How to Clean Dishwashers

Whenever you wash dishes, bits of food, grease, and soap scum cling together and get deposited in corners and in crevices around the door where they accumulate. If these accumulations are left to rot, you’re dishwasher will quickly become a petri dish. End the stink! Make cleaning your dishwasher part of your household routine.

How to Clean Your Dishwasher

  1. Dip a small brush, say, an old toothbrush (let’s hear it for recycling!), in hot soapy water and start scrubbing. Making sure you get into all the crevices, scrub the area around the rubber seal on the door. Don’t forget the bottom and the door hinges.
  2. A soft abrasive cleanser such as Bon Ami may be needed to remove dried and baked on grime.
  3. Dip a cellulose sponge in the hot soapy water and wipe off the gunk you loosened with the brush and cleanser on the door.
  4. Using a clean wet sponge or cleaning rag, wipe down the the gasket and the door.
  5. Remove the dish racks and set them aside.
  6. Wipe down the inside walls and, tough as it may be, get into hard-to-reach corners with a sponge soaked in the hot, sudsy water.
  7. Wipe around the drain to be sure there are no hard chunks that can plug it up, possibly resulting in damage to the pump.
  8. Replace the dish racks and put a dishwasher-safe cup filled with plain white vinegar on the top rack. Using the hottest setting available, run the dishwasher through a cycle with nothing inside except for the cup of vinegar. (Get into the habit every time you use the dishwasher of pre-heating the wash water. Before you start the cycle, open the hot water tap and run water into the sink until it’s at its maximum temperature.)
  9. The vinegar washes away the loose, greasy grime, sanitizes, and also removes the musty, stinky odor.
  10. A packet of unsweetened lemonade mix dumped into the soap cup may be substituted for the vinegar. Other flavors might work, but they could also stain the inside of your dishwasher.
  11. A cupful of baking soda or powdered ascorbic acid (obtainable at health food stores) sprinkled around the bottom of the tub freshens and brightens the machine and removes stains. Again, run the machine empty on a short cycle.

Hard Water, Rust, and Mineral Stains

Should you have a very hard water supply that contains copious amounts of minerals, your best plan of attack would be to stop the stain-producing minerals at their source with a household water filtration system.

Meanwhile, you need to remove mineral deposits from places like the dishwasher. Even with a filtration system, you may have to deal with the effects of rust-laden pipes (rust is caused by heavy iron deposits in the water) unless you also replace the piping.

  1. Commercial preparations that effectively remove mineral deposits and stains may be purchased at building supply stores but, since they are toxic, care must be taken in handling and storing them, and they will not be available in areas where they have been banned.
  2. Home improvement centers and large supermarkets carry products that remove rust stains from clothing or appliances. Place some in the soap dispenser cup and also sprinkle some freely on the bottom of the dishwasher. Run the empty dishwasher through a short cycle.

More Cleaning Tips

  • Some people practically pre-wash their dishes before putting them in the machine. This is wasteful of water and unnecessary. But you should scrape off leftover food from your pots, dishes, and utensils, and dip them in rinse water before placing them in the machine.
  • Be wary of dishwashing gels. They typically contain bleach that causes rubber seals to break down and leak and also tends to stick to the inside surface of the dishwasher, never getting completely rinsed away.


  1. A quick and painless way to keep your dishwasher sparkling clean is to run vinegar through it about once a month, depending how often you use it to begin with. The vinegar will break down soap build up as well as hard water stains and rust, calcium, lime, etc.

    Vinegar is cheap, try it; what do you have to loose?

  2. In his book, the Appliance Doctor recommends running Tang through your dishwasher once a month. He also says to preheat the water before you start your dishwasher.

  3. Tang is the best thing for hard water and nothing else – just run it through one cycle, long or short cycle; it will work.

  4. Pots should only be put in the dishwasher after thoroughly being scraped – if they are not, the dishwasher will bake on the grime, making it even harder to clean by hand. :)

  5. I have very very hard water; we can’t use powdered dishwasher soap, only liquid – so to make sure it rinses my dishes, I always run my dishes through a second rinse cycle cause they never get rinsed completely the first time. I suggest this because not even a water softener helps much.

  6. I’ve heard to remove the minerals to use something like CLR. I tried it and personally it didn’t do anything. I’m trying vinegar right now. We’ll see if it works or not. I’ve been using Cascade Complete liquid and Jet Dry, but they don’t keep the minerals away. Dishes have been very cloudy and I even pre-wash everything and run the hot water before starting the dishwasher.

  7. Cascade Complete left more film on my dishes than any other dishwasher soap I have ever used. Jet Dry is full of chemicals. Just put vinegar where you usually put the Jet Dry.

  8. Cascade Complete. I have scrubbed my dishwasher and it is still happening. After reading this, I looked at my bottle and sure enough: Cascade Complete. No wonder it was so cheap!!

  9. Dishwasher Bob says:

    My rubber seal in my dishwasher has completely disintegrated, requiring the purchase of a new seal. However, in the time it took to replace the seal, small rubbery/tarry particles have stuck to everything in the dishwasher, including the items being cleaned and unknown to us, we were still using these items for food preparation.

    My question therefore is: could these particle, if ingested, be harmful?

  10. I put a cup of vinegar on the top rack and sprinkled baking soda on the bottom. When the cycle was over, the vinegar was still in the cup. My question is – is that correct or should the cup have been empty?

    We’ve had problems with this dishwasher ever since we moved into our town home, and if this isn’t the correct solution to our problems, then its time for a new dishwasher. Not mention the water quality is awful, so I know it doesn’t help.

  11. I have a dishwasher that won’t clean my top-rack dishes. They are all greasy, especially if I have a dish with some grease on it. No food gets left, just grease, which the soap from the dishwasher should just clean!

    It is very frustrating that I have to pretty much clean the greasy dishes every time by hand and then run through the washer.

    PLEASE help!

  12. I really am blessed to have smart people like you all. I used vinegar solution to clean my dishwasher. Thanks, Alice

  13. Worst thing I ever did was wash with vinegar and baking soda. Although they are very natural disinfectants and cleaners, the vinegar has now created RUST in my pipes. TERRIBLE idea, DON’T do it!.

  14. H. Suter says:

    What is the best way to clean inside of a dishwasher and also to remove the film that now shows up on my white dishes?

  15. We have a black, foggy, dusty residue that can wipe away (but not completely) that is lining the entire inside of the dishwasher. How should I remove it the best?? I have washed it off, but it seems to return over & over. Thanks!

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