How to Clean Inside a Dishwasher

Are you noticing a funky smell coming from your dishwasher? Are your dishes not getting as clean as they used to? It might be time to give your dishwasher a good cleaning. Regular maintenance and cleaning of your dishwasher can help improve its performance and ensure it lasts for years to come. In this article, we will guide you through the process of cleaning the inside of your dishwasher, step by step.

Dishwashers are a convenient and time-saving appliance, but they also need regular cleaning to maintain their efficiency. Over time, food particles, soap residue, and minerals can build up inside the dishwasher, leading to unpleasant odors and reduced cleaning power. By following a few simple steps, you can keep your dishwasher clean and running smoothly.

Why Cleaning Your Dishwasher is Important?

Cleaning your dishwasher is not only about maintaining its appearance but also ensuring its functionality. A dirty dishwasher can harbor bacteria, mold, and even pests. Moreover, built-up debris can clog the spray arms, filters, and drain, affecting the dishwasher’s ability to clean your dishes effectively. Cleaning your dishwasher regularly will help prevent these issues and prolong its lifespan.

Preparing Your Dishwasher for Cleaning

Before diving into the cleaning process, it’s essential to prepare your dishwasher properly. Start by emptying the dishwasher of any dishes, utensils, and racks. This will provide easy access to the interior and prevent any obstructions during the cleaning process. Additionally, removing any removable parts, such as the racks and silverware holder, will allow for a thorough cleaning.

Emptying the Dishwasher

Remove all dishes from the dishwasher and place them in the sink. Make sure to scrape off any leftover food particles before transferring the dishes to the sink to prevent clogging.

Removing Removable Parts

To clean the dishwasher more effectively, remove the racks and silverware holder, if possible. Check your dishwasher’s user manual for specific instructions on how to remove these parts. Once removed, set them aside for cleaning separately.

Cleaning the Interior of Your Dishwasher

Now that your dishwasher is empty and the removable parts are out, it’s time to clean the interior of your dishwasher thoroughly. This process will involve removing debris and food residue, cleaning the filter, and descaling the dishwasher.

Removing Debris and Food Residue

Start by inspecting the dishwasher’s interior for any visible debris or food residue. Use a damp cloth or sponge to wipe down the walls, door, and bottom of the dishwasher. Pay extra attention to the nooks and crannies where food particles tend to accumulate. For hard-to-reach areas, you can use a soft toothbrush or an old toothbrush to scrub away stubborn residue.

Cleaning the Filter

The dishwasher filter plays a crucial role in trapping food particles and preventing them from clogging the drain and spray arms. Over time, the filter can become dirty and affect the dishwasher’s performance. Here’s how you can clean the filter:

  1. Locate the filter: The filter is typically located at the bottom of the dishwasher. It may be a cylindrical or flat mesh screen or a combination of both. Refer to your dishwasher’s manual if you’re unsure about its location.
  2. Remove the filter: Gently lift or twist the filter to remove it from its housing. Be careful not to damage the filter or any surrounding components.
  3. Rinse the filter: Take the filter to the sink and rinse it under warm running water. Use a brush or your fingers to remove any stubborn debris. Make sure to clean both sides of the filter thoroughly.
  4. Check for blockages: While cleaning the filter, inspect it for any blockages or damage. Clear away any trapped debris or residue that might be obstructing the filter’s proper functioning.
  5. Reinstall the filter: Once the filter is clean and free from blockages, place it back into its housing securely. Ensure it is properly aligned and seated to maintain optimal filtration.

Descaling the Dishwasher

Over time, minerals and limescale can build up inside the dishwasher, particularly in areas exposed to hard water. Descaling the dishwasher helps remove these deposits and restore its efficiency. Follow these steps to descale your dishwasher:

  1. Empty the dishwasher: Make sure the dishwasher is empty and free from any dishes or utensils.
  2. Prepare a descaling solution: Mix equal parts white vinegar and water in a bowl or measuring cup. The amount of solution needed will depend on the size of your dishwasher, but a couple of cups should be sufficient.
  3. Pour the solution: Open the dishwasher and carefully pour the descaling solution into the bottom of the dishwasher.
  4. Run a hot cycle: Close the dishwasher and select the hottest and longest cycle available. Start the cycle to allow the descaling solution to work its magic.
  5. Wipe down the interior: Once the cycle is complete, open the dishwasher and use a cloth or sponge to wipe down the interior, including the walls, door, and racks. This will help remove any remaining limescale or vinegar residue.
  6. Rinse cycle: To ensure all traces of the descaling solution are eliminated, run a quick rinse cycle with no dishes inside. This will flush out any remaining vinegar and leave your dishwasher fresh and clean.

Cleaning the Exterior of Your Dishwasher

While the interior of the dishwasher is crucial, don’t forget about its exterior. Cleaning the exterior not only enhances its appearance but also prevents the accumulation of dirt and grime. Here’s how you can clean the exterior:

  1. Unplug the dishwasher: Safety first! Before cleaning the exterior, make sure to unplug the dishwasher from the power source.
  2. Use a mild cleaner: Wipe down the exterior surfaces, including the front panel, control panel, and sides, using a mild cleaner or a solution of dish soap and water. Avoid using abrasive cleaners or scouring pads that could damage the finish.
  3. Pay attention to buttons and knobs: Gently clean the buttons, knobs, and any crevices with a soft cloth or a small brush to remove any dirt or residue.
  4. Dry thoroughly: After cleaning, use a dry cloth to wipe down the exterior and ensure it is completely dry before plugging the dishwasher back in.

