How to Clean a Dishwasher

preparing to clean a dishwasher

The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 - 30 mins
  • Total Time: 2 hrs, 15 mins - 4 hrs, 30 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $5-10

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. Food waste and other grime and debris can eventually build up in it. Left uncleaned, this can impact how well your dishwasher performs and leave you with dirty dishes even after a cleaning cycle. It also might reduce the life expectancy of your appliance.

Cleaning your dishwasher is easier than you think. Just fill a dishwasher safe bowl with one cup of white vinegar and place it at the bottom of your empty dishwasher. Then, set the dishwasher to run on the hot water cycle. The acidity in the vinegar helps break down soap scum, residue, and grime.

How Often to Clean a Dishwasher

Routine monthly cleaning can be done with a soft-bristle 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. Wipe this down at least weekly or as needed to remove dirt.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Soft-bristle brush
  • Flexible wire
  • Old toothbrush
  • Sponge
  • Microfiber cloths

Materials

  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Dish soap
  • Stainless steel cleaning product (for stainless steel)
  • Olive oil or baby oil (for stainless steel)

Instructions

materials for cleaning a dishwasher
​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 

How to Clean a Dishwasher Monthly

Following this simple procedure on a monthly basis should keep your dishwasher functioning effectively and might 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-bristle 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 1 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 1 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 buildup, and the baking soda will remove lingering odors.

    Warning

    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 

How to Thoroughly Clean a Dishwasher

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 might 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 might not be reaching the surfaces of your dishes and leaving them soiled.

    Take your flexible wire, and insert its tip 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 might be shocked at the gunk that is trapped underneath.)

    Dip an 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

    Use your old toothbrush to remove any debris that might be caught in the grid of the utensil holder. Also, scrub any buildup 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 2 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 

How to Clean the Outside of a Dishwasher

How you clean the outside of your dishwasher depends on its style and finish, but there are general steps that almost everyone can do.

  1. Clean the Control Buttons

    If the dishwasher has buttons or dials on the front or top of the door, take time to clean around them. Use an old toothbrush dipped in water and a bit of dish soap to remove any buildup.

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

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

Tips to Keep a Dishwasher Clean Longer

  • Stick to a regular dishwasher cleaning schedule. Or at the very least, do a cleaning as soon as you notice debris in the dishwasher and/or that your dishes aren't getting clean.
  • Rinse food waste off dishes prior to loading them in the dishwasher.
  • Make sure no food stickers or other materials that won't easily dissolve go into the dishwasher.
  • Avoid overloading a dishwasher, so the water can easily circulate.