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August 30, 2021

How to clean the dishwasher - all the steps and tips

Regardless of what you may think, your dishwasher doesn’t clean on its own. In time, grease, bits of food, undissolved detergent, and water minerals collect on the dishwasher’s filter and interior walls. The gunk is unsightly and smelly and can leave stains and film on your dinnerware, glassware, and flatware. When you don’t clean the dishwasher as you should, it will begin to perform poorly. Also, if you don't remove the grime and food build-up, the filter and pump will suffer damage, leading to expensive repairs.

Prevention is better than cure

We cannot stress enough about the importance of prevention, and the dishwasher doesn’t make an exception. Using high-quality detergents and rinse aid reduces the risk of staining on the interior of your dishwasher. Suppose you live in an area with hard water. In that case, a whole-home water softener or regeneration salt added to the dishwasher’s water softening system will decrease the spotting of the glassware. It also prevents mineral build-up in the dishwasher.

Many tips can help with keeping the dishwasher clean and efficiently running. For example, little things like leaving the door open at the end of a cycle will reduce the risk of mould and mildew. It can also prevent stale odour.

Read also: 10 Fridge Cleaning Hacks to Save You Time & Money

How often should you clean the dishwasher?

It all depends on how often you use the dishware, but generally speaking, you should clean the dishwasher as follows:

  • Daily to remove bits of food
  • Weekly to wipe down the gasket, dishwasher door and clean the filter
  • Monthly to deep clean the interior
  • Clean its exterior and buff it as often as necessary

Should you use bleach?

We don’t recommend you use bleach, especially if the dishwasher is made with stainless steel interior. Don’t use bleach also if the dishwasher has stainless steel parts on the interior. Keep in mind not to use bleach with vinegar because the two can generate lethal chlorine gas.

How to clean your dishwasher?

Whether you want to remove the gunk from the gasket, door, filter or want to stay on top with daily cleaning, the following dishwasher cleaning tips will help you have an immaculate dishwasher on a regular basis.

1.      Remove the bits of food

The leading cause of odour problems with dishwashers comes from the leftover food that can turn the dishwasher into a garbage disposal. You should make a habit out of cleaning the remaining bits of food after every dishwashing cycle. Pull out the bottom rack to get any leftover food in the well and use a paper towel to prevent small and future build-up.

You shouldn't pre-wash items but instead, focus on preventing unwanted smells. Therefore, you should wipe excess food from bowls, silverware, plates, and other items before placing them into the dishwasher.

Also, look for labels or new items with barcode tags on them and remove them before loading the dishwasher.

2.      Wipe the door and gasket grime

Open the dishwasher door and clean the top and sides. Dip a small toothbrush in hot soapy water and clean around the door. Go deep into the grooves of the rubber seal and crevices, hinges included. If there’s a lot of build-ups, you could scrub it gently with an abrasive cleaner. Use a household sponge damped in hot soapy water to wipe the grime and a clean wet sponge to remove any cleaning solution.

You want the door’s exterior to be clean and fingerprint-free. Wipe it on the outside with warm soapy water. You can also use a homemade dishwasher cleaner of 1 quart of water and ¼ cup baking soda. Stay away from harsh cleansers or tough scouring pads that could scratch the dishwasher's finish.

Use a soft cloth to wipe dry the door and a soft dry cloth with rubbing alcohol to wipe away the stubborn smudges.

As for the dishwasher gasket, gently scrub the gunk from the rubber seal with an old toothbrush and wipe clean with a paper towel or damp cloth.

3.      Clean the parts and accessories

You have to remove all the racks and utensil holders. Make sure to wipe off all stuck-on food particles and debris. Use a soft brush/old toothbrush to scrub the spray arm and remove clogs.

Always examine the owner's manual before you use hydrogen peroxide to remove mildew or mould.

4.      Tackle the dishwasher filter

As long as the filter isn’t clean, your dishwasher won’t be clean. You can find the filter below to the bottom spray arm; pull out the bottom rack to access it. You can also check out the owner’s manual for details.

