How to Clean a Dishwasher: It’s Dirtier Than You Think

The top rack of a dishwasher with tea cups in it, which is why you need to know how to clean a dishwasher.

If your dishwasher stinks or the door seal exhibits unhealthy growth, then it is time to learn how to clean a dishwasher.

When you open the door, a sudden blast of sickly foul smells turns your stomach to stop you in your tracks. Never mind putting away the evening dishes because you have to wonder if the dishes will come out clean, to begin with!

When you start to experience dishwasher smells, you know you can’t put off the chore any longer. It’s the sort of job that we dread, like cleaning the oven, but the unhealthy aroma drifting from your machine means you can’t ignore it.

If the dishwasher stinks, then it remains a fair bet that your dishes may come out dirty, or worse, unhygienic.

Recommended Read: Dishwasher Stinks: How To De-Smell Your Dishwasher

How to Clean a Dishwasher

You may wish to wear rubber gloves as you scrape away the vile build-up of gunge from around the door seal. Upon further investigation, the sight of all that foul-smelling slime hidden away around the door may fill you with horror.

There remains no alternative than to use your fingers to remove the offending filth.

Trapped food in the filter and around the door may rot and fill your dishwasher with hellish smells. Consequently, you need to remove the filter and trap to clean the offending articles.

Sometimes the holes in the blades get blocked with food residue. You may need to use a pin to unblock the holes and to ensure the clear passage of water.

Home remedies prove a great alternative to proprietary products when you learn how to clean a dishwasher.

Distilled white vinegar and bicarbonate of soda from the cupboard prove ideal for removing any residual smells and helping to flush out the dishwasher to leave it clean and fresh.

A woman leans over a dishwasher full of dishes.

Many Uses for Dishwashers

While we understand our machines’ obvious purpose, you may feel surprised to learn some of the many uses for dishwashers.

Cleaning toys

You can place your kid’s plastic toys in a mesh bag and toss them onto the top shelf of your dishwasher. The machine makes quick work of cleaning and sterilizing items that may find themselves placed in small mouths.

Makeup brushes

If you use plastic bristled brushes for makeup and hairbrushes, you can fling them in the dishwasher to clean them. However, remember to remove any hair residue from the machine before you proceed with washing the dishes!

Pet bowls

Placing your pet food and water dishes in the machine eliminates any germs to leave the bowls squeaky clean.

The list goes on

The list includes small garden hand tools, cleaning flip fops, and sterilizing lunch boxes. However, if you don’t know how to clean a dishwasher, you may end up in a foul, sticky mess.

Recommended Read: 15 Genius Dishwasher Uses for a Cleaner Home Today

How to Clean a Dishwasher Explored

Regular maintenance and cleaning help prolong your appliances’ working life, and that remains true for dishwashers. A little tender loving care from time to time keeps the machine in tip-top condition and your dishes bright and sparkly.

How often should you clean a dishwasher?

Regular maintenance of your dishwasher remains essential to the health and efficiency of the machine. We recommend that you perform a deep clean, as described in our article, at least 1 to 3 times a year.

Furthermore, it is worth performing a quick cleaning cycle each month by running the dishwasher empty while using dishwasher detergent.

Deep clean

As we move through the various stages of how to clean a dishwasher, it is worth noting that performing a deep clean a few times a year enhances the machine’s performance.

While we regularly check and maintain our vehicles, performing the same trick on our home appliances may save us money in the long run.

The drain filter

You can locate the drain filter in the machine’s base, and it is there that old food sticks around and decays. The residue affects the cleaning efficiency of the dishwasher and causes stomach-churning smells.

Begin by removing the drain cover and the filter and scrubbing them in hot soapy water. Ensure you remove any scum and residual waste from the tiny holes using a soft-bristled scrubbing brush.

Use a soft cloth and hot soapy water to remove any residual sludge from around the filter trap inside the machine. Once the area sparkles, you can replace the filter and trap.

Spray the spray arm

The holes in the spray arm may clog up with food waste. Consequently, the bunged-up holes prevent the efficient cleaning of the machine and may result in foul smells.

You can remove the spray arm and use a needle to remove any residue trapped in the holes. Once you feel satisfied that each hole is clear, run warm soapy water through the arm to thoroughly clean it.

Ensure that water runs freely through the holes before replacing the spray arm inside the dishwasher.

Hansel and Gretel

Now you know how Hansel and Gretel felt because you now need to climb inside the dishwasher to clean it.

You may feel shocked to see how much food and grim accumulates inside the machine, especially around the door area, and the resultant sludge looks and smells repulsive. However, it is essential to remove all of the offending grim.

Begin by removing the racks from the dishwasher and use a bristled brush to clean them in hot soapy water.

You may find a sponge useful to help remove the disgusting alien slime from around the door lip. Pay particular attention to the rubber seal around the door because a considerable amount of sludge accumulates around that area.

Use the sponge to scrape away the sludge. Once removed, employ a bit of elbow grease using the scourer part of the sponge to scrub away the dirt and mildew.

Warm soapy water proves the ideal choice for cleaning around the door frame and the door seal but ensure you do a thorough job of removing all the dirt.

You may find mildew inside the dishwasher, especially on the back grate of the dishwasher. Some dishwashers enable you to remove the grate for cleaning. However, it is worth checking with the manufacturer before you attempt removing the grate.

Clean the back grate and the sides of the dishwasher using warm soapy water. While it feels like a cramped space, it is worth persevering until the inside of the dishwasher sparkles like new.

