How to Clean a Dishwasher Filter

Dishwasher filter laying in bottom of dishwashing machine

The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 mins
  • Total Time: 15 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

If you are having problems with stuck-on food left on your dishes after they have been through a dishwasher cycle, it might not be your dishwasher's fault. Have you been cleaning the filter in your dishwasher regularly? Did you know that there is a filter in the dishwasher that needs to be routinely cleaned?

Even if you rinse your dishes before you load them into the dishwasher, there are still bits of food and greasy residue that has to be flushed away from the surface of the dishes. The filter's job is to trap all of the loose particles and prevent them from being redeposited on the dishes. However, if the filter is clogged, it can't do its job.

Some older dishwashers contain a self-cleaning filter that works much like a garbage disposal. However, the built-in grinder caused the dishwasher to be excessively loud, and newer models turned to a filter that requires manual cleaning. Both types of filters are located on the dishwasher's interior floor under the rotating spray arm. You can determine which type of filter you have by checking the owner's manual or visiting the manufacturer's website.

How Often to Clean a Dishwasher Filter

The best way to refresh a self-cleaning filter is to give your dishwasher a thorough cleaning with distilled white vinegar and baking soda at least once a month or use a commercial dishwasher cleaner. Manual-clean filters should be cleaned at least once a month. If the clean dishes feel gritty or have bits of food left on them after washing, or the dishwasher has a really unpleasant odor, you should clean the filter more often.

Cleaning the filter takes only a few minutes and uses supplies you probably have on hand. Taking time to clean it is well worth the effort to save the time and energy of having to wash the dishes again.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Sink or large bowl
  • Dishcloth or sponge
  • Old toothbrush
  • Soft-bristled nylon brush

Materials

  • Dishwashing liquid containing a degreaser
  • Distilled white vinegar (optional)

Instructions

Materials and tools to clean a dishwasher filter

The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

  1. Locate the Dishwasher Filter

    Since the filter is located on the interior floor of the dishwasher, it is easier to locate and remove if you take out the bottom rack of the dishwasher. Most manual filters are round, twist-lock into place, and often have arrows indicating which way to turn the cylinder to remove it.

    Some filters are a single cylindrical component, others have a secondary flat filter below the cylinder. Most flat filters do not lock in place and can be easily lifted out by using the hole in the middle of the filter. You will not need any tools.

    Dishwasher filter located in bottom and center of dishwashing machine

    The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

  2. Remove the Filter

    Following the guideline arrows, twist the cylindrical filter to unlock it—most unlock by turning counter-clockwise. Once unlocked, pull it up gently to remove it from the dishwasher floor. If there is a second flat filter, remove it as well.

    Dishwasher filter removed from cylindrical filter with orange gloves

    The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

  3. Prepare a Cleaning Solution

    Fill a sink or large bowl with hot water and few drops of dishwashing liquid. Use a good detergent that contains a degreaser for easier cleaning.

    Sink being filled with water and dishwashing liquid

    The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

  4. Soak and Scrub the Filter

    Place the filter(s) in the cleaning solution and allow it to soak for a few minutes to loosen the debris. This is particularly helpful if there are bits of paper labels stuck to the filter. Use a sponge, old toothbrush, or soft-bristled nylon brush to scrub away any trapped debris in the filter.

    Old toothbrush scrubbing dishwasher filter with trapped debris

    The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

  5. Rinse Well

    Rinse the filter(s) in hot water.

    Dishwasher filter rinsed under running hot water from kitchen sink

    The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

  6. Wipe Down the Filter Housing

    Dip a sponge or dishcloth in the hot soapy water and wipe down the opening where the filter was removed to get rid of any food particles or grease build-up.

    Sponge with soapy water wiping down over filter housing with orange gloves

    The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

  7. Replace the Filter(s)

    Reverse the steps you used to remove the filters. If there is one, replace the flat filter first. Next, insert the freshly cleaned cylindrical filter making sure to lock it securely in place.

    Clean dishwasher filter replaced in filter housing with orange gloves

    The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

Tips to Help Keep Your Dishwasher Filter Clean

  • Scrape away excess food from the dishes before you load them into the dishwasher.
  • Once a month when the dishwasher is empty, run a cleaning cycle to help cut through any greasy build-up on the interior and the filter. Put two cups of distilled white vinegar in an open container on the top rack. Run a regular hot water wash cycle to complete the cleaning. 
  • Add a note to your calendar as a reminder to clean the dishwasher filter each month.