Do I Have to Clean My Dishwasher? (And Is It Bad I Never Have?)

updated Nov 16, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Confession time! (Don’t you love when I use my platform on Kitchn to air my dirty laundry … or, in this case, dishes?) For the nearly two years that I’ve lived in my apartment, I’ve never once cleaned my dishwasher. In fact, now that I think about it, I never cleaned the dishwasher in my old apartment either. Not a single time!

It just seems counterintuitive to me. While the dishwasher is hard at work washing my dishes, isn’t it also washing itself? The answer: no, not quite. To get to the bottom of my blissful dishwasher ignorance, I consulted house cleaner Michael Dimopoulos, the founder of Lazy Susans Cleaning Service (who I found on Thumbtack!) for some advice on dishwasher best practices.

First, I asked him point blank: Is it bad that I’ve never washed my dishwasher before? And to my surprise, Mr. Dimopoulos didn’t shame me outright for my neglect. “It’s not a bad thing to have never washed your dishwasher,” he said. Then came the but. “But by cleaning it, you prevent bad odors and bacteria issues that may build up if you don’t wash it.” Plus, you’ll get rid of detergent and hard-water buildup that can clog the machine and prevent it from working at its best.

The best way to keep your dishwasher squeaky clean, according to Dimopoulos, is by doing your regular due diligence.

“Whenever you unload your clean dishes, always check to see if there are any large food particles caught around the drain. It’s best to remove them so they don’t rot and contribute to smells or clogs. To help keep your dishwasher fresh in between washes, spritz the drain with white vinegar.”

Related: You Should Put a Bowl of Vinegar in Your Dishwasher — Here’s Why

Beyond that regular maintenance, I also asked Mr. Dimopoulos how to wash my dishwasher and how often I should be doing it … now that I know I have to.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

“Every four weeks, fill a dishwasher-safe mug or bowl two-thirds full with white vinegar and place it on the top rack of your dishwasher. Run the dishwasher on the normal cycle with hot water for extra sterilization. The vinegar will help loosen soap scum, food particles, and grease from the dishwasher’s walls and racks. After all that, it simply washes down the drain. That’s all you need to do.”

Get the steps for a deeper clean: How to Clean a Dishwasher

I’m ready to be a good dishwasher parent now, I promise! What about you?