A few years ago, I received a question from a reader asking how to clean the inside of her dishwasher, which in her words was “very old and well, yucky.” I gave it some thought and even did some research on it, but sort of shuffled it to the bottom of my “To Do” List. At the time, it just wasn’t something I was really thinking about, since I hadn’t personally experienced many issues with the cleanliness of my dishwasher.
Well, someone must have thought I had put it off long enough, because not too long after that, I opened my dishwasher to find a whole lot of dirty dish water standing in the bottom of it. Not good! That’s what I get for procrastinating!
It ended up being the catalyst that drove me to re-visit my previous research on cleaning your dishwasher. And it turns out there are lots of ways a dishwasher can reach a point where it needs to be cleaned! Tiny bits of food, grease and soap scum can cling together and form deposits in all the nooks and crannies of your dishwasher. After a time, they can not only make your dishwasher look and smell bad, but decrease its efficiency as well.
After reading a lot of different ideas on the subject, I’ve up with the following process.
How To Clean Your Dishwasher
Step 1 – Examine the Drain
Pull the bottom rack out and examine the drain area and make sure there are no hard chunks that can plug the drain, cause damage to the pump or scratch dishes. You’d be surprised at what dishwasher repairmen find – bones, crab shells, glass shards, and even small pieces of gravel!
Step 2 – Wash Cycle With Vinegar
Place a dishwasher-safe cup filled with plain white vinegar on the top rack of your dishwasher. The vinegar will help to wash away the loose, greasy grime, sanitize, and help remove the musty odor.
Using the hottest water setting, run the dishwasher through a cycle. The dishwasher should be empty except for the cup of vinegar.
Step 3 – Wash Cycle With Baking Soda
After the vinegar cycle finishes, sprinkle a handful of baking soda around the bottom of the dishwasher and run it through a short cycle using the hottest water. The baking soda will help further deodorize your dishwasher and help in removing any stains.
Step 4 – Wash Cycle With Bleach (OPTIONAL)
If you have problems with mold and mildew, add ½-1 cup bleach in the bottom of the dishwasher and run a full cycle.
NOTE: Do not use bleach in your dishwasher if it has a stainless steel interior. Bleach can corrode and stain stainless steel!
Each time I do this process, it leaves my dishwasher squeaky clean and smelling great, and it eliminates any standing water issues. Let’s hear it for no dishwasher repair bill!!!
Now that your dishwasher is clean and running right, here are a few important tips to help keep it that way! (Of course, you should still perform a routine dishwasher cleaning every few months or so.)
Good-to-Know Dishwasher Tips
- Run your garbage disposal before starting the dishwasher. The dishwasher drains into the same pipe as your sink, so that drain must be clear.
- Before starting a load of dishes, run the water in your sink until it feels hot. You will get cleaner dishes if the water starts hot.
- Make sure your water gets hot enough to clean your dishes effectively. Your water heater should be set to around 120F (50C). Water that is cooler than this won’t clean as effectively, and hotter water could scald someone accidentally!
- Run full loads to conserve water and energy, but don’t pack dishes too tightly. Dishwashers wash dishes by spraying water over them, so the water needs to be able to get to the dishes to clean them.
- Don’t over-rinse dirty dishes. Dishwasher detergent NEEDS a certain amount of grease and grime in order to do its job. Otherwise, it actually foams up during the cycle, and that’s not good for your dishwasher.