Written by Grove Collaborative

Clean Team: How to clean a dishwasher.

Last Updated: September 24, 2020


An oft-overlooked kitchen appliance, your dishwasher deserves an occasional deep scrub to keep it working its best — and your dishes free from grime.

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Yes, we know, the idea of cleaning your dishwasher seems a little strange. After all, isn’t it getting a thorough rinse every time you run it? The dishes sure are. Your dishwasher, however, needs a little extra TLC to be truly clean. Because you’re constantly washing dirty dishes in it, there’s a lot of grime, odor, and germs that can accumulate, especially if you don’t take the time to give it a good scrub.

There’s nothing more overpowering than the stench of a dirty dishwasher — or a tiny pond of scummy, stinky water sitting in the bottom of it. Not to mention, if your dishwasher is scuzzy, it can leave your dishes scuzzy, too. So if you notice your dishes don’t seem to be getting as clean as you’d like, it’s probably time to give your dishwasher some love.

Thankfully, cleaning your dishwasher isn’t all that hard, it’s just setting aside the time to do it and gathering the right materials. Even better? You don’t need to shell out for expensive (and questionable) ingredients to give your dishwasher a deep clean. All you need are a few environmentally friendly and affordable kitchen staples to help your dishwasher sparkle.



What does cleaning a dishwasher entail?

Dishwashers can vary somewhat, but generally you’ll need to focus on cleaning certain key areas:

  • Spray arms
  • Manual filter/drain trap (if it has one)
  • Beneath the bottom rack
  • Inner walls (if grime is visible)
  • Seals

Grove Tip

How do you know your dishwasher is dirty?

A smelly odor is a telltale sign that germs have taken over. So are visible grime, bits of food in the dishwasher drain, moldy looking buildup in the nooks and crannies, and the fact that your dishes aren’t emerging from the dishwasher with their usual sparkle and shine.

Steps to clean your dishwasher

Step 1: Empty the dishwasher

It’s best to clean the dishwasher without any dishes in it. If you can remove the racks, you’ll have even better access to the spray arms.

Step 2: Clean the spray arms

Dishwasher spray arms have tiny holes that water flows through. When these arms are dirty, gunk can build up inside the holes and hinder the flow of water, which means your dishes don’t get as clean as they could. The best way to clear them out is to use a small piece of wire to help dig out debris in each spray arm. You can also use an old toothbrush to scrub the arms and remove anything that’s caked on.

Step 3: Remove and clean the filter

If your dishwasher has a manual-clean filter, remove it to clean it. (Some dishwashers have self-cleaning filters — see “Do I need to clean my dishwasher filter” below). No matter how powerful of a dishwasher you have, or even if you use a natural dishwasher detergent to avoid questionable ingredients, build up can still accumulate in filters over time. You’ll likely find all kinds of filth that could be slowing down the water drainage and breeding germs and stench. Wash the removable part with hot, soapy water or vinegar, using the toothbrush to scrub all the places gunk has collected.

Step 4: Scrub racks and utensil holder

You can use the toothbrush to scrub the utensil holder, and a regular scrub brush to clean the racks wherever you see visible grime and scum. Food debris can easily get caught in utensil holders because of the griddesign, so you’ll need small bristles to get down in the crevices to clean it properly.

Step 5: Scrub inside walls and detergent dispenser

Use your regular scrub brush to give the inside walls of your dishwasher a good scrub and remove any visible mold, mildew, or food particles. You can also go the extra mile and use a multi-surface cleaner to clean the inside of the door and in and around the detergent holder, where buildup can accumulate. Use the toothbrush to get where your bigger brush can’t reach.

Step 6: Clean the rubber seals

Every dishwasher has rubber seals around the opening of the dishwasher to help seal it closed when in use. These seals can be prone to deposits and build up. Use a scrub brush or a soft microfiber cleaning cloth, and go to town with either vinegar or detergent, paying close attention to not only the seals but also the door edges.

Step 7: Replace all parts and run hot wash cycle

Once you’ve got everything scrubbed to your satisfaction, you can reassemble your dishwasher and put all the pieces back where they belong. The final step is to fill a dishwasher-safe cup with white distilled vinegar and place it on the top rack of the dishwasher. Make sure the cup doesn’t have a lid on it, and set your dishwasher on the hot wash cycle. Vinegar will help break down any remaining grime and residue that’s built up and help eradicate odors.

