Deep Clean Your Dishwasher: A Step-by-Step Guide and Video

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Ever thought your dishwasher could be full of grease and mold even when you’ve just run it? Dishwashers can harbor all sorts of grime and buildup. While a cup of vinegar can freshen things up, it won’t tackle the greasy food residue or hard water buildup that could be affecting your machine’s performance. Watch my step-by-step video above to see how I deep clean my dishwasher, or read on for a detailed guide.

What You’ll Need

  • Scrub brush or old toothbrush
  • A toothpick or straight pin
  • Flashlight
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Spray bottle
  • Liquid dish soap
  • White vinegar

What to Deep Clean Your Dishwasher With?

It’s important to avoid harsh cleaning products when cleaning your dishwasher, because they can damage the plastic and rubber components. I mix equal parts water and white vinegar in a spray bottle, add a few drops of dish soap, and gently swirl. You can also use hydrogen peroxide or a mild all-purpose cleaner as an alternative.

Step 1: Remove the Racks and Utensil Caddy.

Start by taking out the racks and utensil holders. If they’re stuck, don’t force them. My top rack stays in place, so I work around it. Use a flashlight to check the dishwasher floor for glass shards, which are pretty common—I learned this the hard way years ago. To safely remove them before you deep clean your dishwasher, use a lint roller, a shop vac, or press a piece of bread onto the fragments and toss it out.

Step 2: Unclog the Bottle Washing Nozzles.

Some dishwashers have nozzles on the top rack that spray the interior of baby bottles or, in my home, reusable water bottles. The holes on these nozzles sometimes get clogged with mineral deposits or debris. Insert a toothpick or the tip of a pin into each hole to clear any clogs.

Step 3: Scrub the Racks.

Food and mineral build up can make your dishwasher racks hard to open and close. Use the cleaning solution and a scrub brush to remove the grime, then wipe them down with a damp cloth.

Step 4: Remove the Spray Arms.

A key step in deep-cleaning your dishwasher is eliminating clogs in your spray arms by soaking them in a sink of hot, soapy water. In models like mine, you turn the ring on the base of the spinner arm counterclockwise and lift the arm from its base. Consult your dishwasher’s manual for directions to remove yours. If you can’t remove them, use a toothpick to clear the holes, just like with the bottle nozzles.

Step 5: Remove the Filter and Screen.

All the water your dishwasher uses gets sucked through the filter at the bottom of the machine. That often leaves a layer of thick, congealed grease and sometimes even a little mold on your dishwasher filter. To remove the filter, turn it clockwise. If there’s a screen, unfasten it and lift it carefully. Soak both in the sink of hot, soapy water. Check out the illustration below for more details on cleaning the filter.

Illustration of the steps to clean a dishwasher filterPin

Step 6: Clean the Interior of Your Dishwasher.

Spray the inside of your dishwasher with your cleaning solution and wipe it down. I use this to check for rust spots or other issues, too. There’s no need to dry it.

Step 7: Clean the Door Gasket and Hinges.

The rubber gasket that makes your dishwasher door watertight and the door’s hinges are two places that collect grime and sometimes grow mold. Spray them with the cleaning solution, gently loosen any mess with the brush, then wipe them clean.

Step 8: Scrub the Steam Vent and Detergent Dispenser.

Another aspect unique to deep-cleaning your dishwasher focuses on scrubbing the steam vent and detergent dispenser, which are built into the door. Your dishwasher’s steam vent may be round like mine or rectangular.

The steam vent channels moisture from the wash cycle back to your dishwasher’s drain to avoid creating a pressure buildup. It can develop mineral buildup, too, so use the cleaning solution and your brush to clean it. Pop open your detergent dispenser and scrub it, too. Wipe them both clean.

Step 9: Don’t Forget the Door Edges.

Clean all four edges of your dishwasher door, especially the inside bottom edge where food and mold often hide. Wipe the area with a damp cloth. You may need to repeat this step more than once if there’s a lot of buildup.

Step 10: Wash the Removable Parts.

After soaking in hot, soapy water scrub the filter, screen, and spray arms. Don’t get too vigorous with the filter, though: you don’t want to damage the mesh. Run water through the center hole of the spray arms to each nozzle is unclogged. Scrub and rinse the utensil holder, too.

Step 11: Put it All Back Together.

Reassemble your dishwasher back together by placing the screen back on the bottom then fastening both knobs by turning them clockwise. Reinstall the filter and turn it clockwise until it clicks into place. Put the spinner arms in place and lock them in position by turning the ring to the right, then test each arm to make sure it spins freely.

Step 12: Deodorize and Disinfect with A Vinegar Rinse.

Now that you’ve deep-cleaned your dishwasher’s filters and movable parts, you’re ready to use that simple trick with vinegar to deodorize and disinfect it. For this, I just pour a couple cups of white vinegar directly into the bottom of my dishwasher and run a short “rinse and hold” cycle.

If your machine doesn’t have that option, fill two coffee mugs with white vinegar and put one on each rack then run a short dishwashing cycle. Don’t add detergent, though: the vinegar will cut through any soap residue in your machine and drain line, leaving you with a clean and deodorized dishwasher.

FAQs about Deep Cleaning a Dishwasher

This website exists to help you. One way I do that is by answering questions in the comment section. If several people have the same question, I update the post to provide the answer either in the article or the FAQs.

How often should I deep clean my dishwasher?

To extend the time between dishwasher deep-cleanings, do a little routine cleaning by wiping all four edges of your dishwasher’s door and the rubber seal with a warm, soapy microfiber cloth every week. This removes buildup and keeps things running smooth. Do this, and you’ll only need to deep clean your dishwasher once or twice a year. Skip the weekly wipe-down and you’ll need to deep clean it every three months.

How often should I clean my dishwasher filter?

Several things affect how often your dishwasher filter needs cleaning. For example, if you don’t rinse dishes before washing them, or you clean other things in your dishwasher besides dishes, you’ll need to clean the filter more often. A general rule is to clean it at least once a month but, since it’s such a simple task and helps get dishes cleaner, you can do more often. I wash mine in soapy water weekly.

Why does my dishwasher leave rust spots on my dishes?

Rust on plates and silverware is sometimes the result of damaged, rusting dishwasher racks. Check the coating on the tines of your racks for nicks or peeling. You can order replacement racks from the manufacturer or just add new rubber tips to the dishwasher rack tines yourself.

What should I do if my dishwasher still smells bad after deep-cleaning?

If your dishwasher still has a bad odor post-cleaning, check the drain hose loop under your sink or where the line exits the dishwasher. Make sure it forms an upward loop before descending into the sink drain to prevent dirty water backflow. If needed, secure it with a nail or hook and zip tie. If the smell remains, consult a professional to check for issues with the drain pump or other components.

Is your dishwasher still isn’t performing up to par? Don’t worry—I’ve got you covered. Check out my article, “Dishwasher Not Cleaning? Check These 6 Things” for more expert tips on getting your machine back in top shape.

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