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How to clean a dishwasher
Learn how to clean a dishwasher and ensure optimum performance and a fresh smell.
- Sharp object such as needle-nose pliers or fine wire
- Distilled white vinegar
- Baking soda
- Powdered lemonade mix or Tang
- Soft rag or paper towels
- Scrub brush
- Mild liquid soap
- Spray-on cleaner
Dishwasher not working as well as it used to? Chances are it just needs to be cleaned. Over time, debris builds up inside your dishwasher, decreasing its efficiency.
Step 1. Empty dishwasher and remove dish racks
Step 2. Remove and clean spray arms
With your hands, unscrew the caps or bolts that secure the spray arms, or pop off the spray arms using a screwdriver.
Soak the spray arms in a sink full of water mixed with soap and a cup of vinegar.
Use an old toothbrush to further loosen debris, and use tweezers, needle-nose pliers or fine wire to remove larger debris from the holes. Be careful not to scratch the spray arms.
For a deeper cleaning, thread a fine wire through each hole to the center. Every time you pull the wire out, some debris will get dislodged.
For tough mineral deposits, soak spray arms in straight vinegar.
Step 3. Clean dishwasher door and gasket/seal
Use an old toothbrush dipped in hot, soapy water to loosen any debris built up around the inside of the door (especially at the bottom), in the grooves and crevices of the rubber gasket, and around the hinges.
Wipe around edges of the door and gasket with a damp cloth or sponge soaked in hot, soapy water or white vinegar to remove loose debris.
Step 4. Clean around drain at bottom of dishwasher
Wipe around drain with a rag or paper towels to remove any food remnants that could be preventing wastewater from draining.
Step 5. Clean dishwasher filter
Refer to your owner's manual to determine the filter location and proper method of removal.
Remove and disassemble in your sink.
With a toothbrush, wash filter parts with soapy water or baking soda paste.
Step 6. Reassemble and replace dish racks and filter
Move on to tackling deeper cleaning as needed.
Step 7. Remove hard water deposits (scale) inside dishwasher (optional)
Put 1/4 cup of acidic powder (e.g., lemonade mix or Tang) or baking soda into the detergent cup.
Put 2 cups of distilled white vinegar in the bottom of the dishwasher or in a dishwasher-safe cup on the top rack.
Run dishwasher through a light or short cycle (without dishes) using the hottest water available but with the heated-dry option off.
If possible, stop machine midwash and let it stand for 20 minutes to give vinegar a chance to work. Turn on and finish cycle.
When done, wipe the inside walls with a soft rag or dry paper towels.
Step 8. Remove mildew or mold from inside dishwasher (optional)
Add 1/2 to 1 cup bleach to the bottom of the dishwasher.
WARNING: Do not use bleach if you have a stainless steel interior or door.
Run dishwasher through a light or short cycle (without dishes). Run separately from the acidic powder cycle above.
WARNING: Never mix household cleaners, especially bleach, with other cleaners or chemicals.
Step 9. Remove rust stains (optional)
Put dishwasher-safe rust remover into detergent cup and on the bottom of the dishwasher.
Run dishwasher through a light or short cycle (without dishes).
If rust is caused by a chipping or flaking wire basket, try a paint-on sealant made specifically for dishwasher racks.
If rust is caused by minerals in the water, consider investing in a water purification and filtration system.
Step 10. Clean front and sides of dishwasher
Spray with mild cleaner or stainless steel cleaner.
Wipe with sponge or soft cloth.
Don’t forget the controls, handle and ledge between panels.
Tip: For a streak-free finish, spray cleaner on a towel and wipe on. Wipe cleaner off with a second clean towel.
Step 11. Clean flatware basket
Use liquid dish soap and a scrub brush to remove debris.
DO use your dishwasher regularly. It will help prevent food and other debris from building up, reducing the need to clean it.
DO leave dishwasher door ajar after cycle to let it dry out. It will prevent the growth of mold and mildew—and the stinky odor that comes with it.
DON'T wash containers that have labels that could come loose.
DO scrape heavy debris off dishes before placing them in the dishwasher.
DON'T bother rinsing dishes. It’s a waste of time and water. Detergent works best on dirty dishes, not clean ones.
DO use a rinse aid such as Jet-Dry to help your dishwasher stay cleaner.
DON'T use dishwashing gel. It typically contains bleach that causes rubber seals to break down and leak. It also tends to stick and leave a film in the dishwasher.
If your dishwasher is still not getting your dishes clean, there may be a bigger problem. See our troubleshooting advice for a dishwasher that's not cleaning.
✓ Reviewed and approved by a Repair.com expert.