How To Clean a Dishwasher

How To Clean a Dishwasher

Gina Eykemans
Mar 31, 2017
(Image credit: Gina Eykemans)

It's almost bedtime. Dinner's long done, the kitchen's clean, and the dishwasher's run its course. You're about three plates from emptying the dishwasher and getting some shut-eye, and that's when you notice it: something stuck to your good plates, fused on like some kind of maniacal barnacle. Somewhere between the rinse and dry cycle, something went wrong.

It's times like these when you need to give one of your most-appreciated appliances a little TLC (live without one for a few years if you don't fully appreciate it). I'm talking of course about washing your dishwasher.

An odd prospect, sure — shouldn't dishwashers be inherently clean? — but over time dishwashers can collect food debris, soap residue, and inexplicable gunk that needs to be wiped away to ensure your dishes are getting a proper shine.

This task isn't as simple as running the machine on hot; you're going to have to dig in and get your hands dirty (well, in this case my husband's hands—I totally enlisted him to help). Make sure you have the proper tools and some spare time to tackle this task. You'll be amazed at what you'll find lodged inside and notice a real difference once you're done. I found bits of plastic and even part of an onion skin blocking some of my washer's spouts — and clearing those pathways made all the difference.

Let's take a little time and clean the dishwasher! I'll walk you through it.

What You Need

Distilled white vinegar
Baking soda
Screwdriver, hex wrench, or other tool (check internal dishwasher screws before you start)
Toothpick (or other small pointy object to clean out spinning arm)
Dish soap
Microfiber cloths or soft rags
Stainless steel or multipurpose cleaner


1. Empty the dishwasher: Wait until after you've run a cycle, then completely empty the dishwasher.

2. Remove the racks and check the spinning holes. Make sure the holes in the spinning arm are clear and open so that water can run through them freely. Use a needle nose pliers, a toothpick, or some other small pointy tool (I used a shish kabob stick) to remove any debris that has built up in the holes of the spinning arm. Be careful not to scratch the spinning arms.

3. Wipe the bottom of the door and the dishwasher grate. In some dishwasher models, the bottom of the dishwasher door accumulates debris because water cannot reach there. Wipe this off. Then inspect the grill or grate in the bottom of the dishwasher where the wastewater collects, and remove any food particles that are clogging the grate. Wash the grate area with warm, soapy water.

4. Wash the filter, if you have one: If you have a filter, remove and disassemble the parts in your sink. In my case, the filter was attached with several screws. Make sure you have a tool on hand that works to remove these properly. Set your screws aside in a safe place so that when it comes time to reassemble you aren't hunting around for them. Using a soft toothbrush, wash the filter parts with a baking soda paste or warm, soapy water. Reassemble and replace all parts.

5. Wipe the door seal. Soak a damp cloth in vinegar, then wipe around the door seal. Get into the tiny, tighter areas with a toothbrush or Q-tip, also soaked in vinegar.

6. Clean the utensil rack. Check the utensil rack for any stuck-on food pieces, and remove them with a soapy toothbrush or dish brush. Rinse. Wash off the top and bottom racks of your dishwasher and return them all to the machine.

8. Run an empty cycle with vinegar. To remove hard water deposits and catch anything you may have missed in your earlier cleaning, add 2 cups of vinegar to the bottom of the dishwasher and run the dishwasher on a Low or Energy-Saving cycle. Stop the dishwasher halfway through the cycle, and let the vinegar stand on the bottom for about 20 minutes. Turn on and complete the cycle.

9. Clean and polish the exterior, sides, and all buttons on the panel. If you have a stainless steel dishwasher, apply a stainless steel spray (like this one from Method or a bit of Bar Keepers Friend) to the exterior of the dishwasher, and wipe with a soft or microfiber cloth. Rinse if necessary. For a streak-free finish, spray cleaner on one towel. Dry with a second clean towel in the direction of the grain.

10. All clean! Repeat once a month or as needed.

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