Once your dishwasher has gone through that rinse cycle, you can run it again with baking soda sprinkled on the bottom of the dishwasher for extra strong smells and stains that weren’t knocked out with the first round of cleaning. But remember: Don’t wash your dishwasher using vinegar and baking soda together, as they react poorly and will cause more of a mess than they will solve. Leave the dishwasher door open, and allow it to air dry.

Do I need to clean my dishwasher filter?

If you have an older model dishwasher . . .

Older model dishwashers may have a self-cleaning filter, in which case you probably won’t have to do much. The difference between the two filters is that the self-cleaning one has grinders to break up food, similar to a garbage disposal, while the other is removable and meant to be cleaned by hand. Filters that are self-cleaning are often loud, a tell-tale sign your dishwasher may have one.

If you're not sure which type of filter you have . . .

Determine which filter you have by looking at the bottom of your dishwasher. Self-cleaning filters have holes or a grid-looking contraption over the top of the filter. Manual-clean filters look like a round plastic piece beneath the bottom spray arms that’s removable.

If your filter is catching small food particles . . .

It's doing what it's supposed to! While it’s great to scrape off large pieces of food prior to throwing dishes into the wash, over-rinsing your dishes before washing them can actually trick your dishwasher into thinking your dishes are cleaner than they are, and it will run a shorter cycle. (Yes, modern dishwashers are just that smart!) Your filter will capture these smaller particles left behind and require some cleaning.

If large bits of food are clogging things up . . .

You can remove any remaining food that’s visible in the filter after each use, and then follow your dishwasher’s instruction manual to disassemble and remove the filter completely for a good scrub every few weeks. This will help prevent any major stink issues.

Grove Tip

How to make your dishwasher’s exterior shine

Unsightly fingerprints everywhere don’t look “clean,” and a specially formulated cleanser for stainless steel easily removes them. These formulas offer the bonus of helping to prevent future prints; just remember to use a soft cloth when applying, otherwise you might scratch the surface and make a bad situation worse.

Even if your dishwasher isn’t stainless steel, the outside door could still probably use a good wipe and polish. Use a cleanser that won’t leave streaks behind for best results.

How frequently should you clean your dishwasher?

There are no rules, but you should generally do minor cleaning tasks weekly, and give your dishwasher a deep clean every few weeks or so. It’s also a great idea to create a habit of removing leftover food bits from your dishwasher every time you use it to prevent an icky buildup of food particles and smelly funk. Finally, invest in a natural dish soap that’s tough on food (but still gentle on your hands and the environment!), and give your dishes a good — but not overly thorough — scrub to ensure your dishwasher still gets your dishes clean without increasing the risk for leftover food particles.

The cleanliness of your dishwasher is simple to maintain. Just follow the daily and weekly tips outlined in this post, and spray down the inside with vinegar periodically to help keep everything fresh and sparkling.

Daily cleaning tasks

To keep your dishwasher in tip-top shape, check the drain trap for bits of food every time you use it. If you spot anything suspicious, remove it. You can use a paper towel to grab and wipe up anything left behind.

Weekly cleaning tasks

Once a week, you can make it a habit to wipe down visible grime, especially on the dishwasher door. You can use a scrub brush or cloth for this. Pay special attention to the inside surface, along the edges of the door, along the dishwasher controls or buttons, and the door handle, if it has one.

Monthly cleaning tasks

Every month, a good deep clean is the way to go. Add it to your cleaning list to ensure your dishwasher gets the care it deserves. You can use common household items like baking soda and white vinegar to get the job done, or try a deep cleaning tablet that’s designed to help break down grease and grime. If you have a stainless steel model, you can also shine up the outside of your dishwasher as needed.

Video how-to

Clean Minute: How to clean and maintain your dishwasher

More of a visual learner? We get it! Follow our clean minute breakdown of how to tackle your dishwasher — just hit play.

Looking for more inspiration? Check out our entire Clean Minute series for pointers on tackling your home's trickiest cleaning tasks.

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Looking for more cleaning how-tos and other sustainable swaps you can make at home? Grove has you covered. From timely topics such as our handwashing and hand sanitizer breakdown to evergreen primers like our simple ways to reduce your plastic use at home, our handy guides are here to answer your most pressing questions. And let us know how if you have any cleaning questions (or share your own tips using #grovehome) by following Grove Collaborative on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

If you're ready to take on germs, shop Grove Collaborative's cleaning essentials for the cleaning tools to tackle the job.

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