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How to Clean a Dishwasher with Items You Already Own

When was the last time you gave your dishwasher a little TLC? Learn how to clean a dishwasher in a matter of minutes—and give it the sterilization it deserves.

By Taylor Murphy, Freelance Writer

Woman reaching into her dishwasher to remove orange and yellow plates from the front row

Shutterstock / Andrey_Popov

If there's one cleaning appliance we couldn't go a day without, it's the dishwasher. Without it, our kids would groan even louder when asked to help out with kitchen tasks, and the thought of heaps of dishes left over from a baking project might keep us from making a delicious homemade pie.

It's so easy to toss in our dirty dishes and unload clean ones...and completely forget that the dishwasher itself needs cleaning. This rids it of food residue and bacteria, and it can even improve the machine's performance. Read on to learn the most efficient way to clean a dishwasher.


You'll Need:

White vinegar

Baking soda

Dish soap

Cloth rags and/or paper towels

Scrub brush


Step 1: Wash down the exterior

For dishwashers with plastic facades, soak a cleaning rag in hot, soapy water and then wipe the surface down; when you're done, use a clean, dry rag or a paper towel to blot it dry. If your dishwasher is made of stainless steel, fill an empty spray bottle with a homemade solution of one part vinegar to three parts water. Spray it on the dishwasher's exterior. Use a soft cloth to immediately wipe it dry, and you can finally kiss all those pesky water stains and fingerprints goodbye. (Here's our ultimate guide to banishing tough stains.)


Step 2: Clear out the filter

Those few times you didn't rinse your dish thoroughly before placing it on the rack (don't worry, we're just as guilty) will add up sooner or later, resulting in a clogged filter. Unscrew the filter—it'll either be a detachable one on the bottom of the dishwasher or a removable screen filter—and get rid of any leftover food particles. To do this, soak the filter in warm, soapy water for 10 minutes or so. Still seeing residue? Use a scrub brush to gently scrape off anything that remains, and rinse the filter thoroughly before putting it back in place.


Step 3: Sanitize the accessories

It's all in the details, especially when it comes to keeping the dishwasher at its absolute cleanest. That's why you should never neglect the bottom rack, top rack, spray arm or utensil holder. Remove each accessory and wipe them down with a cloth, warm water and a little dish soap. Be sure to give the spray arm a little extra care, using a scrub brush to remove bits of food. After rinsing, return the accessories to their places—they'll get another wash-down later.


Step 4: Fill it with vinegar

Whether it's drizzled on our pork chops or used to spice up a BBQ chicken sandwich, we're seriously crushing on vinegar these days. It's one of the most common pantry staples, but we take it for granted way too often. Aside from its edible uses, vinegar works as a natural antibacterial, too—and it's the perfect remedy for discoloration and bothersome odors that are commonly found inside dishwashers. Pour two cups of white vinegar into a bowl and place it in the center of the bottom rack. Without adding any detergent, run a normal cycle. (Want more natural cleaning tips? Grab your salt shaker!)


Step 5: Deodorize with baking soda

Even if the white vinegar has already worked its magic, there's no harm in giving the dishwasher some extra love. Since baking soda can work as dry shampoo or a shower cleaner and can brighten up your laundry, too, it's safe to say it'll help deodorize the interior of a dishwasher. Measure one cup of baking soda and sprinkle it into the bottom of the dishwasher. If the machine has been put to good use over the past couple of days, give it a break and let the baking soda sit overnight. This will give the kitchen superstar time to really soak in, killing lingering bacteria and germs. Run an empty cycle the next morning.


Everyday Dishwasher Cleaning Tips

Have a few minutes to spare? Try these game-changing cleaning hacks to keep your dishwasher running—and looking—its absolute best on a daily basis.

  • Get rid of grime that just won't budge: An old toothbrush can help you reach even the smallest cracks and crevices.
  • While loading utensils, face half of them upward and the other half downward. This keeps them separated for a more complete clean.
  • Get into those hard-to-reach openings in the spray arm with a thin, sturdy wire.
  • Prevent spots on glassware by refilling the rinse-aid dispenser once a month.

Following these steps closely will guarantee an impressively clean appliance. (Doing a happy dance at the sight of your fresh-scented, newly shiny dishwasher is optional.)