Why clean the filter?

A clean dishwasher filter is fundamental for spotless dishes. The filter has many roles in the dishwasher:

  • It cleans and clears the dishwasher
  • It protects the pump from getting clogged by foreign/oversized objects
  • It stops food particles from recirculating and re-sticking to the dishes

How often should you clean the dishwasher filter?

If you clean the dishwasher filter regularly, the dishwasher performs at its best, load after load. Here's general guidance on the frequency of cleaning the filter:

  • If you wash before loading
    • Clean once per year if you have 14 loads every week.
  • If you only scrape before loading
    • Clean twice per year for 1-7 loads per week
    • Clean every three months for 8-14 loads per week
  • If you scrape and rinse before loading
    • Clean once per year for 1-7 loads per week
    • Clean twice per year for 8-14 loads per week
  • If you don’t scrape or rinse before loading
    • Clean every two months for 1-3 loads per week
    • Clean once per month for 4-7 loads per week
    • Clean every two weeks for 8-12 loads per week
    • Clean once per week for 13-14 loads per week

How to clean the dishwasher filter?

Step1: remove the filter

Remove the lower dish rack to expose the dishwasher’s bottom. You can find the filter in the back corner of the dishwasher tub or around the base of the bottom spray arm.

Many filters include two parts: the upper and lower filter assembly. Turn clockwise the upper filter (a quarter turn) to take it out. Lift it gently and pull the lower filter forward to remove it.

Step 2: Clean the filter

Remove soils by running water over the filter. Use some dish soap and a soft brush to get rid of all calcium deposits and stubborn debris. Don’t use a wire brush or anything rough to scrub the filter because you could damage it.

Step 3: put the filter back in place

Place the lower filter back on the tub’s bottom and install it correctly. The upper filter should line up with the round opening in the tub’s bottom part. Make sure that the upper filter fits into the slot on the top of the lower filter. You have to turn the filter clockwise until you feel it’s glided into place. If you sense the filter turns easily, it means it’s not placed correctly. You should keep turning it clockwise until it’s locked.

Extra tip!

Never run the dishwasher unless you’re 100% that the filter is locked. Examine the upper and lower filter assemblies. Should the filter be loose, it will damage the dishwasher.

When should you clean the dishwasher filter?

Any of the following issues signal that the filter requires cleaning:

  • Food particles and soil is easy to notice
  • The cleaning performance has worsened
  • The dishes get grimy or gritty to touch after cleaning

5.      Deep clean the dishwasher every month

You have to make time and remove all mineral build-up, deeply set particles, and detergent residues every now and then. You can use cleaning tablets or homemade cleaning methods. Details are right down below.

Cleaning tablets

You can find many types of cleaning tablets from prestigious manufacturers. They are made with surfactants that dissolve greasy residues and food bits. Always read the instructions before using the cleaning tablets, as some don’t allow use in the same cycle as detergent and dishes.

Clean with vinegar

If the DIY route sounds more appealing to you, you can use vinegar. Here’s how to do it right:

  • Place a dishwasher-safe bowl filled with distilled white vinegar on the top rack
  • Run a regular (hot) cycle without dishes and detergent

You can also deep clean the dishwasher with vinegar and baking soda. After you run the hot cycle with vinegar, sprinkle a cup of baking soda in the dishwasher’s bottom. Run a short hot cycle afterwards.

Extra tip!

Vinegar is an acid and can cause damage to the dishwasher, especially on hoses and rubber gaskets. Use it wisely.

6.      Clean the drain trap

If you notice water sitting in the dishwasher's bottom after washing dishes, foreign objects or chunks of food could block the drain trap in the bottom centre. The dishwasher shares the sink’s drain and often that with the garbage disposal as well. When one of the two isn’t draining correctly, you should unblock the sink first. If the dishwasher still doesn’t drain:

  • Turn off the dishwasher
  • Remove all items from the dishwasher and the bottom rack
  • Use a small cup/absorbent towel to remove the standing water
  • Remove visible objects and food chunks that may clog the drain trap. Use a soft cloth for a good grip.
  • Call a professional plumber if that doesn’t solve the problem.


