How to Clean a Dishwasher – A Simple Step-By-Step Guide

If you are struggling with white streaks on your glassware or foul odors from the dishwasher, here is a simple step-by-step guide on how to clean a dishwasher.

Woman making gestures of bad smell when opening her automatic dishwasher. Young girl with a face of disgust and holding her nose at the malfunction of one of her appliances.

Have you looked inside your dishwasher lately?

Have you been wondering why your dishes aren’t coming out sparkly clean?

Maybe you have started noticing a not-so-awesome smell… or the white streaks on the glassware are becoming very visible.

Whether you are facing any of the above issues or not, dishwasher cleaning is an important part of maintaining an efficient and clean dishwasher.

The dishwasher is an essential part of the kitchen. I know… it isn’t “essentially”; you can wash dishes by hand if you need to, but not only is having a dishwasher a time saver, but it also saves water.

Over time, food particles, grease, and soap residue can accumulate, impacting its performance and causing unpleasant odors. I’ve got you covered with this ultimate guide on how to clean a dishwasher and keep it in tip-top shape.

Why Clean a Dishwasher?

Cleaning a dishwasher is essential for several reasons, even though cleaning an appliance designed for cleaning may seem counterintuitive. Here are the main reasons why you need to clean a dishwasher:

  • Efficiency: Over time, food particles, grease, and soap residue can accumulate in various parts of the dishwasher, including the spray arms, filters, and nozzles. This buildup can obstruct water flow and reduce the dishwasher’s cleaning efficiency. A clean dishwasher ensures your dishes come out spotless without additional washing or re-running cycles.
  • Odor Control: Food particles and bacteria can become trapped in the nooks and crannies of the dishwasher’s interior. This can lead to foul odors that can transfer to your dishes and make your kitchen smell unpleasant. Cleaning the dishwasher removes these odor sources and leaves it smelling fresh.
  • Preventing Mold and Mildew: The warm and moist environment inside a dishwasher can promote the growth of mold and mildew, especially in areas where water tends to pool. Regular cleaning helps prevent the development of these unwanted contaminants.
  • Mineral Deposits: Hard water can leave mineral deposits, such as limescale, on the dishwasher’s heating element, spray arms, and interior surfaces. These deposits can reduce the dishwasher’s heating efficiency and even damage components over time. Cleaning properly helps dissolve and remove these mineral deposits.
  • Extending Lifespan: Proper maintenance and cleaning can extend the lifespan of your dishwasher. By preventing the accumulation of debris and mineral buildup, you reduce the risk of mechanical issues and the need for costly repairs or replacement.
  • Health and Hygiene: A dirty dishwasher can potentially harbor harmful bacteria and germs. Regular cleaning helps maintain a hygienic environment for your dishes and ensures they are safe to use.

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Material Needed

brush, glass soda can, plastic blank bottle with dispenser for soap or dishwashing detergent and silicone sponge for cleaning dishwasher

How to Clean a Dishwasher

Here’s how to clean a dishwasher to keep it running efficiently and without odors.

Step 1: Empty the Dishwasher

Ensure the dishwasher is empty of dishes and utensils before cleaning.

Step 2: Remove and Clean the Filter or Screen (If Applicable)

Some dishwashers have a filter or screen at the bottom to catch food particles. Consult your dishwasher’s manual to locate and remove it. Rinse it under running water to remove any debris, and then put it back in place.

Woman removing the filter from the dishwasher to clean

Step 3: Inspect and Clean the Spray Arms

Check the dishwasher’s spray arms for clogs or debris. If you notice any obstructions, remove them carefully using a toothpick or small brush.

woman cleaning and checking the spray arms in the dishwasher

Step 4: Run a Vinegar Wash

  • Place a dishwasher-safe bowl or container filled with white vinegar on the top rack of the empty dishwasher.
  • Run a hot water cycle using the “sanitize” or “heavy-duty” setting. If that is not available on your dishwasher, choose and run the hottest and longest cycle available.

The vinegar will help dissolve mineral deposits and remove odors.

woman adding vinegar in the dishwasher to clean and remove mineral deposits

PS: Check out my full kitchen remodel here.

Step 5: Baking Soda Scrub

Baking soda helps deodorize and is easy to use.

  • Sprinkle a cup of baking soda across the bottom of the dishwasher.
  • Run a short, hot water cycle to help clean and deodorize the interior.
woman sprinkling baking soda inside dishwasher to de-odorize.

Step 6: Wipe Down the Interior

After the vinegar and baking soda cycles are complete, it is time to wipe everything down.

  • Use a clean cloth or sponge to wipe down the dishwasher’s interior. Pay attention to the door gasket, edges, and any nooks and crannies where residue may accumulate.
  • Use a soft brush to clean the dish racks.
  • Wipe the interior of the dishwasher door, including the edges and the detergent dispenser, with a damp cloth.
A man's hand brushes a dishwasher machine

Step 8: Clean the Exterior

Don’t forget to wipe down the dishwasher’s exterior, including the control panel, with a damp cloth. If you have a stainless steel dishwasher, use a stainless steel cleaner.

woman wiping down the dishwasher using a cloth

Step 9: Optional Dishwasher Cleaner

If your dishwasher is still not as clean as you’d like, you can purchase a dishwasher cleaner from the store and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Regular Maintenance

To prevent future buildup inside your dishwasher, it is important to create a regular maintenance schedule. Make sure to:

  • Scrape off food scraps from dishes before loading them into the dishwasher.
  • As discussed above, run a cleaning cycle with vinegar and baking soda once a month or as needed.
  • You can also fill vinegar in the rinse aid dispenser to remove and reduce the white streaks on glassware.

By following these steps and incorporating regular maintenance, you can ensure that your dishwasher continues to provide excellent cleaning performance and prolong its lifespan. Say goodbye to odors and hello to sparkling clean dishes every time!

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