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How often should you clean your dishwasher?

Open dishwasher full of clean white dishes

It might sound unnecessary to deep clean a machine that’s function is to clean. After all, your dishwasher cleans your dishes, so it must be clean right? In a perfect world maybe, but in reality, our dishwashers can get even dirtier than the dishes we put in them. This can not only create cloudy and unclean dishes, but it can also cause damage to your machine. To prevent water waste by running multiple washes to get your dishes clean, and costly repairs, it’s crucial to deep clean your dishwasher often. But just how do you clean a dishwasher? Keep reading to find out how you can easily deep clean your dishwasher at home, and how often you’ll have to do it.

Why do I need to clean my dishwasher?

Internal view of empty dishwasher with white racks

Our dishwashers are meant to clean any light soiling from our dishes and sanitize them. They are not however meant to be treated as a second garbage disposal, which many of us can admit we have attempted. Our dishwashers are supposed to accept dirty dishes, yes, but they cannot handle the mess of large bits of food, or debris like paper labels or stickers. When debris and large pieces of food get stuck in our dishwasher, that debris is then circulated throughout the dishwasher and gets onto your dishes. It’s as if you’re washing your dishes with hot soapy water and a chicken leg, they just won’t get as clean. Not to mention, food buildup in your machine can cause the dishwasher to not run optimally. It can clog the drain and filter which can result in the need for costly repairs. By cleaning your dishwasher often, you ensure that no bits of food are being trapped and spreading harmful bacteria on your supposedly clean dishes. You can also extend the lifetime of your dishwasher. Your dishwasher will drain quicker without any blockage, it will get your dishes cleaner with fresh water and a clean filter, and your dishwasher will last longer if you deep clean it often. 

How often you should clean your dishwasher

Deep cleaning of any appliance like a washing machine, refrigerator, or dishwasher should be done periodically, but luckily not as often as you would probably think. Even better, there are some smaller tasks you can do more often to make those deep cleans fewer and further between. Let’s break down what you should be doing, and how often to keep your dishwasher running in tip-top shape. 

Daily – clearing your dishwasher and filter of visible debris:

Before every cycle, you should check the basin of your dishwasher and filter for any bits of food or debris that could be blocking the drain. Clearing these out will make sure your dishwasher is completing each cycle efficiently and not using dirty water. This will prevent cloudy dishes, or dishes with dried bits of debris. 

Once a week – Wipe down the exterior and gasket/ rubber door seal: 

To keep your dishwasher looking its best you should wipe down the exterior, and button panel once a week. Cleaning the button panel especially will help get rid of any pesky bacteria or smudgy finger marks. The gasket or rubber door seal however is less of a cosmetic issue. The rubber seal can trap bits of food and moisture and can begin to grow mold or mildew from the humidity. It can also start to develop an offensive smell. You definitely don’t want any of that getting on your clean dishes. 

Once a month – Do a deep clean of your dishwasher:

This is probably the answer you were looking for to the question ‘how often should you clean your dishwasher?’ A deep clean of your entire dishwasher should be conducted once a month. If you run your dishwasher very often or daily, you should do a deep clean once a month. If you run it less than that, you can stretch the time between deep cleans. Keep reading to find out how you can easily do a deep clean of your dishwasher. 

How to clean your dishwasher

You can easily clean your dishwasher at home with a few simple ingredients, and some elbow grease of course. You’ll want to start by unloading any clean dishes in the machine and putting them away. Then you can remove the bottom rack of your dishwasher in order to get to the drain and filter systems at the bottom of the machine. Locate the drain and remove any food residue with a paper towel or rag. You should try to make this a habit at the end of each cycle, or ensure your dishes are scraped free of any large pieces of food before placing them in the dishwasher[2]. Now that the drain is clear, the dishwasher will work more efficiently and no large food items in the drain will cause further damage. 

Next will be cleaning the filter. The filter is located near the drain and is typically a circular metal filter that can easily be removed, like in the picture below. Remove the filter and wash it with hot soapy water. Make sure to check the filter cavity in the dishwasher for any food bits and remove them. Once the filter and cavity are clean you can reinsert the filter and the bottom dish rack. 

Hand inside empty dishwasher removing dishwasher filter

Now comes the easy part. The dishwasher with a clean filter and drain can now do most of the work for you, you’ll just have to run a few wash cycles with some special ingredients. First is a vinegar cycle. Place a dishwasher-safe cup full of white distilled vinegar on the top rack of your washing machine[2]. Run a wash cycle using the hottest water setting. The natural acidity of the vinegar will work to “dissolve mineral deposit, dirt, grease, and grime…[and] it’s also strong enough to kill bacteria”[3].

Lucy's Family Owned - Natural Distilled White Vinegar, 1 Gallon (128 oz) - 5% Acidity

Once the vinegar wash cycle is complete, run a cycle with baking soda. Sprinkle one cup of baking soda in the bottom of the dishwasher, and run a short wash cycle on the hottest water setting. Baking soda is a natural deodorizer, so will remove any funky stains from your dishwasher, as well as lightly scrub away any debris due to its abrasiveness. 

ARM & HAMMER Pure Baking Soda 8 oz

Now that the wash cycles are complete we have to use a little bit of elbow grease for the rest of the dishwasher. The rubber seal or gasket around the door can trap bits of food and grow mold and mildew from the humidity. Wipe down the rubber gasket with a kitchen towel soaking in hot soapy water. 

Weiman Stainless Steel Cleaner and Polish - 12 Ounce (2 Pack) - Removes Fingerprints, Residue, Water Marks and Grease from Appliances - Refrigerators Dishwashers Ovens Grills - 24 Ounce Total

If you do not have a stainless steel dishwasher, you can use another clean kitchen towel soaked in hot soapy water to clean the outside, and buttons panel. If you have a stainless steel dishwasher, you can use a microfibre cloth and plain water to clean the outside, or a stainless steel cleaning product or wipes. 

A clean dishwasher means cleaner dishes

The bottom line is you can’t expect a dirty dishwasher to produce clean dishes. With every use “bits of food, grease, undissolved detergent and water minerals buildup on the dishwasher’s filter and interior walls”[1] and eventually end up on your dishes, making them cloudy, or just plain dirty. Your dishwasher should be as clean as the dishes you are eating off of. By doing a deep clean of your dishwasher once a month or so, you can be sure that your dishes are free of bacteria, or tiny bits of old food. If a monthly deep clean is difficult to work into your schedule, no problem. There are a number of things you can do to prevent your dishwasher from getting dirty. Number one being: always remove any visible food scraps from your food before putting them in the dishwasher. Treat your dishwasher as a sanitizer. There is no need to pre-wash your dishes, just scrape off any food scraps into your compost, and give it a quick rinse to remove any visible bits. Your dishwasher will handle the rest without getting clogged with debris or food scraps. To prevent any funky smells or mildew in the gasket, leave your dishwasher slightly ajar after your cycle is complete. You can even put a kitchen towel over the door to absorb any excess moisture. This will allow your dishes to dry faster, without watermarks. It will also allow the inside of the dishwasher to dry completely so no mildew or odors can be trapped and cause issues with your next cycle. 

For spotless dishes, and a better working machine, incorporate a deep clean of your dishwasher once a month, or as often as you can manage. Your delicious meals deserve a clean and sparkling plate to be served on. 


Article Sources: 

  1. Good Housekeeping. “How to Clean a Dishwasher Easily – And How Often You Need to Do So
  2. Greatist. “Here’s How to Clean Your Dishwasher – It Gets Filthier Than You Think
  3. Healthline. “Is Vinegar an Acid or Base? And Does It Matter?