How to Clean and Maintain Your Dishwasher

Mitchell Fisher By Mitchell Fisher Updated 01 May 2022

The lifetime of an appliance is difficult to accurately gauge. It depends on the quality of the item and how often you use it. However, the most important factor will always be how often you properly maintain it.

If you buy a fully decked-out dishwasher with all of the features that you might ever need, along with a decent warranty, then you’ll likely get a decade of use out of it before you need to replace it.

On the other hand, if you get a decent dishwasher, and make sure that you clean it semi-regularly, all the while maintaining it properly, then it can last for a substantial amount of extra time (or until you finally decide to buy a new one).

The best part is that the sort of maintenance we’re talking about is very easy to do and takes no time at all, so there’s no reason not to do it. Sick with us, and we’ll teach you how to clean a dishwasher so that it sparkles inside and outside, but—more importantly—lasts you for years to come.

Do You Really Need to Clean Your Dishwasher?

The short answer is: absolutely. As we already mentioned, cleaning your dishwasher even sporadically can help to extend its lifetime. Something as simple as a bit of food buildup in one of the water jets or on the washer arms can lead to a lot of problems over time. In turn, that will likely result in you either paying for maintenance and repairs or buying a new machine altogether much sooner than you’d want to.

Appliances that use water are also very prone to getting mouldy or having mildew develop in the corners due to the ever-present moisture. Most dishwashers are made of stainless steel, so they’ll be able to resist the onset of any fungal growth for a while, but they won’t always be able to prevent it entirely without you getting involved.

And finally, not cleaning your dishwasher can lead to grime causing your jets to not clean your dishes as they should. At best, this can result in your glasses and plates coming out as dirty as they came in, and at worst, the dirty plates can also be accompanied by a bad smell that has developed thanks to the buildup of mildew in the system.

How Often Should You Clean Your Dishwasher?

The self-cleaning feature that a lot of dishwashers come with blasts short water bursts from the small jets on the washer arms. This expels any food residue that might have gotten lodged inside while also cleaning the inside of the dishwasher.

These cleaning programs are used when the dishwasher is empty, and they can be run without any tablets. However, it’s an even better idea to use cleaning and deodorising tablets.

These cleaning cycles are automatic, and you activate them at the push of a button, so you can run them every day if you want to. That being said, we’d recommend not doing that since not much gunk builds up over a single day. Running an automatic cleaning cycle once every few days or once a week is perfectly fine.

When it comes to manually washing the dishwasher, it’ll depend on how often you use it, how much food you leave on the dishes before you place them on the trays, and whether or not the dishes come out clean or with specks of grime here and there.

We’d strongly recommend cleaning the dishwasher at least once a month, but you can reduce that time to once every two or three weeks for better results since it’s not all that time-consuming. 

In all honesty, very few people bother to clean their dishwasher even once every three months, but the more you delay, the more buildup you’ll need to scrub off, so it’s best not to postpone the maintenance sessions by that much.

Getting Started

You’ll need some baking soda, a bottle of distilled white vinegar, a pair of rubber gloves so that your hands don’t prune, a sponge, a toothbrush, and a small plastic bowl. The uses for most of the tools are pretty self-explanatory, but why vinegar and baking soda?

The acidic nature of the vinegar makes it a great cleaning substance that can break down stubborn mineral deposits and stains, and the baking soda is great for getting rid of any lingering foul smells.

You might also need a screwdriver to remove the filters. A lot of dishwashers have removable filters that you simply twist off, but a screwdriver will come in handy if that’s not the case with your model.

Disassemble Your Dishwasher

First, take out the utensil holders and then remove the top and bottom rack from your dishwasher. Most models have small latches on the sides, so look for those and unhook them.

Then, you’re going to detach both the coarse filter and the fine mesh filter. Both are usually located near the centre at the bottom of the dishwasher where they can collect the most leftover food particles.

If you’re unsure about how to detach the racks or how to find the filters, then the serial code and model are always somewhere on the inside of the machine. Simply find them, Google the instruction manuals, and read through them until you find what you’re looking for.

