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Dishwashers

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

Think your dishwasher cleans itself? Think again.

A hand holds a glass that's mostly clean, but has green flecks of redeposit marring its sheen. Credit: Reviewed

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Has your dishwasher maybe not been cleaning like it used to recently? Have you noticed standing water at the bottom of the tub after a wash cycle? Maybe your dishwasher just smells bad.

If you’ve run into any of these issues, guess what: It’s time to clean your dishwasher. But, don’t worry if you’ve never done it before. Here’s our guide for how to clean your dishwasher.

What you’ll need

How to clean your dishwasher

Step 1: Clean your filter

A close-up of a hand reaching over to remove the filter at the bottom of a dishwasher.
Credit: Getty Images / pashapixel

Modern filters will be clearly labeled and often require no hardware to remove. Older dishwashers, unfortunately, might require a a long- or short-necked screwdriver and some awkward posture on your part

Your filter is built to accumulate gunk, so that’s the place to start when cleaning your dishwasher. We have a whole separate article about how to clean your dishwasher’s filter if you want full details, but we’ll give you the short version.

Every dishwasher is different, but most have a filter along the bottom of the tub, often close to where the washing arms attach. If you have an older dishwasher model, you may need a screwdriver or ratchet, possibly with a particularly long or short neck.

If you have a newer model—congratulations!—your filter is likely significantly easier to access and work with.

Once the filter is removed, soak it in warm, soapy water for 10 minutes, then rinse or gently scrub off any debris with a soft-bristle brush—the filter mesh can be incredibly fragile, so treat it with care.

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

Step 2: Sanitize with vinegar

Vinegar is one of the more popular DIY cleaners out there (just don’t dissolve your granite countertops). We’re going to leverage its acidic properties here to kill leftover germs that might be creating odorous compounds.

Pour a cup of white vinegar into the bottom of the empty dishwasher and run your dishwasher’s heavy cycle (it may have a name like “Pots and Pans” on your model—use whichever cycle sounds the most heavy duty).

Step 3: Deodorize with baking soda

This step is when we attack those aforementioned odorous compounds that might still be lingering.

Sprinkle one cup of baking soda across the bottom of your dishwasher, as well as any surface where you sniff something funky. If the powder won’t stick, mix the baking soda into a paste with a bit of water and apply that way.

Allow all of the baking soda to sit overnight to absorb everything. In the morning, run an empty cycle. Your dishwasher should be looking fresh and sparkly clean!

Step 4: Scrub away any remaining grime

If your dishwasher is as clean as can be, then there’s no need for extra scrubbing.

However, if you still see grime caught under the washing arms, or in any other nooks and crannies—especially on or around its rubber gasket—it’s worth going the extra mile.

The toothbrush could work for this step, but you may want something with a slightly harder plastic bristle as the interior of your dishwasher isn’t as fragile as its filter.

Just take note: You do not want to use wire brushes or anything that might scratch a surface, as gunk can more easily collect on a surface with abrasions—don’t make future cleaning sessions harder for yourself!

Scrub gently with a little soapy water, or by using a baking soda and water paste. This should get things clean without scuffing the interior.

Keep your dishwasher clean to keep it functional

A woman crouches besides a dishwasher with a sponge and cleaning solution bottle. She's scrubbing the interior of the dishwasher's door.
Credit: Getty Images / AndreyPopov

Keeping your dishwasher clean is also keeping it healthy: With proper maintenance your dishwasher should last for more than ten years.

Learning how to clean your dishwasher, and actually doing it wasn’t so hard, right?

It’s a good idea to clean out your dishwasher and its filter about every six months to a year, depending on how much you use it. We recommend lumping it in with all the other “once a year” appliance cleaning chores.

In the case of your dishwasher, if the filter is clogged, the motor needs to work much harder to do the same job, which causes it to wear out faster. Routine cleaning and basic maintenance can keep your appliances working better, for much longer than they would otherwise.

Your dishwasher should last you over a decade.

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