Your dishwasher is supposed to help you clean, not leave your dishes smelling like they haven’t been washed. If your dishwasher is causing trouble, it’s time to give it a thorough cleaning. Our Pros know a thing or two about bringing your dishwasher back to life, so check out this complete guide to cleaning and maintaining your dishwasher.
How to clean a dishwasher
There are many commercial dishwasher cleaners on the market. In most cases you place the whole bottle on the rack of an empty dishwasher and run a regular cycle. You can’t beat that for convenience, but using lots of harsh detergents can ultimately cause damage to your pipes — and it isn’t exactly eco-friendly.
Another simple solution is to fill a dishwasher-safe bowl with white vinegar and place it on the bottom rack of an empty dishwasher during a hot cycle. The vinegar will get your dishwasher gleaming again in no time, without harming your pipes or the environment.
Pro Tip: Done with the dishwasher? Give your microwave a clean next.
How to clean a smelly dishwasher
If your dishwasher smells like sewage, it’s definitely overdue for a cleaning. Bad odors are caused by a buildup of dirt in the trap or filter, or potentially a drain blockage. If cleaning your dishwasher using the below methods doesn’t stop the smell, it’s time to call in a plumber.
How to clean a dishwasher filter
Your dishwasher’s filter prevents food debris from clogging your drains, but it does need to be cleaned regularly — at least once a month. You’ll find the filter on the floor of the dishwasher, underneath the rotating spray arm. Locate and remove the filter. Often filters have a simple twist lock, and you’ll see guidance on how to remove it printed on the mechanism. If you’re not sure, consult your owner’s manual.
Rinse the filter well and give it a quick soak in a cleaning solution like water and white vinegar or dish soap. Rinse again under hot water to remove any residue before returning the cleaned filter to the dishwasher.
How to clean a dishwasher drain hose
While the filter is soaking in the sink, check your drain as well for any blockages. The drain is located underneath the filter connector. Clean the dishwasher drain trap using a damp microfiber cloth to wipe around the filter housing and collect any dirt and debris. Don’t do this with your bare hands, because there may be glass shards if anything has ever broken inside the dishwasher.
Next, pour half a cup of baking soda into the drain, and then 1 cup of white vinegar. Let the mixture sit for 10-15 minutes, and then flush with hot water. This will clear the drain and hose.
Now you know how to clean a dishwasher inside, but how often should you clean your dishwasher? A lot depends on how often you use it. If you’re using your dishwasher on a daily basis and don’t pre-rinse your plates, you should clean the filter and trap at least monthly. If you use your dishwasher less often, or scrape and rinse first, you can reduce the frequency of filter cleanings. Remove the filter occasionally and check for buildup to see how often yours should be cleaned.
Pro Tip: Keep cleaning! Learn how to clean a glass-top stove.
Dishwasher cleaning FAQ
How do I clean and deodorize my dishwasher?
Our Pros love white vinegar, because it deodorizes as well as cleans. The strong vinegar smell that many people dislike dissipates very quickly, taking any unpleasant odors with it. However if you’d prefer not to use vinegar, you can use citric acid instead. You can purchase citric acid dishwasher tabs, or place 1-2 tablespoons of citric acid powder in the detergent holder, and run your empty dishwasher on a hot cycle. Just make sure you always use food grade citric acid.
What is the best way to clean the inside of a dishwasher?
The best way is the way that works best for you — it’s that simple! Try to use cleaners you have readily available so you don’t have to make any special effort to clean your dishwasher. That can be a DIY solution like vinegar, baking soda, or citric acid, or specialist dishwasher cleaning tablets or solutions. Try to avoid anything with detergent or harsh chemicals, as repeated use over time can block pipes or damage the dishwasher’s mechanisms.
Can I run the dishwasher empty to clean it?
You should always clean the dishwasher while it’s empty, but that isn’t the same thing as simply running a regular cycle with no dishes inside. In a pinch, an empty cycle will help keep your dishwasher clean, but it will be much more effective if you put a little cleaning solution inside first.
How do you clean a clogged dishwasher?
The first step to dealing with a clogged dishwasher is to remove the filter and clean the drain trap. Many clogs can be dislodged with baking soda and vinegar (and a little patience). You may need to repeat the treatment several times if the blockage is substantial. Flush the drain with very hot water between each treatment. If the dishwasher remains clogged, it’s time to call in a plumber.