How to Clean a Dishwasher with Vinegar

The above steps represent an in-depth cleaning process that you may perform 1 to 3 times a year. The remaining actions demonstrate how to clean a dishwasher regularly.

You may complete the remaining steps every month to help keep your dishwasher smelling fresh and performing to the best of its abilities.

The cleaning cycle

While the scrubbing and the cleaning of the filters and door seals remove residual food deposits, foul smells have a lingering habit. However, by using a few household remedies, you can leave your dishwasher smelling fresh and gleaming like new.

Place a bowl of distilled white vinegar in the bottom of the dishwasher and run your machine on empty using a hot water cycle.

The vinegar breaks down any remaining greasy deposits and soap scum. Once the cycle completes, the interior smells fresh and looks almost good enough to eat off. However, what about those stubborn stains?

The baking soda trick

Once the vinegar cycle completes, sprinkle 1 cup of baking soda over the bottom of the dishwasher. Run the dishwasher on a short cycle to complete this phase. The baking soda eradicates any lingering odors and significantly reduces any stains that persist inside the machine.

Don’t ever mix vinegar and bleach

You may feel tempted to use bleach inside your dishwasher. However, bleach proves highly corrosive on metallic parts and may cause more damage than good to your machine.

Never mix bleach and vinegar when you learn how to clean a dishwasher. When you combine the 2 substances, they release toxic chlorine gas.

Some people add vinegar to bleach to reduce the bleach’s pH, making it a better disinfectant. However, any boost in cleaning power is quickly negated by the resultant toxic gas’s dangerous nature.

Bleach contains sodium hypochlorite. When mixed with acids, such as vinegar, it releases chlorine gas. The released gas proves highly dangerous to your eye membranes, your throat, and your lungs.

Proprietary Products

Once you have thoroughly cleaned the various parts of the dishwasher, the door area, and seals, and all the removable parts, you can use a store-bought product for the final cycle.

Dishwasher cleaner and dishwasher disinfectant help restore your machine to a clean and hygienic state. The cleaners remove any residue you may miss during your deep clean, and the cleaners help remove any build-up of limescale that forms inside your machine and pipes.

Limescale causes significant damage to our dishwashers and washing machines. It forms a crust inside the pipes and clogs up the nozzles and holes in the spray arms. Proprietary cleaning products prove efficient at preventing and breaking down any limescale deposits.

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Dishwasher cleaners may reach those areas, such as inside the pipes themselves, that you cannot reach. Consequently, they remove grease and food residue and help eliminate bad smells.

Regular cleaning

Now that you understand how to clean a dishwasher, it is worth making it a part of your regular cleaning routine. Regular maintenance and cleaning help reduce the build-up of limescale and food residue, which may adversely affect your machine’s performance.

Using a dishwasher cleaner and disinfectant once a month keeps your dishwasher in tip-top condition. A cleaner inside results in cleaner dishes and fewer smells.

A deep clean 1 to 3 times a year restores the health of your dishwasher. It’s no different from performing regular maintenance on your car to improve its performance and enhance its longevity. While it may feel like a chore, your dishes will thank you for it!

Use good detergent

We have all done it. While visiting those bargain stores, we see a bag of cheap dishwasher tablets, and we shove them in our baskets. However, they may not necessarily save you money.

Good quality dishwasher detergent breaks down grease and food residue to effectively clean your dishes and the dishwasher interior. Cheap dishwasher tablets may leave behind soapy residue and prove ineffectual at washing the dishes.

Recommended Read: Best Dishwasher Detergent: These Are the Top 8 Choices

You may need a new dishwasher

By performing regular maintenance and thorough cleaning, you help to extend the life of your machine. However, it may get to the point where you need to replace your dishwasher.

No amount of cleaning can remove rust, and if you find rust inside your machine, you need to invest in a new dishwasher.

If you see standing water in the bottom of the machine, and the problem persists after a deep clean, the likelihood is that the pump is failing. Consequently, you may wish to purchase a new appliance.

Sometimes the door may fail, and the locking mechanism won’t seal the door. This results in dishwasher smells infusing your home with unwanted aromas and may result in water leaks.

While you may be able to get the door repaired, you need to buy a new machine more often than not.

Recommended Read: Viking Dishwasher: Choosing Your Perfect Machine

How to Clean a Dishwasher Explained

While it may represent a job we hate, understanding how to clean a dishwasher helps keep your machine in tip-top condition and ultimately saves you money.

Performing a deep clean 1 to 3 times a year keeps the dishwasher in prime condition. Cleaning the door seals and spray arms ensures an efficient clean, and removing the drain filter and food trap helps you eliminate unwanted smells.

Cleaning the machine’s interior with hot soapy water gets rid of greasy residue and soap build-up.

Running your appliance on a hot cycle with a bowl of vinegar inside refreshes the machine and eliminates residual debris. A final cycle after sprinkling baking powder inside reduces stains and leaves your dishwasher smelling fresh and clean.

If you look after your dishwasher, you may get many years of efficient cleaning from your machine. Now that you understand how to clean a dishwasher, you may never experience those nasty smells again.

Do you have any tips for keeping your dishwasher fresh? Share them in the comments below.

Author bio

Sean Kerr lives in Cardiff, Wales, and is a published author with over 10 novels to his name so far and still counting. As well as writing his next bestseller, Sean also runs a successful jewelry making business and sells his creations online.


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