How to Clean a Dishwasher

preparing to clean a dishwasher

The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 1 hr
  • Total Time: 1 hr
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Because an automatic dishwasher is constantly moving hot soapy water through its insides as it cleans dishes, it's easy to overlook the fact that it, too, needs a dedicated cleaning once in a while. Like other appliances that get frequent use, you want your dishwasher to perform well and last as long as possible, and a monthly cleaning will help ensure this. Routine monthly cleaning can be done with a soft-bristled brush and ordinary materials you have around the house: distilled white vinegar, and baking soda. Once or twice a year, give the appliance a more detailed cleaning, which requires a few more items. And don't forget about the outside of your dishwasher.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Flexible wire
  • Old toothbrush
  • Sponge


  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Olive oil or baby oil (for stainless steel)
  • Stainless steel cleaning product (for stainless steel)
  • Microfiber cloth


materials for cleaning a dishwasher
​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 

Routine Monthly Cleaning

Following this simple procedure on a monthly basis will keep your dishwasher cleaning effectively and may eliminate the need for more aggressive cleaning.

  1. Remove Rack and Clean Strainer

    Pull out the bottom rack and examine the drainage strainer on the bottom of the dishwasher's interior. Remove any food, paper labels, or small items that might be clogging the holes. Use a soft-bristled brush dipped in vinegar to scrub away anything that is really stuck. Replace the bottom rack.

    scrubbing the dishwasher drain
    ​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 
  2. Run Cycle With Vinegar

    Fill a glass or plastic container with one cup of distilled white vinegar and place the open container on the top rack of the dishwasher. Run a regular wash cycle. You can skip the drying cycle to save energy costs.

    running a dishwashing cycle with vinegar
    ​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 
  3. Rinse With Baking Soda

    When the first cycle is finished, sprinkle one cup of baking soda on the inside floor of the dishwasher. Run a short, hot water rinse cycle (skip the drying cycle) and then open the dishwasher door to allow the interior to air dry. The vinegar will strip away any grease build-up and the baking soda will remove lingering odors.

    Never mix the vinegar and baking soda in the same cleaning cycle. They'll start to foam and you'll have quite a mess to clean up.

    cleaning with baking soda
    ​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 

Thoroughly Cleaning the Inside

If you have followed a monthly cleaning routine, a thorough cleaning is only needed once or twice per year. It is particularly important to do a thorough cleaning if you begin to notice problems with dirty dishes or spotted glassware after running a cycle. You may need to do a thorough cleaning more often if you live in an area with excessively hard water.

  1. Clean Spray Arms

    Start with an empty dishwasher. If possible, remove both the upper and lower racks to have better access to the water spray arms. Each spray arm has small holes that distribute water throughout the dishwasher, and these holes can become clogged with minerals from hard water or even bits of food. If the holes are clogged, the water may not be reaching the surfaces of your dishes and leaving them soiled. Insert the tip of the wire into each hole to remove any debris.

    cleaning the dishwasher arms
    ​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 
  2. Remove and Clean the Strainer

    Inspect the strainer on the drain at the bottom of the dishwasher. If possible, remove the strainer—you may be shocked at what is trapped underneath. Remove any trapped elements. Dip the old toothbrush in some vinegar and give every nook and cranny a good scrub.

    removing and cleaning the strainer
    ​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 
  3. Scrub the Utensil Holder and Detergent Dispenser

    The toothbrush is also perfect for removing any debris that might be caught in the grid of the utensil holder and for removing any build-up in the detergent dispenser.

    scrubbing the detergent dispenser
    ​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska
  4. Clean the Rubber Seals

    Dip a clean sponge in white vinegar and wipe down the rubber seals around the interior opening and the edges of the door.

    cleaning the rubber seals
    ​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 
  5. Run a Cycle With Vinegar

    Replace the racks and 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. 

    running a cycle with vinegar
    ​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 

Cleaning the Outside

How you clean the outside of your dishwasher depends on the style and finish. This should be done at least once each week, if not more often.

  1. Clean the Control Buttons

    If the dishwasher has buttons or dials on the front, take time to clean around them every month. Use an old toothbrush and a liquid hand-washing detergent to remove any build-up that might cause them to malfunction. For models that have controls built into the top of the door, wipe them down as needed.

    cleaning the control buttons
    ​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 
  2. Clean and Rinse the Door

    If the exterior door is made of plastic or painted metal, use mild liquid dishwashing detergent and a soft cloth or sponge to remove any splatters on the face and handle of the dishwasher. Finish by rinsing the dishwasher with a cloth dipped in plain water and buff dry with a soft cloth.

    cleaning the outside door
    ​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 
  3. Variation for Stainless Steel

    For a stainless steel door, it is best to use a stainless steel cleaning product and a microfiber cloth. Follow the product instructions and always wipe in one direction—in the same direction as the grain of the metal. Another option is to wipe the front of the dishwasher with a solution of mild dishwashing soap mixed with water, followed by a drop of olive oil or baby oil on a microfiber cloth to remove any streaks.

    cleaning a stainless dishwasher door
    ​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska