Author: Megan Birot
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking your dishwasher is a self-cleaning appliance. How can it possibly be dirty when it’s the one keeping all your dishes sparkling clean? The reality is that your dishwasher gets infinitesimally less clean with every cycle you run it through. And if you leave it for long enough it may start affecting how clean your dishes end up.
Many of us will have never cleaned out our dishwasher, with the possible exception of that one time you bought and used one of those little flasks of cleaning fluid. With that in mind, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to the multi-step process of cleaning your dishwasher, so that you can personally ensure your dishes end up as clean as they can be.
Why is it important to keep your dishwasher clean?
Think about it. It’s the job of your dishwasher to wash your dishes. However, it might have a hard time doing that if it’s not clean itself. And if it’s dirty enough, it might even make your glasses and plates grubbier coming out than when they went in.
Consider a vacuum cleaner – you have to clean out the filter every now and then to ensure the vacuum’s efficiency, right? It’s the same deal with a dishwasher – the filter gets clogged by food particles, mineral build-up, and detergent residue. And if you don’t clean it out relatively regularly, your dishwasher will struggle to clean anything successfully.
And if your dishwasher isn’t cleaning efficiently, you could find yourself doing double washes and extra loads, adding to your power bill.
But before you do any of the following, make sure you run your dishwasher first, or wait until just after it’s finished a cycle and is empty. Don’t create extra work for yourself by trying to clean a dishwasher fully of grubby crockery.
Should you use a commercial dishwasher cleaner?
Commercially available dishwasher cleaning liquids and tablets are considered the best option to clean your machine’s interior of gunk and foul smells. These products are specially designed to dissolve and remove grease, limescale, detergent build-up, hard water stains, and odours – all in one use. Dishwasher cleaning products from brands like Finish and Shine are relatively cheap and available from most supermarkets.
Can you clean your dishwasher with bleach?
No, you should NOT use bleach to clean your dishwasher, especially if it has a stainless steel interior or stainless steel parts. This is because bleach and other cleaners with chlorine contain an oxidizing agent that can stain and damage the chromium oxide layer of stainless steel. And NEVER mix bleach and vinegar together − the combination of the two can create toxic chlorine gas.
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Can you clean your dishwasher naturally, with vinegar?
Yes, generally speaking, it’s safe to clean your dishwasher with vinegar and some good ol’ elbow grease. Vinegar is a great DIY, natural cleaning solution you can use at home to help remove gunk and odours from inside your dishwasher. Vinegar can also be used for cleaning microwaves and ovens.
How to clean your dishwasher with vinegar
We’ve listed three easy steps below. Here is what you’ll need to clean your dishwasher with vinegar:
- Warm water
- Distilled white vinegar
- Baking soda
- An old toothbrush
- A washcloth
Step 1: Check the nooks and crannies
The first thing you should do is give the interior of your dishwasher a thorough once-over. Remove the racks, cutlery baskets, spinning arms and the filter (some filters twist off, but others will require tools to unscrew them), and check them for food scraps or any sort of scummy build-up.
Try using a toothbrush or similar implement to remove food particles or other debris lodged in nooks and crevices. But be careful to not scratch or damage the finish on any parts of your dishwasher. Then, soak all the removable parts in a mixture of warm water and one cup of white distilled vinegar. Leave them to soak for at least 30 minutes.
Step 2: Run a vinegar cycle
Now that you’ve done the fine detailing in regards to cleaning out the inside of your dishwasher, it’s time for the big-picture work. This starts with a vinegar rinse in order to get rid of any scale build-ups or hard water deposits. Simply run a quick cycle with two cups of vinegar thrown in, and stop the machine mid-wash so that the vinegar has a chance to work its magic. Give it anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour, depending on how bad the build-ups are, and then simply let it finish the cycle.
If your dishwasher’s looking a little dull or faded on the inside, you can do an optional second rinse with baking soda instead of vinegar. Sprinkle a cup of baking soda on the bottom of your dishwasher and run it on a short, hot cycle. This will freshen up your dishwasher, brightening the potentially faded interior and removing any stubborn stains.
