How to Clean a Dishwasher

The best way to clean your dishwasher

Most of us think about cleaning the exterior of our dishwashers or at the very least, we give it a cursory wipe down. But what about the interior? Doesn’t it clean itself every time you run the dishwasher? If it were only so easy! Unfortunately dishwashers collect quite a bit of build up from food particles and hard water – the types of things you typically don’t want mixing in with your food.

At first glance cleaning your dishwasher seems like a daunting task, there are so many parts and crevices in there, right? I’ve created a simple guide that will allow you efficiently clean the areas that are impacted most – my husband calls it the 80-20 rule (his favorite rule of thumb) of dishwasher cleaning. 😉



Naturally, let’s start with the most visible (and easy to clean) part of the dishwasher.


  • Spray the exterior with a homemade cleaning solution that consists of 1 part white vinegar and 1 part water.
  • Using a microfiber cloth (or an upcycled cotton cloth if you choose not to purchase microfiber – I use Maker’s Clean Clothes in my home) to wipe away any fingerprints or other scum from the stainless steel surface.
  • Polish with a small dab of olive oil or mineral oil and a clean, non-microfiber cloth (you don’t want to put oil on microfiber!).


  • If your dishwasher has a plastic exterior, then it can be easily cleaned with a damp sponge/soapy water.


Next up is the filter – as you can imagine, this part of your dishwasher can develop a lot of build up from food particles.

How to clean a dishwasher filter

How to clean your dishwasher filtration system

  • Every time you unload your dishwasher (which occurs 3-4 times a week in our household), remove the filtration parts from the bottom of your dishwasher. Every dishwasher is different, so Google your dishwasher brand and model to find specific how-to instructions (ours is by Whirlpool).
  • Next, rinse and scrub each part of the filtration system with a brush or a sponge to remove any food residue or tiny coffee grounds that may have clogged the mesh parts.
  • TIP: Avoid using dish soap when cleaning the filtration system because soap leads to suds and suds leave behind scum buildup that can make the filters and seals work less efficiently. Our appliance repairman said 9 out of 10 calls he receives are for damages caused by soap suds over time.
  • Lastly, check the holes on the spray arm to make sure they aren’t clogged with food particles. Clogged spray arms reduces your dishwasher’s cleaning power and may leave your dishes and utensils dingy. You can pick them clean with a toothpick.


This one is actually easier than you might expect.

The best way to clean a dishwasher

  • Once a week (at least), run your wash cycle with a ceramic bowl or mug filled with 1-2 cups of white vinegar. Place the vinegar cup or mug on the top shelf and run a very hot cycle.
  • Vinegar will help eliminate any lingering odors as well as prevent hard water buildup or discoloration of the interior of your dishwasher.
  • TIP: Most other dishwasher cleaning resources recommend doing this step with an empty dishwasher, however our repairman said that you can achieve the same effect if you do this during a regular wash cycle. That way you can save both water and time (and avoid dirty plates building up in the sink while you run the cleaning cycle!).


The final step to keeping a clean and working dishwasher is regular maintenance.

  • Turn on your disposal while running cold water for 30 seconds before running the dishwasher to clear any lingering food scraps. Most dishwashers have a hose that connects to the disposal where food bits are eliminated, so completing this step will ensure cleaner dishes at the end of the cycle.
  • Don’t wash your plates before loading them into your dishwasher! If you’re properly cleaning and maintaining your dishwasher, then a thorough scrape over a garbage bin is sufficient. According to Consumer Reports, “…most dishwashers costing $500 or more sold in the past five years or so have a sensor that determines how thorough a wash is needed” so loading clean dishes can trick your dishwasher into thinking the plates are less dirty than they are. Instead, save time and water by loading them in dirty.
  • Never “clean” a dirty sponge in your dishwasher – doing so will generate soap suds that can cause serious damage to your appliance over time. Instead, dampen your dirty sponge and throw it into the microwave for a few minutes to kill any bacteria build up.

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