Maintaining a Clean Dishwasher

Once you have cleaned your dishwasher, it’s essential to establish a maintenance routine to keep it clean and in optimal condition. Here are a few tips to help you maintain a clean dishwasher:

  1. Scrape off food debris: Before loading your dishes, make sure to scrape off any large food particles. This helps prevent clogging and ensures proper cleaning.
  2. Rinse dishes: If possible, give your dishes a quick rinse before placing them in the dishwasher. This reduces the amount of food residue that ends up in the dishwasher.
  3. Run hot water before starting a cycle: Run the hot water tap in your sink until it reaches its hottest temperature. This ensures that hot water enters the dishwasher from the start, improving the effectiveness of the cleaning process.
  4. Use dishwasher-safe materials: When selecting dishwasher-safe items, such as utensils, dishes, and glassware, it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Using non-dishwasher-safe materials can cause damage to your dishwasher and affect its performance.
  5. Regularly clean the dishwasher’s interior: Plan to clean the interior of your dishwasher every month or as needed. This includes removing debris, cleaning the filter, and descaling the dishwasher. Regular maintenance helps prevent buildup and keeps your dishwasher running smoothly.
  6. Check for leaks and blockages: Periodically inspect your dishwasher for leaks or blockages in the drain or spray arms. If you notice any issues, address them promptly to avoid further damage and maintain optimal performance.
  7. Leave the dishwasher door open after use: To allow moisture to evaporate and prevent the growth of mold or mildew, leave the dishwasher door slightly open after completing a cycle. This promotes airflow and keeps your dishwasher fresh.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Even with regular maintenance, you may encounter common issues with your dishwasher. Here are a few troubleshooting tips:

  1. Dishes not coming out clean: Ensure that you are not overloading the dishwasher and that the spray arms are not blocked. Check for clogs in the spray arms and clean them if necessary. Also, double-check that you are using the correct amount of dishwasher detergent.
  2. Cloudy glassware: Cloudy glassware can be caused by hard water or a buildup of minerals. Consider using a rinse aid specifically designed for dishwashers to prevent this issue. You can also try adding a cup of white vinegar to an empty dishwasher and running a cycle to remove mineral deposits.
  3. Foul odor: If your dishwasher has a lingering odor, it’s likely due to trapped food particles or mold. Clean the filter, wipe down the interior, and run a cleaning cycle with vinegar or a dishwasher cleaner to eliminate the odor.
  4. Dishwasher not draining: A clogged drain can prevent your dishwasher from draining properly. Check the drain for any obstructions and remove them if necessary. If the problem persists, it’s best to consult a professional technician.
  5. Strange noises: Unusual noises during operation may indicate a loose or faulty component. Check the spray arms, racks, and other moving parts for any signs of damage or misalignment. If needed, contact a professional for repair.

What can I do to prevent limescale buildup in my dishwasher?

To prevent limescale buildup in your dishwasher, you can take the following steps:

  1. Use a water softener: If you live in an area with hard water, consider installing a water softener for your entire household. Softened water reduces the mineral content, including limescale, which can help prevent buildup in your dishwasher.
  2. Use a dishwasher cleaner: Regularly use a dishwasher cleaner specifically designed to remove limescale and mineral deposits. Follow the instructions on the cleaner to ensure effective results.
  3. Vinegar rinse: Once a month, you can run an empty dishwasher cycle with a cup of white vinegar placed in a dishwasher-safe container on the top rack. Vinegar helps break down limescale and remove mineral deposits.
  4. Check your dishwasher settings: Many modern dishwashers have settings specifically for hard water. Ensure that your dishwasher is set to the appropriate water hardness level to optimize its performance.
  5. Clean the spray arms: Periodically inspect the spray arms for any clogs caused by limescale buildup. Remove the spray arms and clean them with a vinegar solution or a toothbrush to dislodge any mineral deposits.

Remember, prevention is key when it comes to limescale buildup. By incorporating these practices into your dishwasher maintenance routine, you can minimize the occurrence of limescale and keep your dishwasher functioning efficiently.

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What should I do if my dishwasher still has a bad odor after cleaning?

If your dishwasher continues to have a bad odor even after cleaning, there are a few additional steps you can take:

  • Check the drain hose and make sure it’s not clogged or kinked.
  • Inspect the garbage disposal if your dishwasher is connected to it. A clogged or smelly disposal can affect the dishwasher’s odor.
  • Run a cycle with a dishwasher cleaner specifically formulated to eliminate odors.
  • Consider using dishwasher deodorizers or fresheners that can be placed inside the dishwasher during cycles.

If the problem persists, it’s recommended to consult a professional technician to diagnose and resolve any underlying issues.

How often should I clean my dishwasher?

It is recommended to clean your dishwasher at least once a month to prevent buildup and maintain optimal performance.

Can I use bleach to clean my dishwasher?

Bleach can be too harsh for some dishwasher components and may damage them. It’s best to avoid using bleach and opt for milder cleaning solutions like vinegar or dishwasher-specific cleaners.

Can I use regular dish soap in my dishwasher?

No, regular dish soap should not be used in a dishwasher. Dish soaps formulated for handwashing create excessive suds, which can lead to overflow and damage the dishwasher. It’s important to use dishwasher-specific detergent, which is designed to work effectively in a dishwasher’s lower-suds environment.


Regular cleaning and maintenance of your dishwasher are essential to ensure its longevity and performance. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can keep your dishwasher clean, odor-free, and operating at its best. Remember to establish a routine and address any issues promptly to avoid potential problems.

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