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Easy Steps to Clean Your Dishwasher

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In theory, your dishwasher should be constantly cleaning itself — but sadly, it isn’t. Over time, bits of food, grease, undissolved detergent, and water minerals build up on the dishwasher’s filter and interior walls. Along with an unpleasant smell and look, this gunk can actually leave spots and film on your glassware, dinnerware, and flatware. In short, that means if you don’t clean your dishwasher correctly, your appliance can’t fully do its job. Plus, if you let the food and grime build up, it can seriously damage the dishwasher’s filter and pump, ultimately resulting in costly repairs.

At the Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab, we’ve done the research to find the most effective way to clean your dishwasher, along with testing different dishwasher detergents and cleaners. Along the way, we’ve discovered the best tricks to keep your dishwasher clean and odor-free.

As with most things, prevention is better than cure. Using a quality dishwasher detergent and rinse aid does a lot to help reduce the unsightly spots that can develop on the interior of your dishwasher. Also, if you live in an area with hard water, using a whole-home water softener or adding regeneration salt to your dishwasher’s water softening system will help prevent spotting on your glassware, and prevents mineral build-up in your dishwasher. Leaving the door open at the end of a cycle can help prevent mold or mildew from developing, and prevent that stale odor.

How often should you clean your dishwasher?

Depending on your issue, you should be doing some element of upkeep anywhere from daily to weekly to monthly. A quick guide:

  • Daily: Remove bits of food
  • Weekly: Wipe down the dishwasher door, gasket, and clean the filter
  • Monthly: Deep clean the interior
  • As needed: Exterior cleaning and buffing

Can you clean your dishwasher with bleach?

No, bleach is not recommended, especially if the dishwasher has a stainless steel interior or if parts are stainless steel. And do not use bleach with vinegar — the combination of the two can create potentially lethal chlorine gas.

How to clean your dishwasher daily, weekly, and monthly

Here’s your in-depth step-by-step guide to learn how to clean a dishwasher the right way, whether you’re looking to de-gunk the gasket, filter, door, or just do some daily maintenance to keep odors at bay:

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1. Remove bits of food.

The root of most odor problems is usually leftover food that has turned your dishwasher into a second garbage disposal. Get in the habit of cleaning any remaining bits of foods after each dishwashing cycle. Pull out the bottom rack to look for any leftover food that may have fallen into the well and remove it with a paper towel to prevent odors and future buildup.

GH Lab Tip: We don’t recommend that you pre-wash items, but to prevent unwanted smells, wipe excess food from plates, silverware, bowls, and other items before loading them into the dishwasher. Also check for labels (perhaps on jars you might be reusing, or if new items have barcode tags on them), and remove them completely before putting the item into the dishwasher.

2. Wipe away door and gasket grime.

To clean the inside of the door:

  • Wipe away any residue and spots that may have splashed or settled onto the interior surface of the door, its door edges, handle, or dishwasher controls with a damp microfiber cloth or sponge.

GH Lab Tip: To avoid damaging any touch screens or special finishes, don’t use a cleaning product on the sponge or cloth.

To clean the dishwasher gasket:

  • Gently scrub any icky gunk from the rubber seal using an old soft toothbrush.
  • Wipe clean with a damp cloth or paper towel.

GH Lab Tip: Avoid using a bleach-based cleaner if the interior of your dishwasher is stainless steel, or has any stainless steel parts. Check your owner’s manual before using hydrogen peroxide to remove mold or mildew.

3. Remove and rinse the dishwasher filter.

It’s simple: If the filter isn’t clean, nothing else will be. The filter is found below the bottom spray arm — you’ll need to pull out the bottom rack to get to it. If you’re not sure how to remove it, check the owner’s manual or manufacturer’s website for details. To eliminate pesky spots on future loads:

  • Unlock and remove the filter and rinse it under hot running water.
  • Using a soft toothbrush, scrub the mesh screen and plastic frame to remove any grease or particles stuck in the crevices. Then, rinse it clean.
  • Lock the filter back into place.

GH Lab Tip: Do not operate your dishwasher without the filter properly locked in place, as you can cause severe damage to your machine, and possibly void the warranty.

4. Clean the dishwasher drain trap.

If water is sitting in the bottom of your dishwasher after the cycle has ended, chunks of food or foreign objects might be blocking the drain trap in the bottom center. Remember that your dishwasher shares your kitchen sink’s drain and often shares that with the garbage disposal too — if either of those are not draining properly, unblock the sink drain first. If it’s only the dishwasher that won’t drain:

  • Turn off the dishwasher. Remove any items from the dishwasher and take out the bottom rack.
  • Remove the standing water from the bottom of the dishwasher by using a small cup or absorbent towel.
  • Remove any visible food chunks or foreign objects from the drain trap using a soft cloth to provide more grip.
  • If the dishwasher still won’t drain properly, and your owner’s manual has no further instructions, this may be time to call in a professional plumbing service for help.

GH Lab Tip: If your machine has a removable drain trap cover, check your owner’s manual for instructions to lift it.

5. Deep clean your dishwasher each month with tablets…

On a monthly basis, it’s important to get down and dirty to remove any trapped particles, mineral buildup, and detergent residue. For a more thorough clean, we love cleaning tablets like these picks from Affresh and Good Housekeeping Seal star Cascade because they contain surfactants that dissolve food bits and greasy residue.

GH Lab Tip: Make sure you read the instructions before you use the cleaning tablets, since some can’t run in the same cycle as dishes and detergent.

6. …Or deep clean your dishwasher with vinegar

If you opt to take the DIY route to fight residue and buildup, go with vinegar in an empty dishwasher.

  • To clean with vinegar, place a dishwasher-safe bowl filled with one cup of distilled white vinegar on the top rack and run a normal (hot) cycle without detergent or dishes.
  • To clean your dishwasher with vinegar and baking soda for extra freshening, after running the vinegar cycle, sprinkle a cup of baking soda in the bottom of your empty dishwasher, and run a short hot cycle.

GH Lab Tip: Vinegar is an acid and, over time, can cause damage to your dishwasher, especially rubber gaskets and hoses.

7. Clean and shine up your dishwasher’s exterior as needed

Fingerprints make any surface look dull and grimy, but they really stand out — in a bad way — on stainless steel appliances.

That’s why we suggest using a stainless steel cleaner like Good Housekeeping Seal Star Weiman to shine up your dishwasher door. Not only will they leave behind a streak-free shine, but they contain ingredients to help repel future dirt and smudges.

GH Lab Tip: Stay away from abrasive cleaners or pads that can scratch and mar your dishwasher’s exterior.

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