How to Get Your Dishwasher Squeaky-Clean With Just Vinegar

Person pouring white vinegar into a bowl on the top shelf of a dishwasher

The Spruce / Adelyn Duchala

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 3 - 20 mins
  • Total Time: 1 hr - 1 hr, 30 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $5 to 7

Even though there is constantly circulating hot soapy water in an automatic dishwasher during the wash cycle, there can still be food waste and grime clinging to the inside walls and mechanisms. If you notice a smelly odor after running a load of dishes and the thought of gunk redepositing on your dishes is scary, it's time to clean your dishwasher. Regular cleaning is not only hygienic; it can also increase the life expectancy of your appliance.

Luckily, regular cleaning of the dishwasher takes just one ingredient—distilled white vinegar—and little effort. The acidity in the vinegar helps break down soap scum, residue, and grime.

How Often to Clean a Dishwasher With Vinegar

Put a reminder on your calendar to clean the interior of your dishwasher once a month with vinegar. By doing this, you'll only need to give your appliance a more detailed cleaning once or twice a year.


Don't forget about the outside of your dishwasher. Wipe it down with a damp microfiber cloth at least weekly or as needed to remove splatters.

Best Vinegar for Cleaning a Dishwasher

While there are dozens of types of vinegar, distilled white vinegar or cleaning vinegar are the best to use when cleaning. Distilled and cleaning vinegar do not contain tannins (plant dyes) that can discolor some surfaces. Both are made through a process where alcohols are distilled from grain and allowed to ferment as microorganisms process the alcohol into acetic acid and water or vinegar.

Distilled white vinegar contains around five percent acetic acid and 95% water and is perfect for monthly cleaning. Cleaning vinegar contains around six percent acetic acid, making it 20% stronger than white distilled vinegar. If you've never cleaned your dishwasher or it has been a while, cleaning vinegar (which is more expensive) will cut through the build-up more easily.


If you don't have any distilled white vinegar, you can substitute apple cider vinegar, bottled or strained fresh lemon juice, or citric acid powder to clean the interior of the dishwasher. If using citric acid powder, sprinkle one-fourth cup in the bottom of the dishwasher before running a wash cycle.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 1 dishwasher-safe bowl
  • 1 soft scrubbing brush or old toothbrush
  • 1 sink


  • 1 bottle distilled white vinegar or cleaning vinegar
  • 1 bottle dishwashing liquid


Materials needed to clean a dishwasher with vinegar

The Spruce / Adelyn Duchala

How to Clean a Dishwasher Monthly With Vinegar

  1. Empty the Dishwasher

    Always start with an empty dishwasher. A good time to run a cleaning cycle is right after the clean dishes have been unloaded.

    Person emptying a dishwasher

    The Spruce / Adelyn Duchala

  2. Add the Vinegar

    Pour at least one cup of distilled white vinegar or three-fourths cup of cleaning vinegar into a dishwasher-safe bowl. Place the bowl on the top rack of the dishwasher. Using a bit more—up to two cups if the dishwasher has never been cleaned—is perfectly fine.

    Do not add any dishwasher detergent.

    Adding a bowl of vinegar to the top rack of a dishwasher

    The Spruce / Adelyn Duchala

  3. Run a Full Cleaning Cycle

    Select a full cleaning cycle without a drying cycle. Start the dishwasher.

    Running a cleaning cycle in the dishwasher

    The Spruce / Adelyn Duchala

  4. Check and Clean the Interior with Vinegar

    When the cycle is complete and the interior is still damp, check the detergent dispenser and utensil holder for any trapped particles and give them a quick cleaning, if needed, with a small brush dipped in distilled white vinegar. Wipe down the door seals with a sponge dipped in vinegar.

    Leave the dishwasher door open for an hour or so and allow the interior to air-dry and the dishwasher is ready to use.

    Cleaning the dishwasher dispenser with a toothbrush

    The Spruce / Adelyn Duchala

How to Use Vinegar for a Thorough Dishwasher Cleaning

If you notice strong odors, food particles are redepositing on the dishes, or if the dishwasher isn't draining well, a more thorough cleaning is required. The process starts just the same as the vinegar cleaning cycle but you'll need to add some additional steps.

  1. Add Baking Soda to Help Control Odors

    After the wash cycle is complete, open the door and sprinkle one cup of dry baking soda onto the floor of the dishwasher. Run a hot water rinse cycle (no drying cycle). When the cycle is finished, open the door so you can complete the cleaning process while the interior is damp.

    Adding baking soda to the dishwasher

    The Spruce / Adelyn Duchala

  2. Clean the Dishwasher Filter

    Locate and remove the dishwasher filter. Fill a sink or large bowl with hot water and a few drops of dishwashing liquid and soak the filter for a few minutes to loosen the debris. Use an old toothbrush or soft-bristled nylon brush to scrub away any trapped debris in the filter. Rinse well.

    Scrub the filter housing with a brush dipped in vinegar and then replace the filter.

    Cleaning the dishwasher filter

    The Spruce / Adelyn Duchala

  3. Clean the Dishwasher Drain

    There may be food particles stuck in the drain under the filter causing odor. With the filter removed, add one-fourth cup of baking soda to the drain. Then, pour one-half cup of distilled vinegar into the drain opening. There will be foaming as the products react. That reaction helps to loosen debris so it is flushed away during a dishwasher cycle.

    Allow the mixture to work for 10 to 15 minutes before reassembling the filter and any screens over the drain then run a cleaning cycle.

    Adding baking soda to the drain of a dishwasher

    The Spruce / Adelyn Duchala

Tips to Keep Your Dishwasher Clean Longer

  • Scrape excess food from the dishes before placing them in the dishwasher.
  • Add a monthly reminder to your calendar to clean the dishwasher with vinegar.
  • Avoid overloading a dishwasher, so the water can easily circulate and flush away food particles.