How To Clean a Dishwasher, The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide

Plus everything you need to get started.

We all depend on our dishwasher without thinking about how dirty it gets. No matter what soiled dishes or pots we place inside, they usually come out sparkling like new. None of us stop to think about where all that food residue and grime goes during the dishwashing cycle. We assume it gets carried away via the plumbing, which leaves our dishwasher squeaky clean afterward. 

Have you ever stopped to think about how to clean a dishwasher? If you're like us, probably not. This guide is here to help you figure out the best ways to keep your dishwasher going strong, wash after wash. We'll let you know the steps to clean and deep clean a dishwasher (and the difference between the two). You may not know it, but a well-maintained dishwasher works best when free from soap scum and other mineral deposits. 

Learning how to clean a dishwasher is a quick process, but one you'll thank us for later. Your dishwasher will work better in the long run than it might if you leave it to "clean itself." Learn from our methods, along with answers to your biggest queries about how to clean a dishwasher perfectly.

What You'll Need

Depending on the method, you'll need some of the following items when cleaning a dishwasher.

Step-by-Step Instructions on How To Clean a Dishwasher

Use any combination of these methods regularly to clean your dishwasher correctly. 

  1. Empty the dishwasher. Look to see if leftover items are in the dishwasher and remove anything that doesn't belong.
  2. Fill up a dishwasher-safe bowl with a cup of white vinegar and set it on the bottom of the dishwasher. Run the dishwasher on a hot water cycle, so the vinegar helps remove residue, grease, or any leftover bits of food. You can also do this using a dishwasher detergent tablet.
  3. Once complete, remove the bowl and add a cup of loose baking soda to the bottom of the dishwasher. Now, run the dishwasher on another cycle for an extra fresh clean.

How Do I Deep Clean My Dishwasher?

You may want a deeper clean for your dishwasher, especially if it's older or it's been a long time between cleanings. Depending on how much you clean the dishwasher, a deep cleaning may be a good idea between seasons or every three months.

  1. Take out the filter, utensil holder, and both upper and lower dishwasher racks. You may need to twist off the filter or unscrew it, depending on your dishwasher. The filter is located in the center of the bottom of the dishwasher. 
  2. Let the filter soak in a container filled with warm water and a cup of white vinegar for 30 minutes. You can also let it soak in a cup of warm water and a few drops of dish soap.
  3. At this time, you can go the extra mile by scrubbing the areas exposed when removing the filter. Any soft, small brush (like a toothbrush) can reach all the gaps and areas you might have missed. 
  4. Clean the inside walls of the dishwasher with a damp cloth or sponge while you have the space to do so. If you notice any debris within the dishwasher's spray arms, use this opportunity to clean it. 
  5. Take cleaning your dishwasher to the max by using a toothpick to retrieve any hidden dirt or grime.
  6. Wipe down the racks and the utensil holder with warm, soapy water before drying and replacing them, along with the filter.
  7. Run a sponge or cloth inside the top edge of the door, which is another place debris loves to get stuck into. Wipe down the outside of your dishwasher regularly. It's easy for grime to spread whenever you open and close the dishwasher door.

Does Vinegar Really Clean A Dishwasher?

While vinegar helps clean a dishwasher, it shouldn't be used at the same time as baking soda. If you decide on the cleaning method above, run the cycle with vinegar before doing so with baking soda

Also, use the vinegar in a bowl as stated vs. adding it to your dishwasher's detergent compartment. Too much vinegar in the dishwashing mechanism can erode gaskets and hoses over time. Most importantly, don't use vinegar in place of dishwashing detergent when washing your dishes.

Can I Use Apple Cider Vinegar Instead Of White Vinegar In Dishwasher?

If you find that you're out of white vinegar, you can use apple cider vinegar (or even lemon juice) to clean the inside of the dishwasher. Use the bowl method above but, either way, do not use any other type of vinegar like red wine or balsamic vinegar. Save those for your salad dressings instead!

How Do I Clean The Inside Of My Dishwasher Without Vinegar?

To avoid vinegar when figuring out how to clean a dishwasher, simply perform the second part of the deep-cleaning method. Sprinkle a cup of baking soda on the bottom of the dishwasher and run the wash cycle. Baking soda is fabulous at getting rid of food stains or lingering smells just about anywhere.

You can also purchase dishwasher cleaning tablets, which work like any dishwashing tablet. Place one in the detergent compartment and run the dishwasher on a hot water cycle. Tablets also work well to minimize hard water stains, limescale deposits, and food residue. Your dishwasher will have a whole new lease on life every time you clean it!

READ MORE: How To Clean a Cast Iron Skillet, A Step-By-Step Guide