Pro Tip: Your dishwasher isn’t the only cleaning appliance that needs some TLC. Find out how to clean your washing machine.
Best dishwasher cleaning solutions and methods
There are many home cleaning solutions that work well on dishwashers. So whether you want a frugal cleaning solution or you’re trying to avoid harsh chemicals, chances are you’ve already got the ingredients for a few DIY cleaners to hand.
How to clean dishwasher drain with baking soda and vinegar
You already know how to clean your dishwasher with vinegar, but you can get even more cleaning power by adding baking soda to the mix. When combined, baking soda and vinegar trigger a chemical reaction that’s harmless to humans, but devastating to dirt.
To clean your dishwasher, first remove the bottom rack and sprinkle the floor of your washer with 1 cup of baking soda. Then place 1 cup of white vinegar in a dishwasher-safe bowl and place it on the top rack. Run a hot water cycle. The soda and vinegar will combine in the dishwasher and produce a powerful cleaning effect.
How to clean dishwasher without vinegar
You can also make a DIY dishwasher cleaner without vinegar. Citric acid granules make a great all-purpose cleaner, and in a pinch you can even use a sachet of lemonade mix. Just make sure it’s an unsweetened packet, because sugar and hot water make a sticky mess. Simply sprinkle the citric acid across the floor of the dishwasher and run a hot cycle. You can also do this with baking soda as well. The vinegar creates a chemical reaction that boosts its cleaning power, but baking soda alone is already a powerful cleaning ingredient.
Is vinegar bad for dishwashers?
Vinegar is acidic, and therefore can be corrosive. That leaves some people concerned it may cause damage. The acetic acid in vinegar can reduce the lifespan of rubber gaskets and hoses. However, by placing vinegar in a bowl inside the dishwasher, the components only come into contact with a very dilute solution, reducing the chances of vinegar causing any harm.
How to clean a dishwasher with bleach
If your dishwasher is looking particularly dingy, it’s tempting to reach for the bleach. While bleach will kill bacteria and pathogens, and can be an effective cleaner, avoid using it on machines with stainless steel parts, as bleach will damage the finish.
To use bleach, place 1 cup in a dishwasher-safe bowl on the top rack and run a hot water cycle.
Pro Tip: Keep your kitchen gleaming — learn how to clean, seal, and polish granite countertops
|What to clean a dishwasher with|
|1 cup white vinegar||1 cup white vinegar + 1 cup baking soda|
|1-2 tablespoons citric acid||1 packet unsweetened lemonade mix|
|1 cup bleach||Store bought dishwasher cleaners|
How to make homemade dishwasher cleaner
If you want to take frugality to the next step, you can make homemade dishwasher tablets to use in every load. They’re surprisingly simple!
- 1 tablespoon borax
- 1 tablespoon washing soda
- ½ tablespoon salt
- ½ Tablespoon food-grade citric acid
Combine all the ingredients and add the mixture to your dishwasher’s detergent compartment. You can scale up this recipe, just keep the ratios the same.
Don’t confuse washing soda with baking soda. Both are often sold by the same brands. Washing soda is a mixture of sodium carbonate, soda ash, and soda crystals, and it improves the effectiveness of many detergents. Look in the laundry aisle of large grocery stores to find it.
Best practices for keeping your dishwasher clean
Cleaning your dishwasher isn’t the only way to maintain it and ensure it works well for years. Prevention is better than cure! Here are a few tips to keep your dishwasher running as it should.
- Rinse your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. Remove as much food debris as possible to prevent it from clogging the filter and drain.
- Run the garbage disposal before the dishwasher. The drains for the two are usually connected, so it helps to keep them clear.
- Don’t overfill (or underfill) your dishwasher. Save energy by only running full loads, but if you overfill your washer, the water won’t have room to circulate properly.
- Run hot water before starting your dishwasher. That ensures the cycle starts with hot water instantly, making it more effective.
Keeping your dishwasher clean is a small task that will make a big difference. Keep your dishes sparkling clean, and you never have to worry about blockages or unpleasant smells from your dishwasher again.