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  • Writer's pictureTy Bailey

How to Clean Your Dishwasher

Your dishwasher is responsible for cleaning and sanitizing your cutlery, plates, bowls, and cookware. But did you know that sometimes the dishwasher itself needs to be cleaned too?

Do You Really Need to Clean Your Dishwasher?

It shouldn't be much of a surprise that all of the gunk, oils, residues, food debris, and other nastiness left behind on your kitchenware has to go somewhere when you put those dishes and other items into your dishwasher. It seems like a dishwasher should be self-cleaning, but just like your washer, it will need to be cleaned regularly too.

Unfortunately, all of the grime from regular use and even mineral buildup will begin to be a problem when it comes to the efficiency of your dishwasher. This can result in impaired cleaning capabilities as well as some bad smells that you certainly don't want lingering around in the area where you prepare your family's meals.

Here's how to perform regular cleaning maintenance on your home's dishwasher to prevent those horrid smells, streaky glasses, and food-caked kitchen utensils from messing up your culinary endeavors.

How to Clean Your Dishwasher

You can go about this cleaning process a bit lazily and simply skip to the "cleaning the inside of the dishwasher" step if you're in a rush, but it's best if you clean the appliance piece by piece to ensure you cover all of your bases and get your dishwasher functioning as efficiently as possible.

(Seriously, do you want food gunk residue on every surface you eat food off of and on all your drinking glasses and utensils? Gross!)

Step 1: Cleaning Your Dishwasher Baskets

Most dishwashers come with removable baskets for cutlery and other specific items that one might need to clean in the appliance. These can be cleaned to an extent via Step 5, but it's best to remove them entirely and clean them separately.

Taking these parts out to clean them individually allows you to make sure you've removed any stuck food or other debris that may be lodged in one of the drainage holes. For any noticeable buildup, these parts can be gently scrubbed with warm water or soaked in a mixture of warm water and vinegar before scrubbing to get them extra clean.

Once you've got them touched up, be sure to place them securely back into the dishwasher.

Step 2: Cleaning Your Dishwasher Gasket

One area you'll definitely want to scrub clean is your dishwasher's gasket. (This is the liner that looks like weather stripping and forms the seal to keep water from going all over your kitchen.)

All you need is a toothbrush and a mixture of warm water and vinegar. Use the toothbrush and vinegar mix to gently scrub away any built-up gunk or debris and leave the gasket fresh and clean.

If you still have your manual, check to be sure that the manufacturer doesn't list any specific cleaning requirements for this part. Sometimes, it may be recommended to only clean the gasket using warm water. However, you might also have the option to clean this part with other disinfectant household cleaners to help further sanitize the gasket and prevent mold growth.

Step 3: Cleaning Your Dishwasher's Filter

When it comes to dishwasher filters, some models of dishwashers have filters that need to be manually cleaned, but many newer versions include self-cleaning filters. If your filter is self-cleaning, you're off the hook. However, if your filter is one that needs to be removed and manually cleaned, you'll need to be sure to do this as part of your regular maintenance.

Here's how:

  • Many filters need to be twisted to "unlock" them and make them able to be pulled out. Be sure to fully twist your dishwasher's filter as needed to take it out, making sure not to manhandle it and use excessive force to do so.

  • Additionally, some filters are just one all-encompassing piece, but others may have multiple components. Be sure that you've removed all parts of your dishwasher's filter when preparing to clean it.

  • After pulling the filter out, check beneath where it was installed to clean out any food debris or gunk that may have gotten caught down there.

  • Using your hand or a toothbrush, run your filter under warm water and scrub off any buildup, residue, or solids that may be caught on your dishwasher filter. You may also use the warm water and vinegar mix if it's especially dirty.

  • Once your filter has been properly cleaned, rinse it one more time to ensure everything undesirable has been fully washed away, then place it back into it's proper location within the dishwasher.

After cleaning your filter, be sure that you've properly reinstalled the filter and have it locked firmly into the dishwasher just how you found it. You do not want it shaking loose or coming out when running your next cleaning cycle!

Step 4: Cleaning Your Dishwasher Drain

After cleaning the filter, you'll also need to clean the drain at the bottom of your dishwasher. This part is quite easy.

Simply sprinkle some baking soda above, into, and around your dishwasher drain. You will then need to pour some vinegar onto the baking soda and down the drain, causing an intense, fizzing reaction. The baking soda and vinegar combo is incredibly effective at breaking up any caked-on debris or other gunk that may have built up in your drain (as well as anywhere else in the home!).

Once the fizzing calms down, pour some extremely hot (preferably boiling) water down the drain to rinse away the dissolved mess. Do this two or three times as needed to ensure all of the gunk (as well as all of the baking soda mixture) has been washed down.

Step 5: Cleaning the Inside of Your Dishwasher

The go-to, easy step to reduce the main source of unpleasant odors and give your dishwasher a "general" clean between full regular maintenance is simply cleaning out the main inside area with a vinegar cycle. However, this is just as important to make sure you do when performing a full, top-to-bottom clean on your appliance as well.

