How to Deep Clean your Dishwasher

How to Deep Clean your Dishwasher

Whether you’re lucky enough to live in a rental equipped with one or you’ve just made the investment in a great dishwasher for your mortgaged abode, taking care of this coveted kitchen appliance is exceedingly important. Like all machines, dishwashers require occasional maintenance; these steps are typically designed to ensure that the machine in question is not enduring any unnecessary stress, shortening its potential lifespan and functionality.

While we may be quick to shove instruction manuals in our junk drawer, dishwasher upkeep is actually even more important than just adhering to factory maintenance guidelines. Beyond getting the most out of our investment, a periodic deep clean of the dishwasher both helps to eliminate and prevent foul odors resulting from build-up and clogged drain traps and can also help deter or remove issues with standing water, which is a common catalyst for germs, mold, and mildew build-up.

Deep cleaning the dishwasher also serves as our best line of defense towards our nightmare scenario: any sort of clogging issue that might cause malfunction, flooding, or a broken machine. Talk about time and money down the drain! However, there are highly efficient ways to ensure the best deep cleaning of your dishwasher.

First of all, there is a clear difference that needs to be established between “cleaning” and “deep cleaning” the dishwasher. The former might consist of using Windex or stainless-steel cleaner on the front panel while running an empty hot cycle, maybe even with some bleach thrown in for good measure. The latter, however, is what’s really going to save your machine and help prevent costly disasters.

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A deep clean means busting out the gloves, turning off your gag reflex, and hitting those drains, filters, traps, and any other small mechanisms that might have collected some grime over the cycles. In fact, almost anywhere that you can see a crevice in the interior of your machine, there is likely some germy scum building up, which becomes a key source for dishwasher stink, unless tackled early.

While some elements of the deep clean (specifically, the filter cleaning) should be done more frequently than an exhaustive deep clean, you might as well knock it all out at once when the time rolls around. Thankfully, only a few steps of this process truly require much attention or elbow-grease, making time-saving hacks essentially built into the task.

Begin by slapping on some gloves and opening and inspecting your dishwasher’s interior. There should be no standing water, and your machine should be empty throughout this cleaning process (Some water spots are fine—just pat them dry with a towel or some paper towels before the cleaning portion below begins). Slide-out and inspect upper rack(s), removing any larger pieces of debris you might see. Place the rack(s) to the side. Fully remove the lower rack, and thoroughly examine the silverware holder for debris, if you have not already. Keep the lower rack aside, as well.

In the basin of your dishwasher, you will see a number of things, likely including some of the following: a heating element coil, a fully rotatable dishwashing “arm,” and a drain. All dishwasher interiors are not exactly alike, and you may want to check your paper or online machine manual for specifics on your dishwasher’s layout, but all will have this drain and filter combination in the main basin, which is a very important area to clean regularly. More aggressive cleaners might rinse or check their filter after each use, but monthly maintenance is typically what is prescribed.

The filter is important to keep clean regardless, as it is the last line of defense between food particles and the pipes. Many remnants can become trapped here, clogging the drain and causing standing water issues, among other things. Removing the filter is usually quite simple, but you may want to watch a video or read the instructions if it does not feel intuitive for you.

To save time in this deep clean routine, take a moment now to remove the drain, filter, and rotating arm. Set them all in a warm bath of water—for issues with soap scum and water residue marks, add white vinegar. For issues with food debris and grime, mix in some dish soap until foamy. Separate parts into their respective soaking needs.

While those items are soaking and loosening the grit that you are aiming to remove, turn back to your empty dishwasher basin and get ready to use those biceps a bit! Use your favorite dishwasher cleaner or a natural homemade mixture of baking soda, water, and white vinegar to scrub the crevices of your machine. For smaller areas, consider using an old toothbrush (or if you are buying a new cheap one to get the job one, consider buying a “hard” bristle brush for some extra help breaking up the grime). When it comes to larger areas, sponges and brushes are often the most effective.

Remember never to use bleach on a stainless-steel surface and not to use anything too abrasive on any dishwasher’s interior; scraping any surface helps only to provide more crevices with germs and mildew to grow in, so while it is okay to use the tougher side of a soft sponge, avoid hard foils and other firmly-textured scrubbing mediums.

Use your chosen cleaner to get really personal with all of the folds, seals, and panels inside your dishwasher. As discussed earlier, any sort of seams or angles with openings will be prime places for grime, even if it isn’t that easy to see. While water residue lines are unsightly, they are not the only issue to tackle. Bust out that flashlight or cell phone beacon, too, to make sure you can see what’s going on!

By the time you have finished scrubbing down that fresh and scuzz-free interior, your dishwasher’s inner components will have had a nice hot soak and be ready for a rinse down. Spray water around and throughout each piece thoroughly before placing it back. When your dishwasher is fully re-assembled, the hardest parts are officially behind you. Good job!


For your final steps, add 1-2 cups of white vinegar to your machine and run a hot cycle. Finally, run one last hot cycle to deodorize, this time sprinkling a liberal amount of baking soda into the basin of the dishwasher prior to running it. Et voilà—you have got yourself one deeply cleaned dishwashing machine!

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