How To Clean a Dishwasher

updated Feb 2, 2021
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(Image credit: Christine Han)

Cleaning a dishwasher is an odd prospect, for sure. Shouldn’t dishwashers be inherently clean? You’d think so, 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.

About once a month, it’s a good idea to give one of your most-appreciated appliances a little TLC. Especially these days, while we’re cooking (and washing dishes) more than usual.

Warning: You’re going to have to dig in and get your hands dirty. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll find lodged inside and notice a real difference once you’re done. We found all sorts of gunk and even some gross pieces of lettuce in the filter — and clearing those pathways will make all the difference.

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

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Empty the dishwasher: Wait until after you’ve run a cycle, then completely empty the dishwasher. Pull out the racks (sometimes, only the bottom one comes out, and that’s okay!) (Image credit: Christine Han)

How To Clean a Dishwasher

What You Need

  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Sponge
  • 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
  • Toothbrush
  • Stainless steel or multipurpose cleaner


  1. Empty the dishwasher: Wait until after you’ve run a cycle, then completely empty the dishwasher. Pull out the racks (sometimes, only the bottom one comes out, and that’s okay!)
  2. Remove any piece that seems removable: All dishwashers will be different, but you’ll be able to tell what can come out. At the very least, you should be able to unscrew the bottom spinning arm/disc, and pull out the grate and filter.
  3. Check the holes in the spinning arm/disc: Use 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. (It may be a disc like ours — whatever shape it is, it’s where the water gets sprayed out.) Some new dishwashers have more than one spinning arm, so be sure to check each arm and all the holes.
  4. Wash all the pieces: Bring everything you were able to remove from the dishwasher and give it a good cleaning with a soapy sponge and warm water.
  5. Clean the filter: Using a soft toothbrush, wash the filter screen with a baking soda paste or warm, soapy water.
  6. Wipe the bottom of the door: In some dishwasher models, the bottom of the dishwasher door accumulates debris because water cannot reach there. Wipe this off.
  7. Wipe the door seal: Soak the corner of a damp cloth in vinegar, then use it to wipe around the door seal. If need be, get into the tiny, tighter areas with a toothbrush or Q-tip, also soaked in vinegar.
  8. Clean the inside of the dishwasher: Use a damp sponge to wipe down the bottom, sides, and the door of the dishwasher.
  9. Clean the utensil rack: Check the utensil rack for any stuck-on food pieces, and give the whole thing a wash with a soapy toothbrush, dish brush, or sponge. Check the top and bottom racks to see if they need to be cleaned in any spots while you’re at it.
  10. Run an empty cycle with vinegar: Return all the pieces. Then, to remove hard water deposits and catch anything you may have missed in your earlier cleaning, add two 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. Then, complete the cycle.
  11. Clean and polish the exterior: 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 directly onto one towel. Dry with a second clean towel in the direction of the grain.

When was the last time you cleaned your dishwasher?

(Image credit: The Kitchn)