If you notice food and debris on your dishes even after a dishwasher cycle, it might not be because your dishwasher is faulty. Have you been cleaning the dishwasher regularly?
Here is how to clean a dishwasher in 10 easy steps:
Table of Contents
Step 1. Collect your supplies
Before you start cleaning your dishwasher, have all the products handy. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Baking soda
- Distilled white vinegar
- Old toothbrush
- Warm water
- Dish soap
- Bleach (optional)
- Cuticle tool
- Nail brush
- Microfiber cloth
Step 2. Remove the utensil holders and dishwasher racks
To be able to access all the nooks and crannies of your dishwasher, you’ll need to remove the racks and utensil holders. Carefully take them out and place them in a mixture of warm water and dish soap. Leave them to soak in the soapy solution for at least an hour.
Step 3. Cleaning the dishwasher filter
Accessing the dishwasher filter
You don’t need special tools or supplies to clean your dishwasher filter, and all you need is a sponge and some dish soap. Assuming you have a manual-clean filter, the first thing you’ll want to know is how to access it.
- Pull out the bottom rack
Your dishwasher filter is located on the bottom part of your dishwasher, which you can easily access by removing the bottom dish rack. To remove it, open the dishwasher and pull the bottom rack out to uncover the back of the appliance. Once you do this, you should see three things: a coarse mesh filter, a spray arm, and a cylindrical filter. You’ll need to clean the coarse mesh filter and the cylindrical filter. If you’re having difficulty getting to the filters, you might need to remove the bottom rack from the dishwasher entirely. Just make sure that there are no dishes on the rack before doing this.
- Removing the cylindrical filter
To remove the cylindrical filter (also known as the fine mesh filter), move the spray arm so that you can pull the filter straight up without accidentally hitting your hand on the spray arm. Once the arm is out of the way, turn the cylindrical filter sharply to the left and lift it straight up from the dishwasher. Sometimes you may find debris buildup on the filter, so you’ll have to clean it.
- Removing the coarse mesh filter
The coarse mesh filter is a distinct flat, U-shaped filter with a hole in the middle of it where the cylindrical filter passes through. Please remove it from the dishwasher and check to see debris on its surface.
Once you remove the two filters, insert your hand in the space where the cylindrical filter sits. This opening is known as the “sump,” which might contain food particles and other debris. Get rid of any items that you feel in the sump.
Cleaning and reinstalling the dishwasher filter
- Use dish soap and hot water
Mix a few drops of dish soap in hot water and dip a sponge in the soapy solution. Remember to wear gloves to protect your hands from scalding. Scrub vigorously with the sponge. Carefully wash both the inside and outside of the cylindrical filter and remove any gunk that may have built up on either side of it. Scrub the flat, coarse filter to remove the dirt on the surface. If there are calcium deposits and other hard-to-remove debris on the filters, you may need to use a soft-bristle scrub brush.
- Rinse the filters under running water
Rinse both filters under hot running water to remove the rest of the debris.
- Reinstall the dishwasher filter
Before you reinstall the filters, inspect the area where it is located in the dishwasher. If it has food particles or calcium deposits, use a soft-bristle brush and hot, soapy water to clean the debris gently.
Once you finish cleaning the area, slide the coarse mesh filter back in place first. As you do this, make sure that the filter is properly aligned with the hole leading to the drainage hose. After confirming that the coarse mesh filter is sitting flush in the dishwasher, replace the cylindrical filter and turn it a notch to lock it in place. Keep turning it until it clicks into place, and double-check everything to make sure that they are sturdy and locked in before you return the lower dish rack inside the dishwasher. Never run your dishwasher with a loose filter, as it can cause significant damage.
Step 4. Inspect the drain
Check the area around the dishwasher drain. If you see or feel any foreign material, remove it as it may be blocking the drain and affecting the functionality of the dishwasher.
Step 5. Clean the spray arm
Most dishwashers will have a spray arm that rotates and sprays water to clean the dishes. If the holes in the spray arm are blocked, your dishes may not be well-cleaned. If the spray arm in your dishwasher is grimy, dip an old toothbrush into distilled white vinegar and use it to scrub the debris out of the spray holes.
Step 6. Vinegar wash
Fill a small dishwasher-safe bowl with white vinegar and place it on the top rack of your empty dishwasher. Set the machine to run on the hottest water cycle, and the vinegar should break down lingering food debris, soap scum, grease, and residue.
Step 7. Baking soda wash
Once that first cycle is finished, sprinkle a cup of baking soda along the bottom of the dishwasher. Run it through a quick wash cycle. Baking soda is one of the best household ingredients for removing stains and deodorizing the dishwasher.
Step 8. Bleach wash
If you’ve had an issue with mold or mildew growing in your dishwasher, consider doing a bleach wash in addition to the vinegar and baking soda washes. To do a bleach wash, add half a cup of bleach to the bottom of your dishwasher and run an entire wash cycle using the hottest water setting. Skip this step if your dishwasher has a stainless steel interior – bleach can discolor and permanently damage stainless steel.
Step 9. Cleaning the dishwasher dispenser
The dishwasher dispenser, also known as the dishwasher cup, is one of the most essential elements. If it’s not functioning correctly, your dishes will only get a rinse. For a satisfactory clean, you need soap.
