How To Clean A Dishwasher (naturally and effectively)

Updated byPenny
How To Clean A Dishwasher (naturally and effectively)

Dishwashers are supposed to clean your dishes, but they often are less than clean inside!

So today, I am going to show you how I keep my dishwasher sparkling and smelling fresh. There is no need to go out and buy a proprietary dishwasher cleaner or call in a plumber. You can do it with a couple of simple household items.

Has your dishwasher stopped cleaning the dishes so well? Perhaps it even smells?

Read on because I have a very simple method for getting it back to full working order.

Heads up: 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.

Why clean your dishwasher?

I consider our dishwasher to be an essential part of the kitchen. I wouldn’t want to be without one, but it does, however, come with drawbacks.

Like other appliances in your home, such as your washing machine, dishwashers need maintenance to keep them working effectively and smelling good.

I’ve given up trying to persuade my husband to rinse dishes before he loads the dishwasher.

He seems to view our dishwasher as an amazing device that gets dishes clean, however dirty they are. On a positive note, I will say that he is superb at loading it. He has a vested interest in packing the most in so that he doesn’t have to handwash anything!

If you have someone in your house like my husband, who thinks that dishwashers are some magical device that will clean up no matter what, then you probably now have a dishwasher clogged up with old food, grease and scum. Maybe it has stopped cleaning so well. Possibly, it even smells!

Over the years, I’ve perfected the best way to clean our dishwasher using items that most of us have available at home.

Plus, I share my cleaning schedule to make the job easier and quicker. Because if you can keep on top of the cleaning, it will take less time in the long run, and you will never have a really mucky, annoying job on your hands.

If your dishwasher isn’t draining properly, check out my guide on how to unclog a dishwasher.

Things you will need

How to clean your dishwasher naturally with baking soda and vinegar

No time? Watch this quick video now for a summary of what to do.

Step 1 - Empty

Always start with an empty dishwasher. Remove the racks to make cleaning the inside easier.

You will need to put the racks back when you run the cleaning cycle.

If your dishwasher racks are very dirty, I recommend soaking them in some washing soda crystals.

Here’s more on how to clean greasy dishwasher racks.

Step 2 - Clean the filter

dirty dishwasher filter
dishwasher filter in soapy water in the sink

Take out the strainer and filter at the bottom of the dishwasher. You will probably find bits of food stuck in the filters, and it will most likely look very gross, like mine does!

Wash all the parts you took out in warm soapy water and give them a good scrub, making sure all food deposits are gone.

Find out more on how to clean your dishwasher’s filter.

Step 3 - Clean the spray arms

If you are finding that your dishwasher isn’t cleaning very well, it is probably because the spray arms are clogged up. When they are clogged, dishes won’t clean and rinse properly.

Take something small and sharp like a toothpick, or a needle and insert it into each hole.

If you can, take the spray arms off and run some water through. Check that water comes out of all the holes.

Step 4 - Wipe the door seals

wiping the door seals on a dishwasher

Food deposits often get caught up in the door seals. Take a damp microfiber cloth and wipe around the seals, cleaning off food and grease. Make sure you wear gloves when you do this, it can be a very messy job!

Step 5 - Place a cup of vinegar on the top rack

cup of vinegar on the top rack of the dishwasher

If you removed the dishwasher racks, put them back in, along with the cutlery basket.

Fill a cup, mug or a small bowl with distilled white vinegar and add it to the top rack.

The vinegar will do a great job of breaking down grease, soap scum, dissolving hard water deposits, and making your machine smell fresh again.

Step 6 - Run a hot cycle

Now run the hottest cycle you have available.

While the cycle is running, take the opportunity to wipe the outside of the dishwasher with a damp microfiber cloth.

Step 7 - Run a second short cycle with baking soda

baking soda sprinkled on the bottom of a dishwasher

Lastly, sprinkle about one cup of baking soda on the bottom of the dishwasher and run a second short cycle. This will dissolve any remaining grease and freshen your machine even more.

If you don’t have baking soda, you can also use borax. Check out this post on how to clean a dishwasher with borax.

Step 8 - Wipe the outside

If you didn’t already, remember to wipe down the outside of the dishwasher. If it is really grimy, add a few drops of dish soap onto the cloth. Then finish with a dry cloth.

Can't get motivated?
#10 works every time I use it!

How often should you clean your dishwasher?

Here is a schedule of little cleaning jobs you can do and when to do them. If you can keep on top of these small jobs, your dishwasher will stay lovely and clean full-time, and you won’t have to keep rewashing things.

When What
Daily Rinse dishes before you put them in the dishwasher.
Weekly Wipe the seal around the door.
Wipe out the bottom of the dishwasher.
Remove and rinse the filter
Monthly Run an empty cycle with a cup of vinegar. Then a second short cycle with baking soda.

How to keep your dishwasher clean going forward

Now you know how to clean your dishwasher, how do you keep it clean?

Here are my tips for maintaining a clean dishwasher. It is still a good idea to run a monthly clean, but if you follow these tips it will never get clogged up with food deposits and shouldn’t smell.

  1. Rinse dishes before you put them in the machine. If you rinse dishes and cooking pots before you put them in the dishwasher, the machine will stay cleaner for longer.
  2. Keep the salt topped up. Salt helps to soften the water and makes the dishwasher detergent more effective.
  3. Add vinegar to each wash. Keep your dishwasher clean on every wash by adding a small bowl of vinegar to the top rack. If you have problems with a smelly dishwasher, this can help a lot.
  4. Wipe around the seal once per week. Food often gets trapped in the seal and in the bottom.
  5. Remove and rinse the filter once per week. If the filter isn’t clogged, it will do a better job of cleaning your dishes.

Frequently asked questions

Should the dishwasher be empty when I clean it?

Always empty your dishwasher before running a cleaning cycle. You can leave the drawers and cutlery basket in so that they can get cleaned too.

Can vinegar damage a dishwasher

Vinegar is safe to use in a dishwasher. It makes an excellent dishwasher cleaner because the acid content can break down food deposits and grease.

Can bleach damage a dishwasher?

Don’t put bleach in your dishwasher because it can damage the stainless-steel interior.

Bleach produces a lot of suds, which can also cause issues in your dishwasher.

Remember that you should never mix bleach and vinegar because the two together produce toxic fumes.

Sparkling Penny

Penny | Sparkling Penny

Penny’s expert cleaning advice has been featured repeatedly by Homes and Gardens Magazine, and also at wikiHow, The Daily Express Newspaper, and Glam Magazine to name a few! was founded in 2019 and has since helped millions of people achieve a cleaner living space.

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How to clean a dishwasher naturally using baking soda and vinegar.How to clean a dishwasher naturally using baking soda and vinegar.How to clean a dishwasher naturally using baking soda and vinegar.