How to Clean Your Dishwasher (4 Steps)

We think of dishwashers as cleaning appliances, but sometimes they get filthy and you need to clean the dishwasher itself. Read on for tips for how to clean a dishwasher.

Hand in pink dishwashing glove putting plate in dishwasher

How Do Dishwashers Get Dirty?

You’d think something that’s continually cleaning other things would clean itself, right? Unfortunately that’s not always the case.

If you’re reading this, chances are your dishwasher isn’t looking or smelling so fresh. Or maybe you’ve just moved into a new home and want to give everything a good cleaning before you start using it.

Related: 27 Things You Can Clean In a Dishwasher

There are a few things that can make dishwashers dirty:

Clogged filters: This is one of the biggest culprits. The whole point of filters is to keep food particles from getting into the dishwasher’s machinery. But filters can get clogged over time, and that will reduce cleaning power and might lead to bad smells

Food debris: If you load dishes without first scraping and rinsing, food debris can collect in the machine. This can start bacteria growing, which is both smelly and not the level of clean you want for dishes.

Hard water: It leaves mineral deposits inside the dishwasher which shouldn’t affect dish cleaning, but will look bad.

Soap scum: This will accumulate inside the dishwasher, which can make it clean less efficiently. And even though it’s soap, it can cause a stink.

Mold and mildew: Dishwashers are moist. If they don’t always dry out completely, mold and mildew can form, which is really nasty.

How to Clean Dishwashers

1. Look for food and gunk

This step is simple. pull out the racks and take a good look all around the inside of the dishwasher. If you see gunk or dirt, remove it.

Your best tools for this will be paper towels and maybe an old toothbrush for anything stubborn.

Remember to also check the seals around the doors. Food can get stuck in those, too.

2. Clean the filter

If you’ve never cleaned your filter, it’s probably a good time to remove it and clean it. You may need to look at your manual (or find it online) to figure out how, because every model can be different.

You can start by letting it soak for a few minutes in a sink of water with dish soap – especially Dawn for its grease removing properties. Once the gunk has loosened a little, you can start scrubbing. An old toothbrush is probably your best bet for this.

3. Vinegar wash

Now comes the magic. Put a mug or bowl in the top rack of your dishwasher. Fill it with distilled white vinegar. Run a full wash cycle on the hottest setting.

4. Baking Soda Wash

When that’s done, sprinkle baking soda all over the bottom of the dishwasher. Once again, run a full wash cycle on the hottest setting.

Still not clean?

If you’ve done this and feel it still needs more, you can run bleach through the machine as long as it’s not stainless steel which is a surface bleach can damage. Your other option is to repeat Steps 2 and 3.

Or you could try a favorite commercial dishwasher cleaner from Amazon. Reviewers say it removes hard water, soap scum, lime – everything.


You don’t need to clean the filter as often as you should do the vinegar and baking soda washes. How often any of it needs to be done really depends on how much you use your dishwasher, whether you scrape first, etc.

The filter should probably be cleaned at least twice a year in most cases. More often in some. The vinegar and baking soda washes can be done as often as you like, but probably once a month is plenty for most households.