A note of caution: Some dishwasher manufacturers advise against using vinegar for cleaning appliances due to its acidity and the risk of potentially damaging sensitive internal parts. It’s best to check your dishwasher’s instructions manual first.
Step 3: Clean the exterior
Once you can rest easy in the knowledge that your dishwasher’s insides are as clean as possible, all you’ve got left to do is a quick spot of (completely optional) external beautification. Soak a washcloth in warm soapy water and give the entire external face a thorough wipe down, being sure to get rid of any food stains or fingerprints.
It’s important to note that this isn’t just an aesthetic measure. Think about how often dirty hands touch the outside of your dishwasher’s door. Then think about how often you clean the outside of that same door. It’s probably a good idea to give it a clean.
How to clean a clogged dishwasher filter
Some filters are self-cleaning, although most modern dishwashers have filters that need to be cleaned manually. The filter is where the majority of the gunk build-up occurs. A clogged filter is what typically causes blockages, draining issues and bad smells. With the internal filter removed, you should be able to have a look at the drain, and remove any gunk build-up. To clean the filter itself, simply run it under warm water and use a toothbrush to lightly scrub and brush off food particles and grime.
How to clean the spray arms on a dishwasher
If your dishwasher isn’t cleaning like it used to, a blocked spray arm could be the cause. Food particles, grease, and grime build up inside your machine over time and this gunk can then become lodged in the spray jets and stop them from flowing freely. Once you’ve removed the spay arms from inside the machine, soak them in white vinegar to loosen up hard water deposits. Then use a toothbrush to clear out any obstructions of the water exit holes.
How to clean the dishwasher drain
If there’s a pool of water left in the bottom of your dishwasher after each cycle, a blocked drain could be the culprit. Food-related debris and other foreign objects (i.e. small spoons, etc.) can sometimes get stuck, block the drain trap and stop it from working properly. You can remove most obstructions from the drain trap with a cloth or toothbrush. But if the problem is more severe, you may need the help of a professional plumbing service.
How to clean the outside of a dishwasher
It’s what’s on the inside that counts, but don’t forget to also take care of what’s on the outside. Cleaning the exterior of your dishwasher will make it look spick and span and elevate the overall feel of your kitchen. Use a washcloth and soapy water to gently wipe the dishwasher door, handles, and around the controls. You can alternatively use a glass cleaner like Windex if your dishwasher has a stainless steel finish.
How to clean a mouldy dishwasher
The humidity inside your dishwasher creates the ideal environment for mould to grow. So, it’s important to keep on top of it before it gets out of control. Visible black spots or a musty smell coming from your appliance are the most common tell-tale signs of a mould problem, although many types of mould are colourless and odourless. It’s just safer to assume there’s mould lurking somewhere in your dishwasher and to deal with it.
The easiest way to remove mould from your dishwasher is to first remove all racks and cutlery baskets and wash them in warm soapy water. Then, wipe down the inside of your dishwasher and around the door seal with a soapy sponge or washcloth. Vinegar will also work. Lastly, refit the racks and let everything air dry naturally.
Can you avoid hard water deposits in a dishwasher?
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to avoid hard water deposits, also known as calcium deposits. These are minerals deposits left behind when the water inside your machine dries. Hard water deposits gradually collect inside the dishwasher and in plumbing fixtures over time. They typically appear as a white or green scale with a chalky texture but can be removed easily with a descaling solution or vinegar.
How often should you clean your dishwasher?
If you use your dishwasher daily or every few days, it’s recommended to clean your dishwasher at least once a month. Doing so will maintain its cleaning efficiency and erase food build-up inside the appliance. Regular upkeep is also advised to extend the lifespan of your machine. Here’s a quick guide:
- Daily: remove any visible food bits inside the machine
- Weekly: wipe down your dishwasher door and gasket
- Monthly: deep clean the interior with a dedicated dishwasher cleaner or vinegar
About the reviewer of this page
This report was reviewed by Canstar Content Producer, Andrew Broadley. Andrew is an
experienced writer with a wide range of industry experience. Starting out, he cut his teeth
working as a writer for print and online magazines, and he has worked in both journalism
and editorial roles. His content has covered lifestyle and culture, marketing and, more
recently, finance for Canstar.