Once you’ve found and removed all of these components, go ahead and wash them thoroughly. You might want to check inside the hole where the filter was fitted as well since there might be some food waste accumulated there that you should scoop out.

Break Out the White Vinegar

After you’ve washed one of the racks, place it back in the dishwasher and put a cup of white vinegar on it, put the filters back in, and close the door. Then, start the washer on the hottest setting. 

Let it finish the cycle, then open the door, remove the rack again, and use a sponge to scrub the walls of the dishwasher. The vinegar will mix with the heat and the water, and it’ll help dislodge any food particles that might be stuck to the walls, making the grime much easier to scrub and remove.

After you’ve gone through the dishwasher with a sponge, get a toothbrush and thoroughly clean the corners of the washer as well as the arms, paying special attention to the jets at the ends of each arm.

If the bristles on your toothbrush can’t quite get inside the small holes of the jets, then it might be a good idea to get something like a toothpick or a sewing needle to get any small food particles that still might be lodged in the tiny openings.

After you’re done, you might want to leave the door open and let the inside air dry for an hour or so. You can also get a dry cloth and mop up any leftover water to help speed up the process.

Wash the Outside

While you’re waiting on the wash cycle to finish you can get started on cleaning the outside. Get the sponge again, and either fill a spray bottle or a bucket with equal parts white vinegar and water. Using more standard detergent brands or just soapy water works as well, but we prefer vinegar because it’s so reliable when it comes to removing stains on stainless steel surfaces.

After you’ve sponged up the front of the dishwasher, take your toothbrush and use it to get along the switches and dials up top as well. And finally, you’re going to get a dry cloth and just give it a once over to make sure that it’s nice and dry.

The outside of the dishwasher doesn’t really get all that dirty, and all you’ll probably find is a few stains from a drink that might have spilled over from the kitchen counter. You can absolutely skip this step if you want to, but it honestly only takes two minutes and makes your dishwasher look like it just came out of the box.

Wash the Door

Once the wash cycle is over, you’re going to get your toothbrush and the spray bottle full of the white vinegar mixture, and you’re going to clean the inside of the door. You can cover the wider area with the sponge, but make sure that you get the door seals, and the rubber components because that’s where a lot of the moisture gets trapped and it can turn mouldy quite easily.

Getting Rid of Unpleasant Smells

If you were wondering about what happened to the baking soda that we asked you to prepare, here’s where it comes into play. Baking soda is incredibly effective at getting rid of unpleasant smells, so if you have foul odours coming from your dishwasher that you can’t get rid of, here’s what you’ll do.

Remove all the dishes and racks and sprinkle half a cup of baking soda on the bottom. Close the door and let it sit overnight. When you come back in the morning, turn the machine on and switch it to a quick wash.

When you open the door, just get a sponge and a dry cloth to mop up the leftover residue, and check to see if the baking soda has done its job right. It’s almost guaranteed that any unpleasant smells will be eliminated, but if there are still some lingering traces, then run another wash with the vinegar trick that we explained a bit earlier, and you should be just fine.

This cleaning method shouldn’t enter into your regular routine and it should only be done if you want to get rid of any odours that might be plaguing your machine.

A Few Last Words of Advice

The way that a lot of dishwashers get clogged up is by being inactive for too long. If you don’t use yours semi-frequently, then the small pockets of food and fat that have seeped from the plates and pans might congeal and harden around the arms or in the corners of the washer.

You don’t have to use your dishwasher every day, but if you haven’t turned it on in a while, then running it on empty on the hottest setting is a good way to make sure that any buildup grime gets washed into the filters where you can clean them more easily.

Speaking of the filters, if you don’t feel like cleaning the whole dishwasher, then at least clean your filters.

You don’t have to scrub the inside of the dishwasher or even remove the racks if you don’t want to, but the filters are designed to collect all of the leftovers that fall from your dishes, so they need to be cleaned out properly. Otherwise, they’ll start letting out unpleasant smells or cause actual damage to your dishwasher in no time.