You might think that your dishwasher is cleaning itself while it’s cleaning your dishes, but trust us, it isn’t. And while we still advise against prewashing your dishes to save water and energy, over time, bits of food, grease, undissolved detergent and water minerals can build up on the dishwasher’s filter and interior walls — and even clog the spray arms. That’s why running regular cleaning cycles and keeping your dishwasher clean are so important. Aside from the unpleasant smell and unsightly look this gunk leaves behind, it can also leave spots and film on your glassware, dinnerware and flatware, no matter how carefully and correctly you load the dishwasher. Plus, residue buildup can damage the dishwasher’s filter and pump, ultimately resulting in costly repairs.
In the Good Housekeeping Institute Home Care & Cleaning Lab, we have lots of experience keeping dishwashers clean. Along one wall in our Lab, we have stations to hold six full-size dishwashers for testing, and new models are constantly coming in and going out. And our GH test kitchens have multiple dishwashers too. After testing hundreds of dishwashers, dishwasher detergents and dishwasher cleaners, we’ve uncovered the best methods for how to clean a dishwasher and help keep it clean and odor-free.
How often to clean your dishwasher
How frequently your dishwasher needs cleaning depends on how many cycles you run daily or weekly. Assuming you run a load every day, here are the things to do daily, weekly and monthly to help keep your dishwasher clean:
- Daily or after every load: Remove visible bits of food from inside the filter well and the bottom of the dishwasher.
- Weekly: Wipe down the door edges and gasket to get rid of any debris, and remove and clean the filter.
- Monthly: Deep-clean the interior with a cleaning cycle.
- As needed: Wipe the exterior, edges and interior of drips, spots and film.
How to clean your dishwasher
Follow these steps to keep your dishwasher working its best, whether it needs a quick freshening or a thorough cleaning.
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Remove bits of food daily
The root of most odor problems is usually leftover food that has turned your dishwasher into a second garbage disposal. Get in the habit of cleaning any remaining bits of foods you see after each dishwashing cycle. Pull out the bottom rack and look for any leftover food that may have fallen into the filter well or gotten stuck to the screen or heating element. Remove it with your fingers or a paper towel to help prevent odors and future buildup.
GH Lab Tip: Wipe — don’t pre-rinse — excess food from plates, silverware, bowls and other items before loading them into the dishwasher. If you don’t plan to run a cycle immediately, rinse them quickly at the sink or run a rinse-only cycle to prevent unwanted smells. Also, always remove any labels or stickers from jars you may be reusing before putting the items into the dishwasher to prevent bits of paper from clogging the filter.
Wipe away door grime weekly
To clean the door:
- Wipe away any greasy residue and splatters that may have splashed or settled onto the interior surface of the door, the bottom of the dishwasher under the door, the door edges, the handle and the dishwasher controls with a damp microfiber cloth or sponge.
To clean the door gasket and dispenser:
- Gently scrub any icky gunk from the rubber seal around the door using an old soft toothbrush dipped in either warm, sudsy water or a mild all-purpose cleaner. Give the dispensers a once-over too to remove any debris or traces of undissolved detergent.
- Wipe clean with a damp cloth or paper towel.
GH Lab Tip: Avoid using bleach-based cleaners, especially if the interior of your dishwasher is stainless steel. Check your owner’s manual before using hydrogen peroxide to remove mold or mildew.
Clean the dishwasher filter weekly
The filter is found below the bottom spray arm — you’ll need to pull out the bottom rack to get to it. If you’re not sure how to remove it, check the owner’s manual or manufacturer’s website for details. To clean it:
- Unlock and remove the filter and rinse it under hot running water.
- Using a soft toothbrush, scrub the mesh screen and plastic frame to remove any grease or particles stuck in the crevices. Then rinse it clean.
- Lock the filter back into place.
GH Lab Tip: Do not operate your dishwasher without the filter properly locked into place, as you can cause severe damage to your machine and possibly void the warranty.
Deep-clean your dishwasher monthly
Once a month, it’s important to get down and dirty to remove any trapped particles, mineral buildup and detergent residue hiding in your machine’s internal parts and spray arms. Dishwasher cleaners, like Good Housekeeping Seal Star Cascade, are an easy fix, as they contain surfactants that dissolve and clean away trapped food bits and greasy residue. Use them according to the label’s directions.
GH Lab Tip: Check the instructions before using any commercial dishwasher cleaner. Most require an empty dishwasher, but some can be used in the same cycle with dishes and detergent for even more convenient cleaning.
How to deep-clean your dishwasher with vinegar
If you opt to take the DIY route to fight residue and buildup, go with vinegar in an empty dishwasher.
- To clean your dishwasher with vinegar, place a dishwasher-safe bowl filled with one cup of distilled white vinegar on the top rack and run a pots-and-pans or heavy (hot) cycle without detergent or dishes.
- To clean your dishwasher with vinegar and baking soda for extra freshening, after running the vinegar cycle, sprinkle a cup of baking soda in the bottom of your empty dishwasher and run a short or quick cycle.
Polish your dishwasher’s exterior as needed
Fingerprints make any surface look dull and grimy, but they really stand out — in a bad way — on stainless steel appliances.
Some dishwasher models sport fingerprint-resistant finishes, but not all. That’s why we suggest using a stainless steel cleaner made specifically for cleaning appliances, like GH Seal Star Weiman, to shine up your dishwasher door and give it a protective finish. Not only does the cleaner leave behind a streak-free shine, but it also contains ingredients to help repel future dirt and smudges. And the Weiman Stainless Steel Microfiber Cloth, also a GH Seal Star, is double-sided and, in our test, cleaned and polished easily and without streaking.
GH Lab Tip: Stay away from abrasive cleaners or pads that can scratch and mar your dishwasher’s exterior. Always clean and wipe stainless steel in the direction of the metal’s grain to avoid streaks.
Can you clean your dishwasher with bleach?
No, bleach and bleach-containing cleaners are not recommended, especially if the dishwasher has a stainless steel interior. Some dishwasher detergents contain bleach, but that’s to remove tea and coffee stains from cups and other dinnerware. And do not use bleach with vinegar — the combination of the two can create potentially lethal chlorine gas.
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