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How to clean a dishwasher in 7 simple steps

If your dishwasher isn’t clean, your dishes won’t be either. So it’s time to scrub up on how to get your machine clean and pristine.

Updated Reading Time: 7 minutesBy Cleanipedia Team

An open, loaded dishwasher
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You could be forgiven for wondering, do you really need to know how to clean a dishwasher? After all, it’s whole job is to clean things for you. But the truth is that over time, bits of food, grease, undissolved detergent and water minerals build up on your dishwasher's filter and interior walls.

As well as potentially creating unpleasant smells, this build-up can leave spots and film on your glassware and crockery. Plus, it can seriously damage the dishwasher's filter and pump, which could result in costly repairs.

So yes, even dishwashers need cleaning to keep them in great working order and banish unwanted smells. But what’s the best way to clean a dishwasher? What can you run through a dishwasher to clean it? And is there a lot of scrubbing involved? This handy guide will answer all your questions and get your dishwasher clean as a whistle.

You will need:

  • A stiff brush or old toothbrush
  • A clean cloth
  • A cup or small bowl
  • Hot water
  • Washing up liquid
  • White vinegar
  • Bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • Multi-purpose surface cleaner
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How to deep clean your dishwasher with vinegar

White vinegar is a cheap but incredibly effective way to clean your dishwasher and get rid of germs. (However, you can buy commercial dishwasher cleaners, which you can use in place of vinegar in these instructions.)

  1. Clean the filter

    Start by taking out your dishwasher’s filter (the bit at the bottom from where the water drains out). Scrub it with a stiff brush or an old toothbrush dipped in hot water mixed with a little washing up liquid.

    If you’re unsure how to remove the filter, your dishwasher’s manual should have instructions (if you can’t track down the paper manual, you should be able to find it online).

  2. Clean the dishwasher’s removable parts

    Take out the racks and utensil holder and wipe off any food particles or debris. To remove any resistant marks, use a toothbrush or stiff brush dipped in soapy water. Then scrub the spray arm with a toothbrush to remove any clogs.

  3. Put a cup or bowl of white vinegar in the dishwasher

    Replace the racks and utensil holder, then fill a cup or small bowl with distilled white vinegar and place it on the upper rack. Or if it doesn’t fit, pour the vinegar into the bottom of the dishwasher. Make sure the rest of the machine is empty.

  4. Run the dishwasher on a hot wash

    Set the temperature to the highest heat level and run the dishwasher for a full cycle. The vinegar mixed with the hot water will disinfect everything and wash away grease and grime.

  5. Check the interior of the machine

    Once the wash cycle has finished and the machine has cooled, it’s time to check the inside of the machine to make sure you’re happy it’s clean and pristine. Pay special attention to the spray arms and any protruding areas that may hide debris or detergent residue.

    If you do spot any leftover dirt or grime, use a cloth dipped in hot soapy water to scrub it off.

    Tip: Use a wooden toothpick or skewers to carefully remove anything stuck in the small holes of the spray arms. It’s important to keep these clean as otherwise water won’t be able to circulate in your dishwasher properly.

  6. Freshen up the dishwasher with baking soda

    Bicarbonate of soda (also called baking soda) is a cleaner’s best friend. It's a safe and mild alkali substance that works brilliantly at removing persistent residue left by food waste. And it removes odours wonderfully too.

    Take the bicarbonate of soda and scatter it lightly around the lower part of the machine. Then run another short cycle at the highest temperature.

  7. Clean the door and outer surfaces

    Last but not least, finish up by cleaning the door. Use a commercial kitchen spray or multi-purpose cleaner like Cif to cut through any grease, soap scum, or food residue on the door and any handles.

    Scrub around the door seals with a toothbrush that’s been dipped in hot, soapy water. And dig right into all the crevices to make sure you get all the accumulated dirt. Finally, wipe up any excess dirt with a cloth soaked in soapy water.

And there you have it. One seriously clean dishwasher.

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How to make cleaning a dishwasher easier: simple maintenance tasks

Now that you know how to clean a dishwasher, you could keep up a regular routine of simple dishwasher maintenance. You’ll make your cleaning job that much easier. . Here are our tips for what to do and how often...

Whenever you run the dishwasher: Remove bits of food

It’s a good idea to get into the habit of cleaning any remaining bits of food that accumulate at the bottom of the dishwasher after each dishwashing cycle.

Pull out the bottom rack to look for any leftover food that may have fallen into the filter well and remove it with a paper towel. This will help prevent unwanted smells and future grime build-up.

Weekly: Wipe down the doors and rinse the filter

With a damp sponge or cloth, wipe away any residue and spots that may have splashed or settled onto the interior surface of the door, the door seals, handle, or dishwasher controls.

Then turn your attention to the filter. Remove it and rinse it under hot running water. Use a toothbrush to scrub the mesh screen and plastic frame to remove any grease or particles stuck in the crevices before popping it back into place. (If you're not sure where your machine's filter is located check the manual.)

Monthly: Give it a deep clean

Once a month, use our guide above to give your dishwasher a proper deep clean with vinegar (or a commercial cleaner if you prefer).

Dealing with unpleasant dishwasher smells

While cleaning your dishwasher is often the answer to dealing with nasty smells, sometimes the problem can be elsewhere – anything from hard water to using the wrong salt. Take a look at our tips for ridding your dishwasher of those horrid odours.

Did you know? Top dishwasher hints and tips

On the surface, dishwashers seem incredibly simple. Pop in your dishes and a dishwasher tablet, switch it on and bam! – clean dishes. But if you use these handy hints you’ll be getting the most from your machine and saving water into the bargain.

There’s no need to pre-rinse dishes

Modern dishwashers can cope with a lot of muck, so you don’t need to rinse dishes before loading them into the machine.

In fact, doing so can actually make the machine less efficient, as the internal sensor will think that the dishes are clean and sanitized before they actually are – causing it to run a shorter cycle (not to mention pre-rinsing is also a big waste of water).

That said, it’s a good idea to scrape off any large pieces of food straight into the bin, as they can cause clogs in the dishwasher filter.

How you load your dishwasher will affect its performance

How to load your dishwasher correctly can cause divisions within households – everyone has their own opinion. But this is one of those cases where there really is a right way (and plenty of wrong ones).

If you’ve loaded your dishwasher incorrectly, it’s not going to clean your dishes efficiently. In fact, incorrect loading is one of the most common reasons for finding dirty dishes after you’ve run a cycle. So, to put an end to any arguments, take a look at our ultimate guide to stacking your dishwasher just right.

Not everything can go in the dishwasher

While many products you can buy these days will have a dishwasher safe symbol, this isn’t true for everything that can go in the dishwasher. So how do you know what’s safe to put in and what isn’t? Easy – use our guide to what’s dishwasher safe.

Dishwashers can actually save water (compared to hand washing)

When you listen in during a cycle, you could be forgiven for thinking your dishwasher is using water like there’s no tomorrow. But you’ll be pleased to know dishwashers don’t use as much water or energy as you might think – as long as they’re used efficiently.

To help you do your bit for the planet and save water around your home, take a look at our definitive guide to using your dishwasher in an eco-friendly way.

Solving common dishwasher problems

From water not draining properly to loud rattling noises, it can be worrying when you spot a problem with your dishwasher. But don’t panic just yet – our handy guide to solving common dishwasher problems may well have the answer.

Originally published