It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking your dishwasher is a self-cleaning appliance. How can it possibly be dirty when it’s the one keeping all your dishes sparkling clean? The reality is that your dishwasher gets infinitesimally less clean with every cycle you run it through, and if you leave it for long enough it may start affecting how clean your dishes end up.
Many of us will have never cleaned out our dishwasher, with the possible exception of that one time you bought and used one of those little flasks of rinse-aid. With that in mind, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to the multi-step process of cleaning your dishwasher, so that you can personally ensure your dishes end up as clean as they can be. But first:
Why is it important to keep your dishwasher clean?
Think about it. It’s the job of your dishwasher to, surprise, surprise… wash your dishes. However, it might have a hard time doing that if it’s not clean itself, and if it’s dirty enough it might even make your dishes dirtier than that bulky lasagne you inhaled for dinner.
Consider a vacuum cleaner – you have to clean out the filter every now and then to ensure the vacuum’s efficiency, right? It’s the same deal with a dishwasher – the filter gets clogged by food particles, mineral build-up, and detergent residue, and if you don’t clean it out relatively regularly your dishwasher won’t be able to clean anything. Got it? Great.
Something to note though: before you do any of the following, make sure you run your dishwasher, or wait until just after it’s finished a cycle. It’s important to clean your dishwasher when it is at its cleanest. Don’t create extra work for yourself by trying to clean a dirty dishwasher.
Should you use a commercial dishwasher cleaner?
Commercially available dishwasher cleaning liquids and tablets are considered the best option to ‘clear out’ your machine’s interior of gunk and foul smells. These products are specially designed to dissolve and remove grease, limescale, detergent build-up, hard water stains, and odours – all in one use. Dishwasher cleaning products from brands like Finish, Shine and Somat are relatively cheap and available from most supermarkets. Most will also come with instructions on how to use them properly.
Can you clean your dishwasher with bleach?
No, you should NOT use bleach to clean your dishwasher, especially if it has a stainless steel interior or stainless steel parts. This is because bleach and other cleaners with chlorine contain an oxidizing agent that can stain and damage the chromium oxide layer of stainless steel. And NEVER mix bleach and vinegar together − the combination of the two can create toxic chlorine gas.
Can you clean your dishwasher naturally (with vinegar)?
Yes, generally speaking, it’s safe to clean your dishwasher with vinegar and some good ol’ elbow grease. Vinegar is a great DIY and chemical-free cleaning solution you can make at home and use to help remove gunk and other nasties and odours built up inside your dishwasher. Vinegar is also often used for cleaning microwaves and cleaning ovens.
How to clean your dishwasher with vinegar
We’ve listed three easy steps below. Make sure you have all your cleaning supplies before you get started or this will make the job harder than it needs to be. Here is what you’ll need to clean your dishwasher with vinegar:
- Warm water
- Distilled white vinegar
- Baking soda
- An old toothbrush
- A washcloth
Step 1: Check the nooks and crannies
The first thing you should do is give the interior of your dishwasher a thorough once-over. Remove the racks, cutlery baskets, spinning arms and the filter (some filters twist off, but others will require tools to unscrew them), and check them for food scraps or any sort of scummy build-up. Try using a toothbrush or similar implement, to remove food particles or other debris lodged in nooks and crevices, but you should be careful to not scratch or damage the finish on any parts of your dishwasher. Then, soak all the removable parts in a mixture of warm water and one cup of white distilled vinegar. Leave them to soak for at least 30 minutes.
Step 2: Run a vinegar cycle
Now that you’ve done the fine detailing in regards to cleaning out the inside of your dishwasher, it’s time for the big-picture work, which starts with a vinegar rinse in order to get rid of any scale build-ups or hard water deposits. Simply run a quick cycle with two cups of vinegar thrown in, and stop the machine mid-wash so that the vinegar has a chance to work its magic. Give it anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour, depending on how bad the build-ups are, and then simply let it finish the cycle.
If your dishwasher’s looking a little dull or faded on the inside, you can do an optional second rinse with baking soda instead of vinegar. Sprinkle a cup of baking soda on the bottom of your dishwasher and run it on a short, hot cycle. This will freshen up your dishwasher, brightening the potentially faded interior and removing any stubborn stains.