Debris accumulation can prevent a soap cup from opening. This is most likely to occur when soap pools and cakes are in the latch mechanism, especially if you use a flip-open soap dispenser like what you’d find in most dishwasher models. Here is how to wash and scrub the latch in your dishwasher cup.
- Pour hot water
A simple technique you can try involves pouring hot water directly on the latch. Although water moves around inside the dishwasher when it’s in use, the latch area is protected by the lid and switch. Pouring hot water directly over the open, soap-crusted latch should start to melt and break down the soap residue.
- Soak in vinegar
Sometimes you will find scale mixed in with the soap scum in the dispenser. Scale occurs due to metallic and rocky minerals naturally present in water. Soak your dishwasher dispenser with distilled white vinegar for a few minutes to dissolve the scale. Vinegar is an acidic product that will effectively dissolve the basic scale.
- Scrub with a nail brush
Trying to clean the soap dispenser in a dishwasher using a dish brush can be quite tricky, so why not try using something with a shorter handle and better leverage like a nail brush instead? You can easily slip the small hook handles of a nail brush around your fingers and use it to scrub in and around the soap dispenser latch.
- Hot cloth compress
Another option to try is the hot cloth compress. Soak a cloth in hot water and press it into the latch for this method. Leave the cloth over the latch to break down the residue. A hot cloth compress applies heat and moisture consistently, softening the soap scum and scale over time.
- Chisel with a cuticle tool
Try using a nail or cuticle tool to chisel the debris in your dishwasher dispenser if you have one. Be careful not to scratch the plastic surface.
- Replace your soap dispenser
If none of those above options work for you, consider replacing the soap dispenser assembly. You might also want to switch to another detergent brand so that the buildup doesn’t happen again.
Step 10. Cleaning the dishwasher door
Use a damp sponge or microfiber cloth to wipe away any streaks or residues that may have splashed or settled onto the interior surface of the dishwasher door, its door edges, handle, and controls. To avoid damaging special finishes or touch screens, steer clear of cleaning products on the sponge or cloth. Use an old soft-bristled toothbrush to gently scrub any gunk from the rubber seal and then wipe clean using a damp cloth or paper towel.
What is a dishwasher filter and why do you have to clean it?
The dishwasher filter is an essential part of your dishwasher that is responsible for keeping the water used during a wash cycle clean and clear. That means it keeps food particles from recirculating and sticking to your dishes as they’re being cleaned. The dishwasher filter also prevents the dishwasher pump from getting clogged by large chunks of food or debris.
Keeping these functions in mind, it’s of utmost importance to keep your dishwasher filter clean to prevent buildup in and around the filter and keep your dishwasher functioning efficiently with the same filter for years.
Know your dishwasher model
In some cases, old dishwasher models (pre-2010) had self-cleaning filters. In theory, this sounds like a nice design feature. However, models with self-cleaning filters could be pretty loud, so dishwasher manufacturers decided to focus on creating new models with a quieter filter technology. Unfortunately, a more silent filter technology meant users had to clean them manually.
If you’re not sure if your dishwasher is a newer or older model, check the machine’s user manual (or simply Google the make and model) to confirm whether or not you need to clean your filter manually. The shape of the filter is also a helpful indicator – newer dishwasher filters resemble those you might find in some water pitcher models. In contrast, older, self-cleaning filters have a series of holes or plastic grids.
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How often should you clean your dishwasher filter?
If you use your dishwasher regularly, aim to give your dishwasher filter a deep clean about once a month. Here are some recommendations on how often to clean your dishwasher filter based on the number of loads:
- If you wash dishes before loading – for up to 14 loads per week, clean once per year
- If you only scrape before loading – for 1-7 loads per week, clean twice per year. For 8-14 loads per week, clean every three months.
- If you scrape and rinse your dishes before loading – for 1-7 loads per week, clean once per year. For 8-14 loads per week, clean twice per year.
- If you don’t scrape or rinse your dishes before loading – for 1-3 loads per week, clean the filter every two months; for 4-7 loads per week, clean once per month; for 8-12 loads per week, clean every two weeks; and for 13-14 loads per week, clean once per week.
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Additional dishwasher tips
- Before loading dishes into your dishwasher, run hot water through the sink faucet. Your dishwasher will clean more efficiently if the wash cycle starts with hot water.
- While running a full load of dishes helps to conserve energy and water, overfilling your dishwasher will greatly reduce your dishwasher’s performance.
- You can rinse your dirty dishes before placing them in the dishwasher, but avoid over-rinsing them. Dishwasher detergents require a certain amount of debris to work properly. Otherwise, they can end up foaming during the cycle, which is detrimental to your dishwasher.
- Set your water heater to around 120°F before cleaning your dishes. Cooler water won’t clean as effectively, and hotter water could accidentally scald you.
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Even if you diligently rinse your dishes before loading them into the dishwasher, there will still be bits of food and residue that need to be flushed away during cleaning. The filter’s job is to trap all debris and keep them from being redeposited on your dishes. However, if the filter becomes clogged, it can’t function efficiently, which is why you need to clean it as often as recommended.