How to Clean Dishwasher in 5 Steps: Expert Tutorial


To remain effective and functional, a dishwasher, like any other kitchen appliance, needs regular cleaning. The idea of cleaning your dishwasher may sound crazy, but it’s indispensable since it can clean itself. With time, dishwashers accumulate food residue, grease, and soap scum, forming a smudged build-up that may hamper the functionality of your dishwasher, let alone the dirty appearance and stench emanating from it.

Also, the stubborn build-up in your dishwasher when leftover time prevents the dishwasher from draining properly. And with poor drainage, your dishes may not be as clean, posing a risk to your health. Cleaning your dishwasher does not need to be complicated, this is why we have  prepared an expert tutorial on how to safely clean your dishwasher. 

How Will You Know Your Dishwasher Needs Cleaning? 

There are vivid signs that your dishwasher requires a cleaning up. The major clean up signs may be a build-up of moldy or mildewy refuse in the dishwasher or on the sides of the dishwasher door as well as the edges. Also, if you notice your dishes aren’t sparkling as you suppose and have sparkles or flecks of little food refuse on them, it may be time for a cleanup.    

What You Will Need to Clean Your Dishwasher

The supplies needed to clean a dishwasher vary widely depending on an individual. Others will prefer home cleaning remedies such as white vinegar, baking soda, and lemon, among others. Nonetheless, regardless of your cleaning remedy, you’ll still need the low supplies: 

  • Commercial dishwasher cleaner  
  • Toothpick or pipe cleaners 
  • A pair of clean washcloth or paper towels and a sponge 
  • A dishwasher-safe cup. 
  • Dish brush
  • Owner’s manual

Dishwasher Pre-Cleaning Steps 

Before cleaning your dishwasher, you would want to take several prior steps. Below are the pre-cleaning steps you’ll need to follow.

  1. Read the Owner’s Manual 

You need to read the owner’s manual to find out the manufacturer’s instructions on cleaning as well as the precautions to take. The owner’s manual also provides maintenance instructions necessary for the prolonged life of your dishwasher. If, for instance, you’ve misplaced your owner’s manual, most brands offer the owner’s manual as well as the recommended maintenance instructions online. Just check the make and model of your dishwasher then search online for the owner’s manual. 

  1. Unplug Your Dishwasher 

To clean your dishwasher, you should unplug it from the mains. For built-in models, the plug is usually under the sink. You may also want to turn off the circuit breaker just to be sure that the appliance is not connected to the mains and pose a danger of an electric shock. 

  1. Remove the Drain 

Next, read the owner’s manual to find out how to remove the drain. In some models, the drain just slides off, while others require some unscrewing. When removing the drain, make sure to remove any food or debris, usually at the bottom of the dishwasher blocking the drain.

  1. Detach and Inspect the Dishwasher’s Racks

Next, detach the dishwasher’s rack by simply pulling it out and then remove any chunks or gunk you will find. Inspect the racks for damages and also repair any that you see with dishwasher rack touch up paint, which comes in different colors to match the color of your racks. If you notice your dishwasher racks have rust, you may want to replace them. Just order on Amazon or eBay. 

Steps to Clean your Dishwasher

Step 1: Clean the Exterior

The first step in cleaning your dishwasher is to clean the exterior. For a plastic exterior, use a sponge and hot water added with a dishwasher cleaning liquid. For stainless steel exteriors, use a glass cleaner to wipe the built-grime, smudges as well as fingerprints that may be present on it. If you’re using a spray cleaner, it’s advisable to avoid spraying it directly on the dishwasher anterior as the moisture could easily damage its electronic controls. Instead, wet a paper towel or a soft cloth with the cleaner and then rub the dishwasher with the paper towel/soft cloth. 

Step 2: Cleaning the Filter

The filter is among the interior components that need thorough cleaning since it’s where all the muck ends up. The filter usually becomes incredibly dirty by trapping food particles from ending up on the dishes. By accumulating too much gunk, the filter acts as a breeding ground for bacteria and therefore, should be cleaned thoroughly. 

Most dishwashers, especially newer models, come with a removable filter, but some older ones, mostly manual dishwashers, have permanently placed filters. Filters are found at the bottom of the dishwasher right below the bottom spray arm. If it’s removable, you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions in the owner’s manual to remove it. 

After removing the filter, what follows is a simple cleaning process. Use a dish brush with a bristle head to scrub the filter in the kitchen sink. You can use some hot water and dishwasher detergent to give it a good scrubbing. After a thorough scrubbing, rinse it under warm running water. 

If the filter can’t be removed, don’t worry. You will still be able to clean the filter even when attached. There are several approaches to this. You can use dishwasher cleaning tablets, which have been proven to be quite effective in cleaning the filters via full wash cleaning mode. You can choose to sprinkle a handful of baking soda on to the filter then run it through a quick wash cycle using the hottest water setting.

Similarly, you can pour bleach wash on the filter and run a full wash cycle. Bleach wash is highly recommended if you’ve noticed mold or mildew growing on the filter. However, never use bleach on stainless steel as it can permanently damage and discolor stainless steel. 

Step 3: Clean the spray arms. 

The spray arms (both the upper and the lower) also trap food scraps and therefore need frequent cleaning too. To clean the lower spray arm, simply lift it off its base with a gentle jerk and rinse using warm water. Take a deeper look to find clogged holes, and use a toothpick or wooden skewer to clear food scraps in the pits. Confirm every hole, even on the underside is free of food particles and clean. Also, check around for clogs before putting it back in the dishwasher.  

Step 4: Clean the spinner arm and the water jet 

The spinner arm and the water jet usually become laden with food particles, which could block the fleabags used to deliver water at high pressure. To clean the water jet, you can scrub it using a soft dish brush or an old toothbrush dipped in mild dish soap or vinegar. You can use a toothpick to unclog the holes on the spinner arm and then scrub it gently using dishwashing detergent and warm water. You may also want to check the water jets for mineral deposit build-ups, which may clog up the openings. If you find build-ups, use white vinegar to annihilate them. 

Step 5: Finish Off Cleaning by Sanitizing and Deodorizing 

Finish off the cleaning by wiping the entire interior with warm water to remove any remaining food debris. Wipe the door rim thoroughly since it harbors lots of food debris. You will also want to leave the dishwasher clean and free of germs and smelling fresh. When dirty and filled with food refuse, dishwashers will be dusty and musty even after a thorough cleaning. Additionally, there could be discolorations in the interior, usually caused by hard water.  

To eliminate the ill-smell and discolorations, there are several cleaning agents you can use. For many people, white vinegar is a solution to discoloration as well as the foul-smell. You may also want to try this remedy too. Simply place a couple of cups of vinegar in a clean bowl and put it inside the dishwasher towards the center of the bottom rack. Then, run the dishwasher on a complete wash cycle without detergent on the hottest testing setting. Vinegar will be dispersed throughout the dishwasher, leaving it sanitized and deodorized. Similarly, you can use baking soda or bleach wash to remove the discolorations. You can use tougher dishwashing formulas if the discolorations persist due to excessive mineral deposits.

How Often Should I Clean My Dishwasher? 

The frequency of cleaning dishwashers mostly depends on the frequency of usage. If it is excessively used, it should at least be cleaned once a week. Nonetheless, there are several cleaning habits you should do on a daily, weekly, monthly, and annual basis to keep you dishwasher sparking and effective. Below are some of these habits:

Daily Cleaning Habits 

  • Remove bits of food debris- Learn to remove remaining bits of foods after each dishwashing cycle. Simply pull out the bottom rack and collect any leftover food that may have fallen at the bottom using paper towels 
  • Let Air Circulate- Leave the door ajar for some time to allow in fresh air. This will help prevent the growth of mold and also keep whiffs at bay.

Weekly Cleaning Habits 

  • Clean the door seals- To avoid excessive grime build-up, especially around the door seals and rims, use a damp sponge or cloth to wiper away any food residue. Grime build-up around seals is a significant contributor to quick corrosion, in turn leading to leakages. 
  •  Wash the filter- Take out the filter (if removable) and wash it under hot running water and a soft brush to scrub off the dirt. Washing the filter has been described in detail above.

Monthly Cleaning Habits

  • Clean the exterior- Cleaning the exterior prevents corrosion and also ensures the dishwasher remains sparkling free of dust. Use a soft cloth and warm soapy water to clean the exterior, starting with the door, to the edges, handles, and even areas surrounding the control plus the fascia. For stainless steel, you would want to use a glass cleaner for perfect results. 
  • Top up the dispenser with dishwasher salt and rinse aid- Adding salt prevents limescale from building up and also softens the water ensuring the detergents work effectively. The rinse aid ensures the dished dry without streaking. Most modern dishwashers have indicators that signal when a top-up is required. 
  • Run the dishwasher- If you’ve stayed weeks without using the dishwasher, you should run it at least monthly. When left unused for too long, the dishwasher becomes a fertile breeding ground for bacteria and other pests thanks to the build-up of fats plus other food deposits, which may also block pipes plus the door seals.  
  • Full Cleaning- It’s recommended to give your dishwasher a deep clean each month to eliminate trapped food debris, mineral build-up as well as grime build-up. Also, remember to sanitize and deodorize using white vinegar. 

Annual Cleaning Habits

  • Unblock spray arms-It’s no secret that grime may become lodged inside the jets blocking water delivery and making the dishwasher less effective. Therefore, on an annual basis, remove the spray arms and dislodge grime in the water exit holes using a toothpick. This will allow water to flow freely
  • Run the dishwasher when empty on its hottest cycle- This will help eliminate the build-up of grease, limescale, plus other deposits as well as remove foul odor.

Bottom Line  

Knowing how to safetly clean your dishwasher is not an option but a necessity. Most people would think about why the dishwasher can’t clean itself. Sure, a dishwasher lacks the capabilities of cleaning itself, and therefore you have to assume that responsibility.

A dirty, filthy, ill-smelling dishwasher is not only ineffective but also poses a health risk to you and your family by acting as a breeding ground for disease-causing microorganisms which may find their way into your body causing severe disease. It’s therefore vital to clean your dishwasher on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis as described above.

A pro tip to keep your dishwasher clean is to rinse dirty dishes before placing them in the dishwasher to reduce grunge build-up. It’s also recommended to leave the dishwasher door open whenever it’s not in use to allow the circulation of fresh air to maintain its freshness and prevent the growth of mold. All in all, a clean dishwasher is compelling and attractive as well.   

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