You can clean the inside body of your dishwasher by getting a dishwasher-safe dish, bowl, or glass and filling it with about 1 cup of white vinegar. Make sure your dishwasher is otherwise empty, and place this vinegar-filled item of your choice on the top rack of your appliance. Carefully close your dishwasher to avoid spilling the vinegar, then run the dishwasher on its hottest cycle with the vinegar-filled cup/bowl/other item inside. This will steam, clean, and sanitize the entire inside of the appliance without causing any damage to the inside components or surfaces. Instead of using the dishwasher's pre-set drying portion included with most cleaning cycles, crack the dishwasher door open, and allow the dishwasher to simply air dry.

If the odors coming from your dishwasher are especially bad, you can also use baking soda to eliminate the stench. Make sure your appliance is otherwise empty, then sprinkle about a cup or so of baking soda around the bottom inside area of the dishwasher (placing extra emphasis on the drain and filter areas), and run the dishwasher on its hottest cycle again. Also allow this to air-dry when finished instead of using the appliance's preset drying options, just as instructed in the vinegar cleaning method.

Although it may seem like a good idea, do not run a cleaning cycle using baking soda and vinegar at the same time. If you've cleaned your dishwasher's drain before this step, you're aware of how the chemical reaction of those two cleaning ingredients functions. Always try the vinegar cleaning option first, and only resort to the baking soda method afterward if truly needed.

Step 6: Don't Forget to Clean the Outside of the Dishwasher

Although this portion can be more or less left up to your own cleaning preferences, do not forget to also wipe down the outside of your dishwasher. Many household cleaners are safe for this task, but if you have a stainless steel door on your appliance, you'll want to use a stainless steel cleaner for maximum clean and shine.

Wipe off any fingerprints, water spots, or dust. Make sure that you thoroughly clean and sanitize the handle (which gets much dirtier than you likely realize), and also wipe around (or even vacuum out) underneath the dishwasher—especially for models with the vented areas below—to clean out any lingering dust or debris.

How Often Should You Clean Your Dishwasher?

Ideally, you should clean your dishwasher at least once a month. This should compensate for regular use and keep your appliance smelling great and running efficiently with no problems.

For folks who use their dishwasher less frequently or often pre-clean and scrub nearly all food debris from their dishes and cutlery before running them through the dishwasher, you should be perfectly fine performing cleaning maintenance every two to three months instead.

However, it is not recommended to exceed six months without fully cleaning your dishwasher.

Is It Safe to Use Dishwasher Cleaning Tablets?

Many specially formulated dishwasher "cleaners" are safe for use in most dishwashers. However, you should always be sure to check your instruction manual or the manufacturer's website for any notices regarding using such products to avoid damaging your dishwasher or nullifying any warranties you may have purchased.

These cleaners are especially useful in cases of mineral buildup and other such issues, but performing regular maintenance yourself by removing each dishwasher component, removing debris, and sanitizing each piece before reinstallation allows you to fully and properly clean your appliance for optimum performance.

Why Do I Have to Use Water and Vinegar?

With so many different materials used in a fully-assembled dishwasher, your cleaning options become a bit limited. Even using pure vinegar can damage the rubber portions of your appliance, hence the need for dilution with warm water.

Due to cleaning cycles steaming any lingering chemicals in a dishwasher, this also poses a hazard if you clean your appliance with a product that definitely doesn't need to be steamed into aerosol form and breathed in by those in the home.

Although bleach (whether pure or diluted) is a great cleaner for removing and preventing mold and mildew, especially in the case of an appliance such as a dishwasher, it should never be mixed with vinegar, and it can also be damaging to a dishwasher that includes

stainless steel interiors, exteriors, or other components.

Due to the variations amongst models, it's also difficult to pinpoint which kitchen cleaning supplies are suitable for all of these different dishwashers, so sticking with cleaners that are trusted, mild, and proven to be safe and effective is often your best bet.

Lastly, keep in mind that you will be using practically everything cleaned in a dishwasher for food preparation or for use during a meal. Using the safest possible cleaning supplies in your dishwasher ensures that no harmful chemicals will linger or make their way onto your kitchenware and into your body.

What Else Do I Need to Know?

If you also have a garbage disposal installed in your kitchen, you'll want to ensure that your garbage disposal is clean, functioning well, and has been run before running a load in your dishwasher. Having a blocked garbage disposal can lead to improper draining and other issues when trying to use your dishwasher.

Speaking of blocked, you will also likely notice when cleaning the other components inside of the appliance, but the sprayer jets will occasionally become clogged as well. These can easily be cleaned out with a toothpick and wiped down with your warm water and vinegar mixture or simply left to be cleaned when running the main cleaning cycle in Step 5.

To ensure proper cleaning of your dishes and other kitchen utensils, you'll also want to regularly check the temperature settings to ensure the correct level of heat is being reached for proper sanitization. If the water being used during a cleaning cycle is too cold, your dishwasher will not be able to fully eliminate all germs and bacteria.

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