While you may need to clean your dishwasher’s exterior more frequently, cleaning the inside parts once a month is usually effective. After you learn how to clean a dishwasher, thoroughly cleaning your dishwasher’s interior and moving parts once a month will be an easy task, and you can remove grease and food residue completely.

You should also clean your dishwasher any time it’s not working efficiently.

Dishwasher Cleaning Supplies

Before deciding how to clean your dishwasher, gather some supplies to get the job done efficiently. Many of the supplies you can use to make your dishwasher fresh and clean can be found around your kitchen. Gather these supplies to ensure you’ll be ready to tackle all the gross spots in your dishwasher.

  • Clean Cloths
  • Paper Towels
  • Toothbrush or Small Scrub Brush
  • Vinegar
  • Baking Soda
  • Unsweetened Lemonade Mix
  • Rubbing Alcohol

Pro Tip for How to Clean a Dishwasher

If your dishwasher contains stainless steel components, then avoid using bleach to clean it. If you’re not 100% certain that your dishwasher is made and lined entirely with plastic parts, clean without it. Bleach can shorten the lifespan of your dishwasher.

How to Clean a Dishwasher Inside and Out: Your Step-by-Step Guide

You probably wipe down the outside of your dishwasher routinely to get rid of fingerprints and other messy stuff around the kitchen. Unfortunately, it’s easy to never consider the idea you should also be cleaning the inside. After all, your dishwasher uses ultra-heated water and soap every time you wash a load of dishes. Since your dishwasher is constantly sending powerful streams of water to remove from dishes, it can leave residue and bits of food in various places that you never even notice. Use this how to clean a dishwasher guide for your DIY dishwasher cleaning project.

Follow these steps to learn how to clean a dishwasher:

1. Clean the Outside

Before you tackle the inside of your dishwasher, thoroughly clean the dishwasher’s exterior. You likely choose your appliances to fit into your kitchen color scheme, and you want to keep them looking great. A simple mixture of dish soap and water or a solution of 1/4 cup of baking soda and a quart of water can be used to clean the outside of your dishwasher. After that, use a soft cloth to wipe the door and other exterior parts clean of grime and fingerprints. If stubborn fingerprints remain, then use a clean, dry microfiber cloth dipped in rubbing alcohol to scrub them away gently.

Open the door of your empty dishwasher to clean the facing surface. Dip a toothbrush or other scrub brush in hot soapy water and use it to scrub the top and sides surrounding the dishwasher door. Make sure to scrub the rubber seal and all crevices and hinges to free buildup deposits and grime. Then wipe these areas with a dry cloth to remove the residue you scrub away.

Pro Tip for How to Clean a Dishwasher

Avoid harsh cleaners and rough scouring tools that could damage your dishwasher’s surfaces. They can cause scratches and dull the finish.

2. Wipe Down the Tub

When deciding how to clean a dishwasher, it’s important to consider the areas that can trap gunk and food particles. Your dishwasher should be empty when you begin cleaning. Use paper towels to wipe down the tub of your dishwasher, paying special attention to the drain. Remove food particles and debris with a gloved hand and wipe away any leftover residue with paper towels.

3. Run a Cleaning Cycle

You know your dishwasher has a powerful spray and extremely hot water. So use these powerful tools with the addition of a cleaner to power wash the inside of your dishwasher. You can choose from a few different household items as a detergent to deep clean the inside of your dishwasher.

White Vinegar

Place a cup of white vinegar on the top rack. Run your dishwasher on the hottest setting to allow the vinegar to break down buildup on the machine’s walls and components. When the hot water cycle is complete, wipe down your dishwasher’s interior with a dry cloth.

Baking Soda

If you don’t have vinegar or prefer using baking soda, sprinkle a layer of baking soda all over the bottom of the dishwasher tub. Run your dishwasher on the hottest setting. If stains remain, then repeat the cycle. When complete, wipe down the walls and tub of the dishwasher with a dry cloth.

Lemonade Mix

Similar to vinegar, unsweetened lemonade mix has an acidic property that can easily break down grime and buildup. Empty a packet of unsweetened lemonade mix into your dishwasher’s soap cup and run a wash cycle on the hottest setting. When the cycle is complete, wipe the insides of the dishwasher dry with a clean, dry cloth.

4. Clean the Accessories

The removable accessories in your dishwasher need to be cleaned, too. Remove all racks, utensil holders, and detachable parts. Wipe away debris and food particles with a sponge or soft brush. While the removable parts are drying, inspect the dishwasher arms. Wipe away food particles and debris with a cloth. Then scrub the spray arm with a toothbrush to remove clogs.

5. Clean the Filter

A hand removing the filter from a dishwasher to clean it

If you’ve never considered that your dishwasher has a filter, now’s the time to find it. Your dishwasher filter is usually located in one of the bottom back corners of the appliance. If your bottom rack isn’t removable, then pull it all the way out. Twist the filter to remove it from the receptacle. Rinse the filter under hot, running water to remove debris. If necessary, soak the filter in hot, soapy water and use a brush or sponge to clean it thoroughly. Clean the space beneath the filter’s housing with a cloth or toothbrush before putting the filter back in place.

Pro Tip for How to Clean a Dishwasher

Dishwasher drains and filters vary by brand. Consult your owner’s manual before determining how to remove your filter.

6. Eliminate Stains

Stains can build up in your dishwasher, making it look dirty even when it’s not. If your dishwasher has rust stains, then you can use a commercial rust removal cleaner to clear away the stains. You can find washing machine rust removal products in the laundry detergent section of your home center. Fill your dishwasher’s soap cup with the rust remover and run a complete cycle.

Pro Tip for How to Clean a Dishwasher

If your dishwasher has rust stains, they’re probably caused by elements of your water system. You’ll need to use this method routinely to clean away rust stains unless you repair the problem at its source.

7. Blast Buildup

Hard water and various minerals can lead to deposits or soap scum buildup on the walls and working parts of your dishwasher. These deposits can slow the effectiveness of your appliance and keep it from being completely clean. Since your water supply causes mineral buildup, you’ll need to remove the buildup to keep your dishwasher in top working order. The acidic properties of lemon can help you complete this task. Place a cup of lemon juice on the top rack or basket of your dishwasher. Run a regular cycle to remove water spots and mineral buildup.

Your dishwasher’s interior has a warm, moist environment that can harbor germs, mold and mildew, and nasty odors. Keeping your dishwasher clean and clog-free will extend the life of your appliance and keep your kitchen smelling clean and fresh. After you learn how to clean your dishwasher, make it a part of your kitchen cleaning routine.

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