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How to clean a dishwasher properly

Woman unloading stainless steel dishwasher full of dishes with wooden cabinets

Our dishwashers clean our dishes, so they must stay clean, right? Unfortunately, dishwashers can get even dirtier than the dishes we put in them. Food and debris build-up can make our dishwashers not run optimally, and even began to break down if we don’t keep them clean. But just how do you clean a dishwasher? Keep reading for our step-by-step guide for properly cleaning your dishwasher so you get the cleanest dishes possible!

Related To: Do Dishwashers Save Water?

How to properly clean your dishwasher

1. Unload any clean dishes:

The first thing you will need to do is of course unload any clean dishes from your dishwasher. If there is any visible debris in the dishwasher, like paper stickers or large bits of food, remove these as well and discard them.  

Mans hand in striped shirt removing dishwasher from dishwasher

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2. Remove and clean your dishwasher filter

Now that your dishwasher is empty of dishes, remove the bottom dish rack to access the filter. The filter is a cylindrical plastic part in the basin of your dishwasher that sits in a cavity. Twist and lift the filter out of the dishwasher and set it aside. Remove any bits of food or debris from the filter and discard. Using a scrub brush and dish soap, thoroughly scrub the dishwasher filter until it is completely spotless. Your dishwasher filter filters out all food and debris from the water as it drains. If your filter is clogged with debris and food your dishwasher will not drain properly and will back up with unclean water. Not to mention, the old food sitting in your dishwasher can rot producing a foul order, and making the water circulating through your dishwasher dirty. This can leave your dishes unclean with food bits and residue. It’s crucial to have a clean filter in order to get clean dishes. Set the clean filter aside as you do the next step. 

3. Clean the filter cavity and basin of the dishwasher

Now that the filter is removed, you will see the cavity below where it sits. This cavity can also hold trapped food and debris. Using a paper towel or rag remove any food bits and debris and discard. You can use a sponge or paper towel and an all-purpose cleaner or a small amount of dish soap to wipe any grime or mildew from the cavity. Once the cavity is spotless you can reinsert the filter. While the bottom of the dishrack is still out, use this time to give a quick wipe to the inside of the dishwasher removing any stuck-on food bits. 

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4. Run a vinegar wash cycle

Luckily, most of the grunt work is done and the next few steps where the real cleaning gets done will be completed by your dishwasher alone. With your bottom dish rack back in the dishwasher, and the filter firmly in place, put a dishwasher safe cup or bowl with 1 cup of white vinegar[1] on the bottom rack of your dishwasher. Vinegar contains acetic acid which makes it such a powerful cleaning solution. The acetic acid in vinegar “can dissolve mineral deposits, dirt, grease, and grime. It’s also strong enough to kill bacteria”[2]. Run a hot water dishwasher cycle. The dishwasher will circulate the vinegar throughout the dishwasher gently breaking down any grime and killing trapped bacteria.  

5. Run a baking soda wash cycle

When the vinegar cycle is complete, remove the bowl or cup you used to hold the vinegar. The next wash cycle we run will use baking soda. Sprinkle 1 cup of baking soda[1] at the bottom of the dishwasher and run a short cycle with hot water. The baking soda is slightly abrasive so it will gently scrub away any stains or grime from the inside of the dishwasher. Baking soda is also a natural deodorizer and will eradicate any nasty smells from your dishwasher

6. Clean the rubber gasket

Now that the inside of the dishwasher is clean, it’s time to tackle the rest. The rubber gasket or rubber seal on the door is a particular area of concern. The rubber gasket can trap smaller pieces of food and debris, and it can grow mildew and bacteria. It’s just as important to clean this area as it is to clean the outside. Using a rag and a mixture of hot soapy water, or an all-purpose cleaner, wipe down the rubber gasket. Be sure to get into all the nooks and crannies of the rubber gasket, as debris can get trapped behind it. After you’ve scrubbed the gasket clean use a dry cloth to dry the area. 

7. Clean button panel

You’re almost done! Now comes the easy part. Using a cloth and a disinfecting cleaning spray, wipe down the buttons panel. This will disinfect the area of any germs, and remove any greasy finger smudges. 

Cosmo COS-DIS6502 24 inch Top Control Built-in Tall Tub Dishwasher, Fingerprint Resistant, Low Noise 45dB in Stainless Steel

8. Clean the exterior

If your dishwasher is stainless steel, you can use a microfibre towel will plain water, a mix of water and vinegar, or a cleaning product specialized for stainless steel to clean the exterior of your dishwasher. Wipe down the front of your dishwasher with your desired cleaning product and then wipe dry with a dry clean towel to get a streak-free clean

If your dishwasher is not stainless steel, you can simply use a mixture of warm water and soap, or an all-purpose cleaner and a cloth to wipe down the front of your machine. 

How to keep your dishwasher clean

1. Clear your dishes of large food bits before putting them in the dishwasher: 

The best way you can keep your dishwasher clean and running optimally is to treat it more as a sanitizer than garbage disposal. We tend to put too much faith in the ability of our dishwashers to take care of large bits of food and baked-on messes. You definitely don’t need to wash your dishes before popping them in the dishwasher but give them a thorough rinse to get rid of any large bits of food. This way your filter won’t become clogged, and your dishwasher will be able to properly drain and circulate clean water. 

2. Wash your filter often:

By keeping your dishes clear of large food bits before putting them in the dishwasher, you’ll keep your filter from becoming clogged. But even still it’s important to regularly clean your filter. Every week pop out your filter and give it a good rinse. A clean filter will increase the longevity of your machine and make your dishes cleaner. 

3. Leave your dishwasher door open to dry: 

After you’ve run your dishwasher, leave the door slightly ajar to let out any steam. This will help your dishes dry faster, and it will prevent any mildew from developing in the rubber gasket, or bad smells. 

Hand unloading white plates from dishwasher with light wooden cabinets

Dirty dishwasher = dirty dishes

The bottom line is, that if your dishwasher isn’t clean, your dishes definitely won’t get clean. A dirty dishwasher can trap bacteria and mildew and transfer them onto your dishes. If your filter is trapped with discarded food, this food waste will circulate through the dishwasher and leave specks of dried food on your dishes, leaving them unclean and cloudy. To keep your dishes clean, do a deep clean of your dishwasher once a month, and clean your filter as often as possible


Article Sources: 

  1. Architectural Digest. “How to Clean a Dishwasher (Quickly!)
  2. Healthline. “Vinegar: The Multipurpose, Chemical-Free Household Cleaner You Should Know About

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