6 Tips on How to Clean a Dishwasher Like a Pro

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A dishwasher cleans your dishes, but you also have to give it a thorough wash often. Click here to learn how to clean a dishwasher like a pro.

You might think the furnace, AC, or water heater are the hardest working appliances in your home. But have you considered the dishwasher? Sure, it doesn’t keep your toes toasty, or delivery a steamy hot shower, but it does clean the residue from last night’s Spaghetti Bolognese.

Since it’s such a workhorse, you’ll want to keep it working properly. That means you need to know how to clean it. After all, a dirty dishwasher, like any other home appliance won’t work well if it’s full of gunk and crud. If you’ve never paid much attention to the inside of your dishwasher, we won’t tell anyone. But take a minute and read our 7 tips on how to clean a dishwasher like a pro.

1. First Things First

You can help your dishwasher keep itself clean with a few proactive moves. Before you ever put a dirty dish in the dish rack, scrape food scraps into the garbage. It works best if you take care of this soon after a meal. You’ve likely already experienced the breakfast bowl that sat with bits of dried oatmeal all day.

In the old days, when you had the job of loading the dishwasher, your mother likely told you to scrape and rinse. Today’s dishwashers have sensors built in that gauge water temperature and cleaning cycle length based on how many oatmeal particles you left on the cereal bowl. Yay for no rinsing! Another step you can take to help keep your dishwasher clean is to use a dishwashing detergent that discourages greasy buildup and residue. You can find it here. along with a booster or rinse that works with your detergent. The rest of the pro cleaning tips focus on removing grease residue, soap scum, and buildup caused by hard water.

2. Clean the Drain

If you weren’t aware, all dishwashers have a drain under the bottom dish rack. Keeping the drain clear is one reason scraping plates is a great idea. To access the drain, take out the bottom dish rack. You’d be surprised at what people find in dishwasher drains. Assume you’ll find pieces of food, gunk, and sometimes even very small toys. The problem with not cleaning the drain is if any chunks of material get caught there, you may damage the dishwasher pump.

While you’re inspecting and cleaning the drain, wash the filter if it’s removable. Most, but not all dishwashers have one and it’s under the sprayer arm at the bottom of the dishwasher. It’s similar to a lint filter and you may even find what looks like lint underneath. Soak the filter tray in warm soapy water and use an old toothbrush to remove any stuck-on bits of food that didn’t get flushed down the drain.

3. What’s That Ugly Smell?

If you’ve put your dishwasher through the work of cleaning your household’s dishes for a few years, it’s likely developed an odor. Think about what the dishwasher faces every day—grease and strong-smelling food residue both come to mind. Most people also keep the dishwasher closed for prolonged periods, which can contribute to a sour smell. To get rid of musty odors, try running the rinse cycle first. Then leave the door open slightly to help air circulate.

Lack of air circulation may not be the main problem. If you have a habit of throwing dishes in without scraping, you may have created a mini-garbage disposal. Go back to the first tip! Wipe excess food off before loading up the dishwasher. If running the rinse cycle and scraping plates, silverware, and glasses doesn’t get rid of, or prevent odors, you can use 2 simple and economic household items.

4. Vinegar and Baking Soda

Even though it sounds a little like a recipe for salad dressing, it’s not. Vinegar and baking soda are both fantastic cleaning products. As far as dishwasher go, they’re both gentle on the components too. Be aware that you don’t want to use these two together. Remember the volcano experiment from grade school science class?


Pour 1 cup into a dishwasher safe container. Place the container in the upper rack. Run a hot water cycle.

Vinegar washes away greasy grime. It also sanitizes and gets rid of musty smells.

Baking Soda

Sprinkle one cup on the bottom of the dishwasher. Run a short cycle of hot water. The end result should be a brighter and stain-free interior. You should also notice a fresh smell.

Order counts when it comes to vinegar and baking soda. Vinegar first to cut the grease and odors. Baking soda second for stain-fighting and a double whammy for nasty smells.

Hint: While you may be a fan of bleach, and you’ll even find suggestions for using it to clean your dishwasher, never mix bleach with vinegar!

5. The Dishwasher Deep Clean

This tip includes removing some of the dishwasher parts. Not anything serious like the motor—we’re talking about things you can remove without a screwdriver. All dishwashers have two racks, or shelves—one upper, one lower. Both are removable and easily wiped down with a rag soaked in vinegar and water. This might be a good time to add the large gallon size vinegar container to your grocery list.

If you have silverware holders and stem holder, they’re not only removable, they’re submersible. Soak them in the same vinegar and water solution you made up for the racks. The deep clean is when you pull off the spray arms and look at the holes. If you have hard water, you’ll likely find mineral buildup, which can interfere with their spray action. Dip an old toothbrush in vinegar and scrub. Wipe down the rubber seals and gaskets around the door. You’d be shocked at what kind of crud accumulates around them.

6. First Impressions Matter

Have you ever opened a friend’s dishwasher and felt a little disgusted at the stains on the inside door? Of course, yours doesn’t look dirty, but just in case, here’s a tip for cleaning it. Take a damp sponge or rag and wipe the inside of the dishwasher door. Residue, water spots, and dark juice stains all show up on the door. Do the same for the door edges where crumbs love to gather.

Finally, give the handle and control pad a wipe-down. Even though the focus here is mainly on the inside of your dishwasher, the outside counts too. Vinegar and water work for most surfaces. If your dishwasher is stainless steel, you can buy special wipes for stainless steel surfaces.

Whew! That was a lot of information on how to clean a dishwasher in just 6 short tips. Thanks for hanging in there and reading them all! Since the dishwasher is usually a well-used but under-appreciated appliance (until it breaks) we hope these tips help keep yours running smoothly and keeping your dishes clean for many more years. If you’ve enjoyed reading this post, check out our archives for even more helpful articles on home and lifestyle.

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