A note of caution: Some dishwasher manufacturers advise against using vinegar for cleaning appliances due to its acidity and the risk of potentially damaging sensitive internal parts. It’s best to check your dishwasher’s instructions manual first.
Step 3: Clean the exterior
Once you can rest safe in the knowledge that your dishwasher’s insides are as clean as possible, all you’ve got left to do is a quick spot of (completely optional) external beautification. Soak a washcloth in warm soapy water and give the entire external face a thorough wipe down, being sure to get rid of any food stains or fingerprints. It’s important to note that this isn’t just an aesthetic measure – think about how often dirty hands touch the outside of your dishwasher’s door, and then think about how often you clean the outside of that same door. It’s probably a good idea to give it a clean ASAP.
Read more: Dishwasher cycles explained
How to clean a clogged dishwasher filter
Some filters are self-cleaning, although most modern dishwashers have filters that need to be cleaned manually. The filter is where the majority of the gunk build-up will be. A clogged filter is what typically causes blockages, draining issues and bad smells. With the internal filter removed, you should be able to have a look at the drain, and remove any gunk build-up. To clean the filter itself, simply run it under warm water and use a toothbrush to lightly scrub and brush off food particles and grime.
How to clean the spray arms on a dishwasher
A blocked spray arm could be the reason why your dishwasher isn’t cleaning as well as it used to. Food particles, grease, and grime build up inside your machine over time and this gunk can then become lodged in the spray jets and stop them from flowing freely. Once you’ve removed the spay arms from inside the machine, soak them in white vinegar to loosen up hard water deposits and use a toothbrush to clear out any obstructions of the water exit holes.
How to clean the dishwasher drain
If there’s a pool of water left in the bottom of your dishwasher after each cycle, a blocked drain could be the culprit. Food-related debris and other foreign objects (i.e. small spoons, etc.) may sometimes get stuck and build up in the drain trap and stop it from working properly. You can remove most obstructions from the drain trap with a cloth or toothbrush, but if the problem is more severe you may need the help of a professional plumbing service.
Read more: Why is my dishwasher not working?
How to clean the outside of a dishwasher
It’s what’s on the inside that counts, but don’t forget to also take care of what’s on the outside. Cleaning the exterior of your dishwasher will make it look spick and span and elevate the overall feel of your kitchen. Use a washcloth and soapy water to gently wipe the dishwasher door, handles, and around the controls. You can alternatively use a glass cleaner like Windex if your dishwasher has a stainless steel finish.
How to clean a mouldy dishwasher
The humidity inside your dishwasher creates the ideal environment for mould to grow, so it’s important to keep on top of it before it gets out of control. Visible black spots or a musty smell emitting from your appliance are the most common tell-tale signs of a mould problem, although many types of mould are colourless and odourless. It’s just safer to assume there’s mould lurking somewhere in your dishwasher and to deal with it.
The easiest way to remove mould from your dishwasher is to first remove all racks and cutlery baskets and wash them in warm soapy water. Then, wipe down the inside of your dishwasher and around the door seal with a soapy sponge or washcloth. Vinegar will also work. Lastly, refit the racks and let everything air dry naturally.
Can you avoid hard water deposits in a dishwasher?
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to avoid hard water deposits, also known as calcium deposits. These are minerals deposits left behind when the water inside your machine dries. Hard water deposits gradually collect inside the dishwasher and in plumbing fixtures over time. They typically appear as a white or green scale with a chalky texture but can be removed easily with a descaling solution or vinegar.
Read more: The real cost of using your dishwasher
How often should you clean your dishwasher?
If you use your dishwasher daily or every few days, it’s recommended to clean your kitchen workhorse at least once a month to maintain its cleaning efficiency and erase food build-up inside the appliance. Regular upkeep is also advised to extend the lifespan of your machine. Here’s a quick guide:
- Daily: remove any visible food bits inside the machine.
- Weekly: wipe down your dishwasher door and gasket.
- Monthly: deep clean the interior with a dedicated dishwasher cleaner or vinegar.