3 Signs Your Dishwasher Needs to Be Cleaned Right Now, According to Appliance Repair Pros

published Sep 9, 2022
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Someone opening dishwasher
Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

It might be easy to consider your dishwasher as self-cleaning, but just like any other hardworking appliance, dishwashers need proper care and maintenance too. If you’re not already on a consistent schedule when it comes to cleaning your dishwasher, there are a few signs to look out for to let you know your machine might need attention.

We asked appliance experts to share their best tips and insights on how to know when your dishwasher needs to be cleaned, and ways to prevent residue and odors so you can keep your dishes looking good.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Basic Tips for Dishwasher Care and Maintenance

First, to make the most of your cleanings, there are a few pointers to keep in mind. Both experts agree that pre-rinsing or pre-washing dishes is never recommended, but it’s important to scrape off or remove any large pieces of food to avoid clogs. 

Scraping food off and out of your dishes is a good practice, but don’t prewash your dishes,” says Ron Shimek, president of Mr. Appliance. “If the turbidity sensor does not see grime in the wash water, it could signal the dishwasher to short cycle and not do as good a job cleaning your dishes.”

Adam Morris, appliance repair expert and founder of Appliances Made Simple, has a list of good advice to consider: Avoid overloading your dishwasher, leave space between items to get a proper clean, and place small items, such as baby cutlery and shaker balls (aka whisk balls), in a mesh bag so that they won’t get lost or clog up the filter.

Sign 1: Your dishes are dirty and cloudy. 

One thing that’s frustrating — waiting for a dishwasher cycle to run, then finding your dishes are still covered with food or with a white, cloudy residue. Dirty and cloudy dishes can be a key sign it’s time to seriously clean your dishwasher, or that you need a dishwasher detergent formulated to combat hard water. 

“Residue left on dishes or other items can be a sign your dishwasher needs to be cleaned, but it can also be a sign of other issues,” says Shimek. “Ideally, you should be checking and cleaning your dishwasher at least once a month.”

Aside from checking your dishwasher’s filter and racks weekly for any buildup, Shimek recommends pulling the racks and filter or screen out and cleaning them with warm water and dish soap.

He also suggests checking the inside of the dishwasher for a film or a rough coating, looking at the holes in the spray arms to see if they are clogged, and giving the arms a manual push when the machine is off to see if they spin freely. 

Credit: Anna Hoffman

Sign 2: Your dishwasher smells funky.

Without a watchful eye and routine cleaning schedule, it can be easy for your dishwasher filter to collect food particles and odors that not only cause an unpleasant stench, but can also lead to bigger and more expensive problems. To avoid these issues, you should check and clean the filter after every use and sanitize your dishwasher at least once a week. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

“Fill up a bowl with white vinegar and place it on the top or bottom rack, and run a standard clean cycle with hot water,” suggests Morris. “Once it’s finished, give the interior of the dishwasher a good wipe around the door seals using a simple solution of water, dish soap, and white vinegar. It’ll work perfectly!”

Sign 3: Your dishwasher is not draining properly or you see water backed up. 

If you’ve ever seen a pool of water at the bottom of your dishwasher or water overflowing into your sink, this may not only be a sign of a clog that needs clearing, but also that your dishwasher might need to be replaced altogether.

If you’ve cleaned out the filter basket, and there is still standing water, or your dishwasher continues to be slow-draining, Shimek says this may be the time to bring in the experts. 

How do you keep your dishwasher running smoothly? Tell us your maintenance tips in the comments below.