How to clean a dishwasher

Knowing how to clean a dishwasher will ensure it runs smoothly, is hygienic, and lasts longer

How to clean a dishwasher
(Image credit: Getty)

Learning how to clean a dishwasher is essential for keeping these hardworking kitchen appliances running efficiently. After all, your dishwasher is removing food residue from your dishes every day, which, after a while, will result in some buildup – and, potentially, odour. 

Cleaning your dishwasher is essential for keeping your kitchen environment hygienic and odour-free, so give it a bit of love using our top cleaning tips. With just a few cleaning ingredients, your dishwasher will be like new. This step-by-step guide has everything you need to know to get a complete clean, leaving your dishwasher gleaming and ready to get those dishes squeaky clean again.

Use our kitchen cleaning hacks for more handy tips. Once you're done, see all our cleaning buys, how-tos and hacks to keep your home sparkling.

You will need:

Safety first: Always wear rubber gloves to protect your hands when you are cleaning a dishwasher, and if you are using a cleaning product ensure you read the instructions fully before use.

1. How to clean a dishwasher with vinegar

Let's tackle the inside first. Empty the dishwasher. Then place 250ml of white vinegar in a dishwasher-safe container on the top rack. Or, pour the solution into the bottom of the dishwasher. Set the temperature to the highest heat level and run for a full cycle. The vinegar mixed with hot water will disinfect everything and wash away any grease and grime and remove musty odours.

How often? Weekly.

Use our guide to cleaning a house with vinegar to find lots more useful tips.

 Don’t use vinegar as a rinse aid 

Amazed by how easily vinegar cleaned your dishwasher? You might be tempted to use it for your dishes as well. If your water is particularly hard or you’re noticing a film on your clean dishes, a rinse aid is a necessary addition. 

Some natural cleaning hacks may suggest using white vinegar in lieu of a pricey rinse aid, but resist this idea. Vinegar is very acidic, so it can break rubber gaskets and hoses if used too often. Plus, it can mix with salt from your food and discolor metal flatware or pans. 

That said, let vinegar clean your dishwasher every few weeks. Just don’t dump it into the rinse aid compartment. 

2.  How to clean a dishwasher with a commercial cleaning product

If you don’t want to clean using vinegar you can also buy a cleaning product, such as Dr Beckmann Service It Deep Clean. Make sure you read the instructions in full before use and wear rubber gloves. Simply follow the instructions on the packet and pour all the powder directly into the bottom of the empty dishwasher and run cycle as normal.

How often? Weekly.

interior of a dishwasher

(Image credit: Getty)

3. How to clean a dishwasher with bicarbonate of soda

After cleaning your dishwasher with vinegar or a commercial cleaner you can use bicarbonate of soda to freshen it up even more and get rid of any lingering smells. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda on the bottom of the machine and run on a short cycle at the highest temperature. 

How often? Once a month.

Use our guide to cleaning with bicarbonate of soda to find lots more useful tips.

4. How to clean dishwasher accessories

Remove the racks and utensil holder and wash with hot, soapy water. Dip an old toothbrush in the soapy water and scrub to remove any stubborn marks. Gently scrub the spray arm (this is the propeller like arm that cleans the dishes), and poke any debris or limescale through the holes with a toothpick and scrub with a sponge scourer. Then rinse under a tap.

How often? Once a month.

pouring cleaning fluid on to a sponge scourer

(Image credit: Getty)

5. Cleaning the filter

Remove the lower tray, look inside and locate the drain then clean all around it. Pull the filter out and remove any chunks of food that have been left behind. Rinse and wash thoroughly with soapy water. You’ll be surprised at what you might find in here – chips of glass, a small fork, even bones (yuk).

Then, spray a little white vinegar over the drain. This will help keep it clean between washes.

How often? Once a month.

6. How to clean a dishwasher's door seals

Clean around the door seals thoroughly as they are prone to mould and mildew, which will eventually damage the seals and could cause the dishwasher to leak. Scrub the sides of the doors and around the edges with a small toothbrush.

How often? Weekly.

7. How to clean the dishwasher door

You can use a multi-purpose cleaner to wipe away all fingerprints, grease or food residue from the dishwasher door. You can also just use warm, soapy water and dry with a soft cloth or piece of kitchen towel. 

How often? Weekly.

8. Run an empty hot wash

A hot wash will stop your dishwasher smelling, and it's worth doing this if you use the eco or cool wash programme during the rest of the month – these washes might be eco-friendly, but they allow food residue to build up more readily.

How often? Once a month.

9. How to keep the dishwasher clean

Now you've found out how to clean a dishwasher, keep it sparkling and smelling great with these useful tips to keep it running smoothly:

  • Scrape any excess food off plates, pots and pans before they go into the dishwasher.
  • Don't overfill it as this will make it less efficient and the water won't have room to circulate. Same applies to cutlery.
  • Clean the filters regularly.
  • Regularly top up with dishwasher salt and rinse aid to stop limescale building up and to soften the water. Why? Salt softens the water which helps the dishwasher detergents work better; rinse aid ensures dishes dry streak-free.
  • Use the right setting, don’t use an economy setting if the load is really dirty and needs a hot wash.

10. What not to do when cleaning a dishwasher

Despite what you might read elsewhere, do not use bleach or harsh cleaners to clean your dishwasher; doing so will damage the seals and dishwasher itself over time.

11. What to do if the dishwasher still smells after cleaning

If you're still getting unpleasant smells from your dishwasher – or worse, bits of food that seem to come from absolutely nowhere – you may be dealing with a waste blockage, or the waste pipe is bent out of shape, restricting the flow of waste water. You'll need to switch off and pull out the device to inspect. If the waste pipe is bent, you may want not to push the dishwasher back in all the way.

12. How to remove limescale from a dishwasher

You could go with the branded cleaner from your dishwasher manufacturer, or a proprietary cleaner, but if you’re after a store cupboard solution, white vinegar is your go-to. Fill a large dishwasher-proof cup with the liquid, add it to the top basket, and run a cycle without detergent (or any dishes, of course).

Find more ways to clean your home with vinegar in our dedicated feature.

13. Can I use a washing machine cleaner in my dishwasher?

You may be tempted to use another appliance cleaning product in your dishwasher, but our advice is: unless the product is specifically labelled as being suitable for dishwashers, avoid using it. One of the potential problems with using a different cleaning product in the dishwasher is that it may foam too much, making your dishwasher unable to drain off the froth. Some newer dishwashers will then activate an anti-flood device that can only be deactivated by draining the dishwasher manually. 

Never, ever use dishwashing liquid in the dishwasher for this reason, or laundry detergent. If you don't want to spend too much money on different products, Ecozone make washing machine and dishwasher cleaner tablets suitable for both appliances. 

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