How to Clean the Dishwasher

If you don’t clean your dishwasher, you could end up with mold or a buildup of food remnants that could find their way onto your dishes or clog the drain, which would make having a dishwasher a whole lot less convenient.

While the interior of the dishwasher tends to stay relatively clean, since it it’s basically cleaned every time you run a load of dishes, there are many areas of the appliance where water or small bits of food can become trapped. These areas include:

  • The seal
  • The edges and bottom of the door
  • The spinning arms
  • The drain
  • The edges and bottom of the door

All of these areas require a more thorough cleaning.

Cleaning the Inside

» Step one: Remove the racks

Taking the racks out of the dishwasher will make it easier to reach inside and clean the rest of the machine. It will also give you the opportunity to give them some attention. Scrub the racks with hot, soapy water and use a brush to clean out the silverware baskets. Then place them aside to air dry or wipe them with a kitchen towel.

» Step two: Clean the seal

The seal around the door can be prone to mold and mildew. A good way to remove it is to use a solution of one part bleach and three parts water. (Do not use bleach if your dishwasher is stainless steel.) Dip an old toothbrush in the solution and work your way around the seal to kill any mold or mildew. If none is present, you can simply use the toothbrush and a multipurpose kitchen cleaner.

» Step three: Clean the edges and bottom of the door

Use a similar method to clean the edges and the bottom of the dishwasher’s door. Use the toothbrush for corners and a rag or paper towels for the rest of the surface.

» Step four: Clean the spinning arms

The spinning arms or spray arms are the propeller-like devices that aid in the cleaning of the dishes. These arms have holes that can get clogged with food or mineral buildup. To clear out any debris in the holes, use a toothpick or even a pen. Do not use a sharp object that could scratch the surface of the arms.

» Step five: Clean the drain

The drain is located in the center of the bottom of the dishwasher. Check the drain for any debris and pick it out with your hands if there is any. If you have reason to believe that there is debris trapped further inside, you may have to disassemble the drain. This is not very common, but it does happen from time to time. However, you will not need to complete this task every time you clean the dishwasher. Be sure to unplug the dishwasher before you attempt to disassemble it! If you do not feel comfortable working with interior components of the dishwasher, please consult a professional.

If you feel comfortable clearing the inside of the drain yourself, you should be able to remove the screws with a screwdriver. Be sure that you remember where they belong and store them in a safe place where they will not get lost. Once you’ve removed the drain cover, remove any debris you find, again with your hands. (Remember, you can always wear rubber gloves.)

Wipe down the surface with a kitchen cleaner and remove any stains with the bleach solution. Then reattach the cover and plug in the dishwasher. Now, replace the racks.

» Step six: Deodorize

Deodorizing the dishwasher is similar in process to deodorizing the microwave. You can use the built-in heating system in the appliance to aid you in the process. You can use either vinegar or powdered lemon drink mix, whichever you prefer.

To deodorize with vinegar, place a bowl of vinegar in the top rack of the empty dishwasher and run the dishwasher for a full cycle on the highest heat setting available.

To deodorize with lemon, take a packet of unsweetened lemonade mix (make sure it is sugar-free) and empty it into the detergent dispenser. Then run the empty dishwasher as normal. You can also use sugar-free powdered Tang.

Either of these processes may also remove any rust or mineral deposits. If any remain, you can try a cleaner that is made specifically for rust or hard water stains. There should be several available at your local hardware store. In the future, you may want to invest in a water-softening system.

Cleaning the Exterior

The outside of the dishwasher is easy to clean since there is basically just the front of the appliance that requires attention. It can be cleaned by simply spraying it with an all-purpose kitchen cleaner and wiping it down with a rag or paper towel. Make sure to scrub the knobs or buttons and the handle.

In the future …
To maintain the cleanliness of your dishwasher, remove any food or other debris, or silverware from the bottom of the dishwasher as soon as you notice it and rinse any large chunks of food off of your dishes before you place them inside. Also, remove any stickers or containers that could fall off during the wash cycle.


  1. Maximize Your Dishwasher’s Cleaning Power:

    Before running a load of dishes, add 1 heaping tbsp. of baking soda to the pre-wash cup of your dishwasher. Then, add only 1 tsp. of dishwasher detergent to the wash cup, topping that with more baking soda (enough to fill the cup entirely).

    Close the cup and run your dishwasher as you usually would.

    Adding the baking soda to the pre-wash softens any dried-on food in preparation for the wash cycle, and adding it to the wash cycle gives the detergent a “helping hand” to get your dishes cleaner.

    There are four reasons for doing this:

    1) Less environmental pollutants from using less detergent.

    2) Continually clean dishwasher.

    3) Cleaner dishes and silverware.

    4) Far lower cost. Baking soda is much less expensive than detergent!

  2. Pour one cup of white vinegar in the dishwasher each time you wash your dishes. It will not only clean your dishwasher, it will also add a sparkle to your dishes. Vinegar is cheap by the gallon and will not harm the environment.

  3. Do you pour the vinegar into both the prewash cup and wash cycle along with detergent, or only the vinegar?

  4. Some models pump out any liquid before beginning the cycle. I think that is why it is recommended if you want to add vinegar, you should place a bowl of it on the top shelf.

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