Your dishwasher is a helpful tool. It cleans plates, bowls and silverware all by itself, allowing you time to finish other household chores. So at the end of a cycle, when you roll out the rack and discover dishes that still have bits of food stuck to them or—even worse—have more food on them, it can feel like your kitchen helper has failed you.
Usually, there is a reasonable explanation and logical solution for why dishwashers aren’t doing their job. Over time, morsels of food, grease, mineral deposits and the like can build up in the dishwasher’s filters and interior. When that happens, a deep clean is needed to get rid of all the gunk so your appliance can do its job properly again. Follow these steps to make it happen.
Step 1: Empty Out the Dishwasher
Pull out the bottom rack and remove filters and spray arms (if possible). Clear out bigger bits of food, paper labels or anything else that may have wound up in the bottom of the machine.
Step 2: Soak and Clean Filters
Gently pull filters out of the dishwasher (you may need to twist them to unlock). If filters or spray arms have built up mineral deposits or debris (often looking like hardened, white spots), loosen them by soaking in a large bowl filled with hot soapy water. After soaking, scrub filters and arms clean with an abrasive sponge or brush, warm water and dish soap. If bits of food are stuck in the tiny holes of the spray arm, gently poke a toothpick into holes to work debris free.
Step 3: Clean Around the Door
Remove any gunk that may have built up around the dishwasher’s edges or door; the rubber seal can also trap food bits and residue. Sometimes you can wipe these areas clean with a paper towel or cloth; other times you may need the assistance of a scrub brush or an old toothbrush to loosen and lift the residue. Make sure also to wipe underneath the edge of the door where grime can hide.
Step 4: Clean the Dishwasher Interior
Spray or wet the interior with a mixture of white vinegar and water (add equal parts vinegar and water to a spray bottle or bowl). Wipe clean with a cloth, sponge or paper towel. If needed, you can gently scrub the inset filters and screen with a scrub brush or toothbrush.
Next, run a deep clean cycle: In an empty dishwasher, place a bowl with one cup of white vinegar on the top rack (you can also use a ready-made dishwasher cleaner) then run a cycle. Doing this on a regular schedule (see the timeline below) helps to get rid of mineral and detergent buildup and odors and gives your dishwasher a fresh start. If you still notice smells after the cycle has completed, sprinkle a tablespoon or two of baking soda on the bottom of the dishwasher, then run a second dish-free cycle.
Step 5: Make the Outside Sparkle
To clean fingerprints and anything else off the outside of your dishwasher, spray a stainless-steel cleaner or a blend of water and white vinegar on the door, then wipe it down with a cloth or soft sponge. Avoid using abrasive sponges or steel wool as these can scratch your dishwasher’s finish.
Step 6: Maintain the Clean
Regular dishwasher maintenance keeps your dishes and glasses reliably clean. Here’s what to do daily, weekly and monthly:
- Daily: Clean out larger, visible bits of food on the filter or bottom of the dishwasher.
- Weekly: Remove filter and spray arms and clean. Clean around edges and door. Wipe down outside.
- Monthly or as needed: Wipe interior clean. Run a deep clean cycle (or two).
Now that your dishwasher is beautiful, you can turn your attention to cleaning all those other kitchen appliances.