How to Properly Clean a Dishwasher Drain

Grey dishwasher interior with filter removed for cleaning

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Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 - 30 mins
  • Total Time: 30 mins - 1 hr
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $5 to 15

A dishwasher is a workhorse in the kitchen. Using detergent and the mechanical force of hot water sprays, it sweeps away food bits and grease from dirty dishes, flushes the soil down a drain, rinses away the detergent residue, and dries the dishes. Most of us take the machine for granted until it stops working correctly or develops an odor that won't go away. When that happens, it may be time to clean the dishwasher drain.

Signs that your dishwasher drain needs cleaning include an odor or standing water on the dishwasher floor when a cycle is complete. If cleaning the drain sounds difficult, it usually isn't. However, you should investigate other sources as well. A clogged dishwasher filter can cause slow draining and odors. Be sure to clean it as well as the drain.

How Often to Clean a Dishwasher Drain

Regular monthly cleaning of the dishwasher will usually prevent the need to clean a dishwasher drain. By cleaning monthly with baking soda and distilled white vinegar or a commercial dishwasher cleaner, the food particles and grease don't have a chance to build up until they clog the drain.

If the dishwasher is not draining properly or has a strong odor, it's time to clean the drain.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 1 small bowl
  • 1 sink or dishpan
  • 1 soft-bristled scrub brush
  • 1 drain auger/snake
  • 1 screwdriver (optional)

Materials

  • 1 box baking soda
  • 1 bottle distilled white vinegar
  • 1 bottle dishwashing liquid

Instructions

How to Clean a Dishwasher Drain

  1. Empty the Dishwasher

    Always start with an empty dishwasher. Remove the lower rack.

  2. Safety First

    Before cleaning the drain, turn off the breaker or unplug the dishwasher.

  3. Locate and Remove the Dishwasher Filter

    A screen or filter covers the dishwasher drain and is located on the interior floor of the dishwasher. Most filters are round and twist-lock into place. Some filters are a single cylindrical component, others have a secondary flat filter below the cylinder.

    Tip

    If you can't locate the filter, refer to your dishwasher manual or visit the manufacturer's website. You may need a screwdriver to remove the filter and any screens covering the dishwasher drain.

  4. Clean the Filter

    Fill a sink or large bowl with hot water and a few drops of dishwashing liquid that contains a degreaser. Soak the filter(s) for a few minutes to loosen the debris. Use a sponge or a soft-bristled nylon brush to scrub away any debris, especially bits of paper labels stuck to the filter. Rinse well in hot water and allow to air-dry.

  5. Unclog a Dishwasher Drain

    If you suspect a large clog in the drain, use a drain snake or auger to clear the drain and drain line before using the vinegar and baking soda combination to freshen and clear the line of small debris.

    Consult your dishwasher manual about locating the drain hose and how to disconnect it to remove a clog.

    Warning

    Be sure the dishwasher is unplugged or the breaker has been turned off before attempting to unclog the drain.

  6. Clean and Freshen the Drain

    To remove odors and small amounts of debris clinging to the sides of the dishwasher drain, 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.

  7. Run a Cleaning Cycle

    Once you have reassembled the filters, turn on the electrical breaker or plug in the dishwasher. Place a bowl with one cup of distilled white vinegar on the top dish rack. Run a regular wash cycle but skip the drying cycle. Do not add dishwasher detergent.

    When the wash cycle is complete, open the door and sprinkle one cup of dry baking soda onto the damp floor of the dishwasher. Run a hot water rinse cycle, open the door, and allow the dishwasher interior to air-dry.

Tips to Keep a Dishwasher Drain Clean Longer

When to Call a Professional

If the dishwasher is still not draining properly after you attempted to remove clogs, contact a licensed plumber.