How to clean a dishwasher

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

How to clean a dishwasher
(Image credit: Getty)

Want to learn how to clean a dishwasher? Dishwashers, perhaps more than most kitchen appliances, need regular cleaning – after all, they are working hard to get your dishes clean every day. Cleaning your dishwasher is essential for keeping your kitchen conditions bacteria- and odor-free, so give it a bit of love using our top cleaning tips.

With just a few cleaning ingredients, you can have your dishwasher working at its best in no time. This step-by-step guide has everything you need to know to get a complete clean, leaving your dishwasher gleaming and ready for action!

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.

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 Affresh Dishwasher Cleaner. Make sure you read the instructions in full before use and wear rubber gloves. Simply follow the instructions on the packet and place the tab into the detergent compartment or 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 baking soda

After cleaning your dishwasher with vinegar or a commercial cleaner you can use baking soda to freshen it up even more and get rid of any lingering smells. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of baking 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 baking 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 or buildup. 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 scouring sponge. Then rinse under a tap.

How often? Once a month.

pouring cleaning fluid on to a scouring sponge

(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 (yuck).

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 mold 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 cycle

A hot washing cycle will stop your dishwasher from smelling, and it's worth doing this if you use the eco or cool wash program 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.
  • Use the right setting, don’t use an economy setting if the load is really dirty and needs a hot washing.

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 drain hose 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 drain hose is bent, you may want not to push the dishwasher back in all the way. It could be causing the hose to kink.

12. How to remove limescale from a dishwasher

You could go with the branded cleaner from your dishwasher manufacture or local grocery store, but if you’re after a pantry 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; plus you can get the inside track on how to clean a dishwasher in our guide.

Too late to save your dishwasher? Buy a new one

Try one of these top-rated dishwashers.

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Kaitlin Madden
Kaitlin Madden

Kaitlin Madden Armon is a writer and editor covering all things home. In addition to Real Homes, she's written for Architectural Digest, Martha Stewart Living, Refinery29, Modern Luxury Interiors, Wayfair, The Design Network, and lots more. She graduated from Northeastern University with a degree in journalism and currently lives in Connecticut with her husband, two sons, and black lab.