The Great Appliance Clean-Up: How to Clean Your Dishwasher

Now that you have settled back into your regular routine it's time to focus on getting the rest of your home back in order. If you are like me, one of the things you tend to overlook are appliances. Sure, you wipe them down and keep the outside clean, but what about the inside? When you open your fridge are there still memories of meals past? Is your dishwasher giving you dishes not much cleaner than they went in? In this weekly feature, I will share the web's best tips to get your appliances in their best working order. I challenge each of you to tackle each week's project and systematically work your way to a cleaner home.

In our first segment of the Great Appliance Clean-Up: we will give you the web's best solutions for cleaning the workhorse of the modern kitchen - the dishwasher.

How to Clean Your Dishwasher: Overview

The dishwasher. It consistently takes our dirty, dingy dishes and makes them sparkly clean - until it doesn't. Hard water, dirt and grime can turn even the most expensive, most elite dishwasher into more of a hinderance than a help. Follow the suggestions below and old faithful will be back to her beautifully cleaning self in no time.

How long does it take to clean your dishwasher: Depending on how dirty your dishwasher is, it can take several hours. The most basic clean-up requires a minimum of 2 hours.

How often should you clean your dishwasher: Basic maintenance (cleaning the drains and using the vinegar/bleach method) should be done once a month for optimal performance. More in-depth cleanings should be done every six months. 

How to Clean Your Dishwasher: The basics

First things first - Clean your drain/garbage disposal


It amazes me that most articles on how to clean your dishwasher never address one of the most effective methods - cleaning the drain. And would you be surprised that you don't need to use anything more than baking soda and vinegar - the two things you already have on hand to clean the machine itself. 

As for cleaning the drain, all you have to do is pour 1/2 cup of baking soda followed by one cup of white vinegar into the drain and cover it (with a stopper). If you have a double sink, make sure you cover both drains. At this point you are probably wondering which drain to pour the baking soda and vinegar in if you have a double sink. It really doesn't matter, although I usually opt for the side with the garbage disposal.

Mixing the baking soda and vinegar creates a reaction that places force on any blockage and clears it (think high school volcano projects). After 15 or 20 minutes, remove the stopper and pour two quarts of boiling water down the drain. The hot water loosens any remaining materials. 

Cleaning the filter

How To Clean Your Dishwasher: Clean the Filter

It seems like a no-brainer, but in the 5 years I've lived here, I've never cleaned the filter. Truth be told, it's because I could never find it until recently. Simply soak the filter in soapy water for 10 minutes and that's it. Easy peasy.

White Vinegar & Bleach - But not together!

My go-to solution is as easy as using a cup of white vinegar and a cup of bleach - but never at the same time (apparently mixing the two is very dangerous). Simply pour one cup of vinegar in the bottom of your empty dishwasher and run it on the hottest cycle. Once the cycle has completed, place a cup with one cup of bleach in it on the top rack. Again, run it through the hottest cycle. A big shout-out to my mom and grandma for this one - they've been doing it for years. Note: If the inside of your dishwasher is stainless, do not use bleach. They have a hate-hate relationship.

What about the baking soda?

I personally have never found this to be helpful, but lots of people swear by it. After running the vinegar cycle, sprinkle a cup full of baking soda in the bottom of the dishwasher and let it run a short cycle. Doing this will eliminate any lingering odors (although the bleach usually takes care of that for me).


One of the methods I came across in verifying my suggestions for how to clean your dishwasher (hey, just because mom and grandma have used it forever doesn't mean it's necessarily safe), is from Heidi at One Creative Mommy. She suggests doing the following:

  1. Run the water in the kitchen faucet until it is hot.  
  2. Turn the tap off and start the empty dishwasher.
  3. After two or three minutes, stop the dishwasher and add a container of Tang.
  4. Let it run the whole cycle.
  5. That's it!

I haven't seen Tang in years, but I have to say - I bet it makes your dishwasher smell amazing!

How to Clean Your Dishwasher: Advanced options

For this segment I took the advice from Jeff of the Home Repair Tutor. This site had the most comprehensive instructions for cleaning the working parts of the dishwasher.

Remove/Unclog spray arms

Jeff states that clogged spray arms have to be the #1 problem they encounter with their dishwasher. Apparently hard water is the main culprit (something I also deal with).

To begin, remove the top and middle spray arms using a ratchet and socket. He even made a handy-dandy video.

He then suggests using steel picture frame wired or a wire hanger to clear any clogged holes. 

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Soak spray arms in white vinegar

Yep, we are back to white vinegar again. He offers a couple of ways to do this but the most logical seems to be to soak it in a bath of white vinegar in the kitchen sink. 

Clean the Seals with a toothbrush

Jeff suggests grabbing a toothbrush to scrub the rubber seals and perimeter where the door meets up with the dishwasher tub, followed by a wet sponge to clean up any remains.

How to Clean Your Dishwasher: What about the outside?

So now that the inside of your dishwasher is nice and clean what about the outside? For black or white appliances, scrubbing with a non-abrasive sponge and soap and water will do the trick. To give it a bit of extra shine, follow with a Windex cleaning. And yes, Windex. All other cleaners I tried left them streaky.

If you have a stainless steel dishwasher, my go to is Weiman's Stainless Steel Polish. This was another suggestion from mom and it works great (have I mentioned yet that my mom is a clean freak? Oh the stories I could tell). It's simple to use. Just spray it on the front of the dishwasher and wipe it off. Follow with a clean paper towel and voila! If you have spots of caked on stuff on the front of your dishwasher, clean it with a sponge first and then follow with Weiman's. Oh, and one note about Weiman's - it smells like bug spray. That, and if it gets on your hardwood floors it makes it slick enough to go sock skating. 

So there you have it. Did you have any idea there were so many steps to thoroughly clean your dishwasher? Now, grab your white vinegar and give that bad boy the cleaning of it's life! :-)