Knowing how to clean a dishwasher will improve its performance, protect your dishes and glasses from odors, and ensure your dishes truly are sparkling clean. It’s an important household task, too. Fact is, dishwashers harbor all sorts of buildup, including mold and mildew. These steps, performed monthly, can keep your dishwasher clean and operating at its best.
Start with an empty dishwasher. Yes, even if you have to run it with less than a full load.
Remove the racks and inspect them. Peeling plastic and rusting rack tines can leave your dishes stained and scratched. If yours are looking beat up, try using a paint-on plastic sealant specifically for dishwashers (Plasti Dip is one) or visit your dishwasher manufacturer’s website to find replacement racks.
Check the spinning arms. Most modern dishwashers have a spinning arm on the bottom of the top rack, and another in the base of the dishwasher itself. Look in the holes to make sure there’s no debris or crusted food in there. If you do discover the holes are blocked, used tweezers or needle nose pliers to remove the gunk.
Check the spray arm. Remove the cover of the main spray arm at the bottom of your dishwasher if possible and check for debris underneath it. (Unplug your dishwasher before doing this. You can usually find the plug near your garbage disposal, under your kitchen sink.) My spray arm is attached with a plastic screw that was easily loosened. When I lifted the arm off, I discovered a piece of chicken bone and some broken glass! I’d hate to think what would’ve happened if that stuff had made it into the drain. Reattach the spray arm once you’ve cleaned out any debris, being careful not to over-tighten the screw, and plug your machine back in.
Clean the rubber gasket around the door. Use hot, soapy water and a good cleaning brush. Since this area doesn’t actually get washed when the machine runs, it’s often coated with mineral build-up and caked-on food. Yuck! If you can’t dislodge that stuff with soapy water, try adding some white vinegar to the water and scrub until the stains are dislodged.
Clean the inside of the door. Use a microfiber cloth and scrub under the bottom of the door on the inside with hot, soapy water. In many dishwashers, water never touches this area. You’ll be disgusted by what you find there. Trust me.
Remove scale and mineral deposits. This is very easily done by running a “light” or short cycle (“glasses only” on my machine) with 1 cup of white vinegar added right as the cycle starts. Alternatively, you can use a packet of unsweetened Lemon Kool-Aid or powdered Tang; the citric acid in these products is excellent at removing build-up, too.
Disinfect it. Once you’ve removed the scale and build-up, it’s time to disinfect the machine by adding 1 tbsp. of bleach and running the wash cycle again. This is a very important step, since dishwashers are often filled with mold and mildew spores, especially if you don’t use the sani-rinse or heated dry options. (Note: do NOT use bleach if your dishwasher has a stainless steel interior!)
Return the racks to the dishwasher. Enjoy your clean machine!
This chore is best done on a monthly basis, but should be performed at least twice a year. In between deep-cleanings you can get rid of dishwasher odors by running filling two coffee mugs with white vinegar and placing them on the top rack, then running a “light” cycle with only the mugs of vinegar in it.
Equipment I Use For This: