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Your dishwasher is gross—here’s how to clean it

Think your dishwasher cleans itself? Think again.

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Throughout the course of a day, you might use your home appliances half a dozen times without a thought. That’s the way it should be—most of the time.

Take, for example, your dishwasher. Did you know that it requires periodic maintenance to keep working? The food particles and grease that it blasts off your dishes end up in a filter; otherwise, it would clog the sink.

Food that's left in the filter too long will start to smell and can even develop mold. Leave it too long, and the debris will prevent water from draining out of the unit which can to dirty plates and leakage. Some older dishwashers have built-in disposals but they fell out of fashion when people wanted quieter appliances.

If you can’t remember the last time you’ve cleaned out the filter, don’t worry. We're here to tell you how to clean your dishwasher with a few simple tips.

Before you get started

What You Need:

  • Baking soda
  • White vinegar
  • Measuring cup
  • Dish soap
  • Toothbrush or other small scrubbing implement (optional)

Prep Time Needed:

20 minutes

Total Time Needed:

12 hours



Step-by-step summary for how to clean your dishwasher

  1. Remove and clean the filter. Soak in warm, soapy water for 10 minutes, then replace.

  2. Pour 1 cup of white vinegar into bottom of empty dishwasher. Run a heavy clean cycle.

  3. Sprinkle 1 cup of baking soda in the bottom of the dishwasher and leave overnight. In the morning, run an empty cycle.

  4. Gently scrub any remaining dirty areas with a toothbrush.

Step 1: Clean your filter

Your filter is bound to accumulate gunk—after all, that’s it’s main function. So a good first step when cleaning your dishwasher is to clean that filter. We have a whole separate article and video about how to clean your dishwasher filter if you want full details.

Short version: Unscrew it from the dishwasher—it’s usually located at the bottom—and soak it in warm, soapy water for about 10 minutes. If there are any tough food particles still hanging on, you can scrub gently with a toothbrush, but try not to scrub too hard—your filter is fragile!

When you’re satisfied, put the filter back into the dishwasher where it belongs.

Step 2: Deodorize with vinegar

Vinegar is one of the most versatile liquids in existence—aside from water, that is. This acidic concoction can be used for cooking, killing weeds, and, yes, cleaning. Put its cleaning and deodorizing powers to good use by pouring a cup of white vinegar into the bottom of your empty dishwasher.

Run a heavy clean cycle. By the end of the cycle, your dishwasher should be fresh and sparkly-clean!

Step 3: Deodorize with baking soda

Just to make sure your dishwasher is extra clean and devoid of any foul odors, sprinkle a cup of baking soda in the bottom of your dishwasher. Let it sit overnight. In the morning, run an empty cycle, and then rejoice in the cleanliness of your beloved appliance!

Step 4: Scrub away any remaining grime

Toothbrush for dishwasher cleaning
Credit: Getty

Use an old toothbrush to get into the hard-to-clean spots

If your dishwasher is as clean as can be, then there’s no need for extra scrubbing. But if you still see grime caught in the door seal, under the arms, or in any other nooks and crannies, you may want to go the extra mile.

A toothbrush is the perfect size for any hard-to-reach debris, but you could probably find some other small scrubber to do the trick. Scrub gently with a little soapy water or a paste of baking soda and water until the grime is gone. That should get things clean without scuffing the interior—any abrasions are just going to collect grime and make your dishwasher get dirtier faster.

Other methods for cleaning your dishwasher

Of course, the vinegar/baking soda technique is just one of many ways to get your dishwasher sparkling. eHow recommends utilizing the cleaning powers of Borax, while WiseGeek suggests throwing some bleach into the mix if your machine has fallen prey to really persistent mold. If those solutions aren't cutting it and you need some extra punch, we've had good results from specialty cleaning products like Affresh.

If you’re looking to have a little more fun with cleaning (and hey, why not?), at POPSUGAR, baking soda bombs are the name of the game. Alternatively, OneCreativeMommy uses Tang or Kool-Aid to clean her dishwasher, which we've tried out in the video below.

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