If your dishwasher has a removable drain trap cover, you can examine the owner’s manual for instructions to lift it.

7.      Tackle the rust stains

The condition of your pipes and the water source play an essential role in whether your dishwasher develops mineral and rust stains or not. You can find in-stores products to remove rust stains from appliances.

You can put the product in the soap dispenser cup of the dishwasher; sprinkle some on the bottom as well. Run the empty dishwasher through a complete cleaning cycle.

Hard water and rusty pipes represent the leading causes of the rust stains on the dishwasher. Unless you solve these problems, you will have to repeat the process regularly. If it's not working, you can hire a plumbing contractor to install a filter that is highly efficient at rust control.

The DIY solution

You can also try to remove the rust stains with lemons. It can work miracles.

  • Place a cup of lemon juice on the top rack/basket of the dishwasher
  • Run a normal cycle
  • The acidic lemon juice will remove iron build-up and hard water spots

8.      Clean and shine up the dishwasher’s exterior

Fingerprints on any surface make it grimy and dull; the situation is even worse with stainless steel appliances.

Use a stainless steel cleaner to make your dishwasher fingerprints-free and shiny. The cleaning product helps you achieve a streak-free shine and protect the dishwasher’s surface from future smudges and dirt.

Extra tip!

Avoid abrasive cleaners and pads that can cause scratching and marring of your dishwasher’s exterior.

Cleaning the dishwasher with vinegar

Sometimes, some white vinegar is all you need to clean the dishwasher. Vinegar is astringent acidic, so it's a highly effective agent for breaking down scum on most appliances. On a side note, you should always have a spray bottle with vinegar on hand and spritz the dishwasher from time to time for sparkling results.

  • Fill a bowl/dishwasher safe cup with white vinegar
  • Place the bowl/cup on the upper rack of the dishwasher
  • Run the empty dishwasher on the hottest setting so that the vinegar absorbs all unpleasant smells and erodes buildup on the walls

Using baking soda to clean the dishwasher

If you already use baking soda to remove pesticides from your fruits, you're not going to be surprised when we tell you that you can also use it to get rid of stubborn residue from food waste. It works because baking soda is a safe and mild alkali substance.

  • Sprinkle one cup of baking soda on the bottom of the dishwasher
  • Rinse it on a hot-water cycle
  • For stubborn smells and stains, you need to repeat the process
  • You can make "baking soda bombs" by mixing three tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide with 2 cups of baking soda. You should obtain a paste
  • Drop spoonfuls onto parchment paper and let them dry for several hours
  • Toss the bombs on the bottom of the dishwasher and run them on a hot-water cycle in an empty machine
  • Add few drops of essential oils for a fresher scent

Read also: How to Clean Kitchen Cabinets

Is it possible to clean the dishwasher with bleach?

We need to remind you to be extra careful when using bleach. If your dishwasher is made with or has any stainless steel elements on the inside, we don't recommend you use bleach. Don't ruin the dishwasher, and use either baking soda or white vinegar to clean your dishwasher.

Once you're 100% sure that your dishwasher is lined with plastic and has plastic parts (it's typical for more affordable models), you can use bleach—it can kill mould, mildew, and germs!

  • Fill a bowl with ½ cup bleach
  • Run the empty machine on the hottest setting

Are you interested in professional cleaning services?

Call the professionals at Sil All Services Northampton whenever you need deep cleaning services. Our cleaners are knowledgeable and use the most effective cleaning products, equipment, and products. Call us to find out more about our cleaning services: end of tenancy cleaning, spring cleaning, one-off cleans, after builders cleaning, after party cleaning, move-in/out cleaning, one-off cleans, etc. We can also provide you with a free quote for the job when you give us a call.

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