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How to Clean a Dishwasher (Quickly!)

This step-by-step guide is your ultimate resource for deep cleaning your dishwasher

Architectural Digest

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Photo illustration of a dishwasher

Illustration: Ellie Schiltz/Getty Images

Do you know how to clean a dishwasher? It’s okay if the answer is no. After all, Lucy “Peachy” Challenger, a cleaning influencer and TV star based in Blaenavon, Wales, notes that most people often forget about scrubbing the easily overlooked appliance. “But forgetting to clean your dishwasher on a regular basis can mean that your dishwasher doesn’t clean your dishes as well as it could,” Challenger says. “I’d say it’s a simple 10-minute task that should be done approximately every four weeks if used regularly!” In the following guide from AD, learn how to clean a dishwasher with white vinegar, baking soda, and dish soap. Not only will your machine look brand-new, but it will also run more efficiently than ever.

Step 1: Gather your supplies

You can’t clean a dishwasher without gathering a few cleaning products first.

What is the best thing to clean the inside of a dishwasher?

While there are different products you could use, you’ll need the following for this method:

Notice: Experts do not recommend using bleach when cleaning your dishwasher!

Step 2: Remove the filter, utensil holders, and dishwasher racks

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Remove filters, racks, and utensil holders first. Photo: pashapixel/Getty Images

In order to get down into the nitty-gritty cracks and crevices, you’ll need to remove the racks, utensil holders, and filter (some filters simply twist off, but others will require tools to unscrew them). Take them out and place them in a mixture of warm water—about half of your sink—and one cup of white distilled vinegar. Leave them to soak for at least 30 minutes. According to professional domestic cleaner Paula Tarling, based in Bristol, UK, a soft toothbrush is great for scrubbing the gaps and mesh in the filter, so take some time to do that before moving on to the next step. Before putting the dishwasher filter back, make sure you wipe down the surrounding area, just in case there are extra food scraps or trapped odors, Challenger warns.

Step 3: Clear out all debris

Now that you have a clear line of sight, check for any lingering debris that might be hiding within. Then, Challenger recommends using soapy water to wipe down the interior walls and corners.

Next, turn your attention to the spray arms.

“There are little holes [in the spray arms] that can get food debris trapped in them and then water cannot get to your dishes,” Tarling said.

Check the arms and dispenser, and look inside all the tiny holes and slots where water sprays out. If you see food particles or other debris lodged in tiny crevices like these, you can also use a toothbrush or a toothpick to clean them out.

“Tip: Always check the door seal,” Challenger says. “You’d be surprised how much grime builds up here.”

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Pay close attention to small crevices where food and gunk can get stuck. Photo: Andrey Popov/Getty Images

Step 4: Use vinegar and baking soda to clean the inside of the machine

Once you’ve done all your manual wiping, it’s time to bring out the vinegar and baking soda to really get the inside sparkling.

How do you clean a dishwasher with vinegar and baking soda?

First, fill a dishwasher-safe bowl with one cup of white vinegar and place it on the bottom of the empty dishwasher. Set the dishwasher to run on a hot water cycle. The vinegar will break down any remaining bits of food, grease, soap scum, residue, and any other leftover grime. This cleaning cycle will help do a thorough deep clean of your washer.

When the first cycle ends, remove the bowl and sprinkle one cup of baking soda along the bottom of the dishwasher. Run it on a short cycle. The baking soda will remove stains and freshen the dishwasher. The result? A bright, sparkling dishwasher that smells oh-so-clean.

Step 5: Clean the outer dishwasher door

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Don’t forget your dishwasher’s exterior. Photo: taist/Gety Images

Grab a cleaner specifically formulated for your dishwasher’s exterior surface: If it’s stainless steel, for instance, look for a cleaning product that is made for stainless steel (all-purpose cleaners can leave a streaky finish or even scratch steel, so be careful).

Another way to go? Create a DIY cleaner. A basic mixture of dish soap, water, and white vinegar makes a great homemade cleaner that’s safe for all dishwasher surfaces. Dip a microfiber cloth in your soapy water, squeeze out the excess, and then swipe in the direction of the surface’s grain. Rinse out your cloth and then go over the surface again for a gleaming, fingerprint-free finish. Make sure to wipe down the control panel and handles with your damp cloth as well.

Frequently asked questions

After seeing the benefits of a clean dishwasher, you’re likely going to want to maintain it. Consider the following tips that should help keep your dishwasher in tip-top shape.

How do you know when it’s time to clean your dishwasher?

While Challenger recommends a regular dishwasher cleaning schedule (about every four weeks), there is another telltale sign that’ll let you know it’s time to clean: dirty dishes. Anytime your bowls and plates come out with gunk still on them, it’s an indicator that your dishwasher needs a deep clean.

What is the best way to clean and deodorize a dishwasher?

The deep cleaning routine outlined above should keep your dishwasher clean, but Challenger has an additional tip for those who want to go the extra mile. “If you’re feeling extra fancy and your dishwasher has a bad odor, you can rub down the interior with some vanilla essence and a cloth,” she says. “This will not only make your dishwasher smell great—it also acts as an antibacterial.”

How do you keep your dishwasher clean?

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Regularly using the sanitizing cycles should help maintain dishwasher cleanliness. Photo: onurdongel/Getty Images

Apart from regularly scheduled deep cleans, if your dishwasher has a self-cleaning sanitize cycle, you should run it every few weeks. Generally, the sanitizing cycle runs hotter and longer than a regular dishwashing cycle, and it’s able to kill 99.9% of bacteria and food soil that a standard wash cycle leaves behind. If your dishwasher doesn’t have a sanitize cycle, you can stock up on a dishwasher cleaner like Affresh or similar products.

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This post originally appeared on Architectural Digest and was published October 4, 2023. This article is republished here with permission.

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