How to Clean Your Dishwasher

By Tisha Tolar on 4 July 2011 (Updated 20 August 2013) 4 comments

I was in the grocery store the other day when I noticed a cleaning product recommended to keep dishwashers "clean" and running smoothly. I have to admit that I only recently had the privilege of having a dishwasher in my kitchen. Most of my life, I was the dishwasher, and I was really not up to speed on maintaining the appliance. I presumed that as the dishes were cleaned with detergent and water, so too was my dishwasher.

Doing some research, I realized that I didn’t need the high-priced solution intended to prevent my dishwasher from breaking down. I did, however, need to do a few extra bits of cleaning to make sure I maintained my new-to-me appliance. (See also: 8 Tasks You Shouldn't Skip During Spring Cleaning)

Remove the Food

Consider the condition of the dishes and silverware you put in your dishwasher each day. While it is highly recommended that you first scrape plates to prevent leftovers from going in the dishwasher, most dishwasher owners are guilty of not being as thorough as they could be. As a result, food particles and other materials get caught up in the drainage system of the dishwasher, causing blockage of water and ultimately leading to the demise of your appliance. (See also: The 5 Best Dishwashers)

Clean Seals

Seals that prevent your dishwasher from leaking water all over your kitchen floor tend to break down over time. One of the main reasons this breakdown occurs is due to the bleaching ingredients contained in most dishwasher gels. For this reason, it is wise to use powdered detergent to protect the life of your dishwasher components. You can help prevent breakdown also by regularly cleaning seals around the door with a toothbrush and hot, soapy water. The toothbrush will help reach the small areas sponges will not. Around the seal and the drain are areas particularly susceptible to buildup of damaging debris.

Clean the Drain

You’ll need to remove the bottom rack of your dishwasher to access the drain. First, check for any obvious blockage and remove it. Then use a clean sponge to wipe around the drain area.

Add Vinegar

Add a cup of white vinegar to the empty dishwasher. Run the dishwasher on the hottest water setting possible. The vinegar will help remove the debris and grease left inside the appliance. It also has the added benefit of removing the musty, mildewy smell from inside the dishwasher.

Add Baking Soda

After using the vinegar to sanitize the inside of the dishwasher, you can also sprinkle baking soda on the base of the dishwasher and run the hottest cycle once again. The baking soda will help freshen the smell of the dishwasher as well as brighten up the look of the inside of your appliance by removing stains.

Incorporate this dishwasher maintenance into your regular heavy-duty cleaning schedule to avoid high-cost repairs and not have to worry about having a dirty, foul-smelling dishwasher in your kitchen.

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Meg Favreau's picture

This is one of those things that I really need to incorporate into my regular cleaning, along with getting my oven spic-and-span. I'm curious -- how often do other folks clean their major kitchen appliances?

Guest's picture

Will have to try this with our new dishwasher. Thank you!

Guest's picture

Putting clear kool-aid or citric acid in your detergent compartment and running an empty load works too.

Guest's picture

I love to use Baking powder to clean.