You would think that a dishwasher would stay clean since its job is to clean the dishes, wouldn’t you? However, over time your dishwasher can get clogged up with food particles and greasy deposits, which can cause your dishes to smell even after the wash. When that happens, it’s time to clean your dishwasher with some homemade cleaner!
It’s simple to make homemade dishwasher cleaner. All you need is vinegar and baking soda. Empty your dishwasher and then run a hot cycle with a cup of vinegar in the top rack. Then sprinkle some baking soda on the bottom and run a second cycle.
I sometimes use affiliate links. When you click these links and make a purchase, I may get a small commission. It won’t cost you anything but it helps me to run this site.
How often should you clean your dishwasher?
You should get into the habit of cleaning the inside of your dishwasher at least every six months. Without a regular clean, a dishwasher can start to smell, and it may even make your cleaned dishes smell too.
Fortunately, cleaning your dishwasher isn’t hard to do and all you need is a few simple ingredients.
No time? Watch this quick video for a summary.
Homemade dishwasher cleaner recipe
Of course, you can buy ready-made dishwasher cleaners. But, in all the years I have owned a dishwasher, I have never bought a regular dishwasher cleaner because it is so easy and cheap to make your own. The great thing about this recipe is that it contains all-natural ingredients, using items you probably already have in your store cupboard.
Vinegar is the most versatile cleaning agent I know of for cleaning your house. Vinegar is 5% acetic acid, which makes it good for cutting through grease and limescale. It also has a deodorizing and antibacterial effect. So, it is the perfect ingredient for cleaning your dishwasher.
What you will need to clean a dishwasher naturally:
How to clean your dishwasher with homemade cleaner
Step 1 – Remove dishes
Empty the dishwasher before you start cleaning. You can leave the racks inside, so they get cleaned too.
Step 2 – Remove food debris
The cleaning cycle will be more effective if you can remove as much food debris as possible. Wipe around the interior of the machine with a large cloth.
Step 3 – Wipe around the door seal
I like to do this step before running a cleaning cycle rather than afterwards because I usually find a lot of food particles trapped in the door seal.
Take a cloth and give the door seals and the edge of the door a good scrub so that there is no food debris left.
Step 4 – Remove and clean the filter
Remove the filter from the base of the machine and wash it in hot soapy water. You might need a needle or a toothpick to remove food particles from the holes in the filter.
Underneath the filter, you should find another filter for the drain, which often requires cleaning too. Check the instructions for your dishwasher as to how to do this. Fill your sink with hot soapy water and wash it, making sure water can move freely through it.
Finally, flush out the drain by pouring in some baking soda followed by vinegar. Leave it to sit for 10-15 minutes. This will dislodge any blockages. Then pour hot water down the drain to flush it out.
Put the filters back in the machine before you run the cleaning cycle.
Step 5 - Run a hot cycle with the vinegar
Fill a small dishwasher safe container with about a cup of distilled white vinegar and put it on the top rack. Then run your hottest cycle.
Step 6 – Run another cycle with baking soda
Step 7 – Wipe the outside of the dishwasher
Now that your dishwasher is clean inside, wipe around the outside of the door.
How to clean a dishwasher without vinegar
Vinegar makes a fantastic dishwasher cleaner, but if you don’t have any to hand, here are some alternatives to try:
- Baking soda. Sprinkle some baking soda in the bottom of your dishwasher and run a normal cycle.
- Unsweetened lemonade mix (Kool-Aid). Put a packet of unsweetened lemonade (or Kool-Aid) into the detergent drawer and run a normal cycle.
Here's more on how to clean your dishwasher without vinegar.
How to get rid of hard water buildup in a dishwasher
If your machine has hard water build-up, cleaning your dishwasher with vinegar and baking soda will help a lot to break down the limescale.
Once you have removed the limescale and your machine is sparkling again, here are some tips going forward to keep it that way:
- Keep the salt reservoir topped up.
- Add a cup of vinegar in the top drawer each time you run a cycle.
- Run a monthly maintenance wash with vinegar only.
Homemade dishwasher detergent recipe
Now you know how to make a homemade dishwasher cleaner. Why not make some dishwasher detergent at home too? Here is a very simple recipe for dishwasher detergent from DIYNatural.
Tip: If you can’t get borax in your country (I can’t buy it here in the UK), double up on washing soda crystals instead.
- 1 cup borax.
- 1 cup washing soda crystals (or 2 cups of washing soda crystals if you can’t get borax).
- ½ cup citric acid.
- ½ cup kosher (coarse) salt (for scrubbing action).
- Mix all the ingredients in a suitable container.
- Add 1 tablespoon to each dishwasher load.
Frequently asked questions
What to use if you run out of dishwasher detergent?
If you run out of dishwasher detergent, your dishwasher will actually wash fine without any detergent at all. But don’t make a habit of doing this because your dishwasher will start to smell. Instead of dishwasher detergent, use some washing soda crystals.
Don’t be tempted to use soda crystals in the salt reservoir, you can only put salt in there!
Can you put vinegar in the dishwasher?
Yes, it is perfectly fine to use vinegar in your dishwasher. Use it to clean your machine every few months by running an empty cycle with vinegar. You can also add a cup of vinegar to every wash to make sure your dishwasher doesn’t become smelly over time.
Can you clean a dishwasher with apple cider vinegar?
If you don’t have distilled white vinegar, apple cider vinegar is fine to use instead to clean a dishwasher.
Can you clean a dishwasher with bleach?
You can use bleach to clean your dishwasher, provided that it does not have a stainless-steel interior. That’s because bleach will damage and discolor the surface. If your dishwasher is plastic inside, then it is safe to use bleach to sanitize your dishwasher.
Find out more here: How to clean your dishwasher with bleach.