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Definitive Guide to Deep Clean Your Dishwasher

Definitive Guide to Deep Clean Your Dishwasher

A good dishwasher you can depend on can be a godsend, especially if you have a big family and do a lot of entertaining. Every time there are dirty dishes and used pots & pans scattered around your kitchen, it’s wonderful knowing you have a dishwasher to clean them all. In order to continue enjoying your dishwasher, you have to take care of it, which includes keeping it clean. 

If you’re like most people, you probably think that your dishwasher cleans itself every time it washes your dishes. The truth is however that your dishwasher isn’t designed to clean itself; its job is to clean the dirty dishes you put in it, and that’s it. 

The thing is, that if your dishwasher isn’t clean, then the “clean” dishes you take out of it aren’t as clean as they could be. That’s why you need to deep clean your dishwasher every now and then. But how do you do that? We’ve put together this definitive guide to deep cleaning your dishwasher to walk you through the steps. Ready? Let’s get started! 

Begin by Cleaning the Filter 

Most modern dishwashers have manual-clean filters. This type of filter makes today’s dishwashers run quietly, unlike the grinding mechanism on older self-cleaning dishwashers. Even though a manual-clean filter helps quiet your dishwasher down, it does trap food debris that starts smelling bad as it spoils. 

Pull the bottom rack out of your dishwasher so you can access the filter. Once the rack is out, you’ll see a center cylinder that’s screwed in. Unscrew the screws so you can remove the parts and take them out. Just keep a mental note as to what order you take the parts out so you can replace them properly.

Once you have removed the filter parts, clean each one separately in your sink using warm water and an all-purpose cleaning solution like Ajax. Gently scrub the parts with an abrasive sponge or brush, then rinse them off with cool water. Don’t put the parts back into the dishwasher until you complete the next step. 

Clean the Spray Arm 

The spray arm inside your refrigerator is designed to force water into the filter.  It’s common for a spray arm to have food particles and built-up debris trapped in it. That’s why you need to remove the spray arm and clean it. 

To remove the spray arm, tug on it gently and pull it out. Once it’s out, take it to your sink and wash it like you did the filter parts. Be sure you unclog any holes you find. Once your filter parts and spray arm are clean, put them back in your machine. 

Sanitize and Deodorize the Interior with White Vinegar

From daily use, the interior of your dishwasher will gather all types of residue, grime, odors, stains, and discoloration. To get rid of all of these things, use some white vinegar. You’ll need to have a full bottle in order to clean the interior of your dishwasher very well. 

Put two cups of white vinegar in a large bowl. Put the bowl on the lower dish rack near the center. Then, set your dishwasher for a normal wash cycle and let it run without using any detergent. The vinegar will disperse throughout the cycle to clean, sanitize, and deodorize the interior of your machine. 

Don’t be dismayed if you find stains remaining on the inside of your dishwasher after using the vinegar. These are most likely mineral deposits that often come from hard water. Just buy some heavy-duty dishwasher cleaner at your local hardware or grocery store and use it according to the directions. With any luck, the discoloration and stains should disappear. 

Run a Wash Cycle with Baking Soda 

You may have heard that a combination of vinegar and baking soda makes a powerful cleaning agent. It’s true! But in this case, we’re not mixing the vinegar and baking soda together. We’re using them separately.

Once you’ve completed the above step with white vinegar, sprinkle some baking soda onto the bottom of your dishwasher. Don’t be afraid to sprinkle it liberally. Just don’t dump the whole box in! Once you’ve got a nice layer of baking soda on the bottom of the tank, close the door and run a short cycle using the hottest water setting. 

The baking soda will add another layer of deodorizing cleaning to your machine. It will also work on removing any leftover stains. Additionally, the baking soda will remove any unpleasant odors that may still be lingering inside your machine. 

Clean the Exterior of Your Dishwasher

Now that you’ve deep-cleaned the inside of your dishwasher, it’s time to do the same on the exterior. If your model has a plastic exterior, use hot soapy water and a sponge. If you have a stainless steel unit, get yourself some stainless steel cleaner. Follow the directions on the label to remove dirt and grime.

Alternately, you can use a glass cleaner on stainless steel. Just spray some liberally onto a soft cloth and then get to work cleaning up the surface. Never spray glass cleaner directly onto your stainless steel dishwasher because some could seep into the electronic control panel. 

These are the basic steps to take to deep clean your dishwasher. You should complete these steps every three or four months, depending on how often you use your machine. A sure-fire way of knowing it’s time to deep clean your unit is when you start smelling funky odors coming from the interior of your dishwasher. 

More Things You Can Do to Make Your Dishwasher Less Gross 

Now that we’ve covered the basic steps involved with deep cleaning your dishwasher, we’ll give you some more helpful tips. There are some things you should do to keep your dishwasher as clean as possible between the deep-cleanings. 

Rinse off Your Dirty Dishes

You may not like this suggestion because you think it’s not necessary. However, if you load dishes into your machine that is covered with stuck-on food debris, that debris will end up in your filter and spray arm. It will also collect on the interior walls and the bottom of your dishwasher. Plus, food debris is a breeding ground for bacteria which inevitably leads to unpleasant odors. 

Of course, you don’t have to completely wash your dishes before loading them into your dishwasher. That’s what your dishwasher is designed to do. You only need to remove the food debris by rinsing your dishes well. Once they’re rinsed, pop them into your machine and let your dishwasher work its magic. 

Use a Good Quality Detergent

Instead of buying the cheapest dishwasher detergent you can find, invest a bit more in a quality detergent. A good dishwashing detergent will contain powerful cleaning agents that clean dishes and sanitize and deodorize too. 

When you use a top-notch detergent, the interior of your dishwasher won’t get so gunked up with leftover food debris and grime. It’s worth spending a few more cents on a good detergent because you’ll have a less deep cleaning to do.  

Let Your Dishwasher Air Out

Are you in the habit of closing your dishwasher every time you unload it? If so, you’re welcoming the growth of odor-causing bacteria. 

You probably know that bacteria thrive in dark, damp environments, just like the interior of your dishwasher. Get into the habit of leaving the door of your dishwasher cracked open a couple of inches between uses. This will allow fresh air to circulate inside your machine to keep bacteria out. 


As you can see, it’s not all that difficult to deep clean your dishwasher!  Follow this guide every few months to keep that wonderful kitchen assistant of yours as clean as it can be!

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