How to Clean a Dishwasher

By: Alia Hoyt & Jeremy Glass  | 
cleaning dishwasher
Those dirty dishes will come out a lot cleaner if your dishwasher is clean, too. Jasmin Merdan/Getty Images

A staple in American households since the 1970s, the dishwasher is the Cadillac of kitchen appliances; a time-saving dream machine for cleaning dishes.

The very name "dishwasher" implies that the appliance is self-cleaning, which it is for the most part. But you need to clean your dishwasher, too, especially because the warm, moist environment and alkaline pH values inside make dishwashers prime breeding grounds for some pretty nasty stuff. Not to mention dishwasher filters can get clogged with food particles. Gross.


That's why your dishwasher requires a thorough cleaning to stay sanitary and germ-free, and to keep it functioning in peak condition. Here's how to clean a dishwasher in a few simple steps.

Clean the Dishwasher Door

You don't have to totally pre-rinse dirty dishes before loading them, but that gunk can build up over time and leave food residue in the dishwasher, including the interior dishwasher door.

Use hot, soapy water and a damp cloth to wipe down the interior door and any rubber seals. This will keep grime and other nastiness from building up. Use a toothbrush to get into the grooves. You also can use a mixture of baking soda and water instead of soapy water.


If the utensil holders are on the door, remove and clean them. Finally, using a shammy or paper towel, scrub the outside of the door with the baking soda mix to get rid of stains and fingerprints. Make sure you get into all the grooves and wipe off any sudsy streaks with a sponge.

cleaning dishwasher door
The interior of your dishwasher door can get pretty gnarly and is a good place to start when you clean.


Clean the Dishwasher Accessories

Next it's time to clean the dishwasher accessories and parts, including the racks, spray arms and filter.

Dishwasher Filter

If your dishwasher has a removable filter (it will also be located in the tub of the dishwasher), take it out and thoroughly rinse it in hot water, and toss any food bits in the trash. Clean out any other debris you see around the filter's drain. (Be sure to replace the dishwasher filter before you run a cleaning cycle.) You should remove and clean the filter regularly, but if you notice your dishes aren't coming out clean or they feel "gritty" even though you've run them through a full cleaning cycle, you might need to clean it more often. All of this is a lot easier than it sounds, we promise.


dishwasher filter
Clean the filter in the dishwasher every few weeks to ensure it doesn't clog up with nasty food bits.

Top Rack and Bottom Rack

You should remove the bottom rack and top rack and wash them in hot, soapy water or a mixture of vinegar and baking soda. Use an old toothbrush on the tracks and wheels, which can end up coated in dirt and grime.

Spray Arm

Every dishwasher comes equipped with at least one dishwasher spray arm, which you can remove and wipe down with a damp towel every six months or so. The owner's manual should tell you how to remove it. But you also can use an old toothpick to dislodge anything potentially blocking the spray holes. The spray arm is visible in the image above.


Run a Vinegar Cycle

Once you've cleaned and replaced the dishwasher accessories, fill a dishwasher-safe bowl or mug with white vinegar and place it securely on the top or bottom rack of the empty dishwasher. Run the dishwasher on a full cycle with hottest water setting possible. The vinegar will help break down any excess food particles, grease and soap scum inside.


Rinse With a Hot Water Cycle

After the vinegar cycle is complete, sprinkle 1 cup of baking soda in the bottom tub of the dishwasher and run a short hot water cycle. This step will not only remove lingering odors from your dishwasher, but it can also help tackle hard water and mineral buildup, as well as any soap scum.

dishwasher spray on wineglasses
Once your dishwasher is clean, your dishes will get cleaner, too.
donald_gruener/Getty Images


How Often Should Your Clean Your Dishwasher?

Now that you know how to clean your dishwasher, you should try to wipe down the interior door and tub every few weeks. Give it a thorough cleaning once a month — or more often if you notice any unpleasant odors or that your dishes just aren't coming out clean.