How to Clean Your Dishwasher

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on April 08, 2022
4 min read

Since a dishwasher cleans other items, you may be tempted to assume that it washes itself and, as a result, fail to clean it as required. It is one of the most important kitchen appliances, coming through for you when not a single piece of utensil is clean. 

Cleaning a dishwasher, though, keeps it free from unpleasant odor, bacteria, and fungi, and doing so helps it run smoothly and maintain its luster. 

Up to 74 species of bacteria can be found in a dirty dishwasher, including Gram-positive bacteria like Stenotrophomonas maltophilia and Escherichia coli. Some of these bacteria can be drug-resistant, cause diarrhea, and be fatal to immuno-compromised individuals.

In a study conducted to isolate fungi from 30 dishwashers, the researchers found 503 fungal strains in 83% of the dishwashers. Among the strains isolated included Exophiala dermatitidis, which is a black yeast that may cause skin lesions or severe infections, such as brain abscess and even systemic infection.

As water and detergent circulate through the dishwasher, all the dirt from the utensils ends up in a filter below the bottom rack. This calls for the filter and other parts of the dishwasher to get cleaned as often as possible. Even though your dishwasher cleans itself constantly, most times, you will also be required to clean it yourself. Regular cleaning will then keep the dishwasher from becoming a breeding ground for harmful bacteria and fungi. 

With vinegar, baking soda, and warm water, cleaning your dishwasher is easy. You should be ready to go with the following supplies:

  • Sink or large bowl
  • Dishcloth or sponge
  • Old toothbrush
  • Soft-bristled nylon brush
  • Dishwashing liquid containing a degreaser

Below are the steps you can take to clean your dishwasher:

Step 1: Start with the exterior. Some dishwashers have a plastic front while others are stainless steel. If you’re cleaning the one with a plastic front, use a sponge and hot, soapy water to wipe off surface dirt. If the inside is also plastic, use a solution of water and bleach to clean. A hand brush will work just fine while a toothbrush will help you care for hard-to-reach areas. 

As for a stainless steel-top dishwasher, use a glass cleaner or other cleaners specially made for stainless steel appliances. Most of them are effective at removing fingerprints, grime, and smudges. Don’t spray the cleaner directly onto the dishwasher front. Its electronic controls could get damaged due to contact with moisture. 

Step 2: Prepare your cleaning solution. Pour hot water into a sink or large bowl and add a few drops of dishwashing liquid. Wear gloves to protect your hands from the hot water and detergents you will use.

Step 3: Clean the filter. The filter in a dishwasher traps loose particles and prevents them from sticking on the dishes. A clogged filter is no good and will often get you manually rinsing dishes that have been through the dishwasher. However, if the filter is clogged, it can't do its job. 

Your dishwasher may have come fitted with a self-cleaning filter. It works much like a garbage disposal. Newer models have a filter that requires manual cleaning. Put the filter in the solution you just made and let it soak for a few minutes. This will allow any stuck-on dirt to loosen for easier cleaning. 

Use an old toothbrush to scrub away all the dirt. Rinse the filter in hot water. Wipe down the filter housing before putting it back.

Step 4: Deodorize. Use a citric-based dishwasher cleaner that will leave your appliance smelling fresh. Although it’s not necessary, it will help to have a good-smelling dishwasher which encourages you to keep it clean.

To find the filter, check the dishwasher's interior floor beneath the rotating spray arm. Refer to your owner’s manual or visit the manufacturer’s website to determine which type of filter you have.

The majority of manual filters are round and twist-lock into place. They may also have arrows showing which way to turn the cylinder to dislodge it. 

To clean a dirty dishwasher filter, use a soft brush to gently scrub the inside and outside of the filter. This will remove all food particles and other buildup. Once it is clean, rinse the filter with water. Don’t use wire brushes to scrub as they could damage a delicate dishwasher filter. 

A dirty filter almost eliminates the point of using a dishwasher. You have to keep it clean for the whole appliance to do its job. Manual-clean filters should be cleaned at least once a month. 

If, after cleaning the dishes, you still find bits of food left on them, it’s most probably time to clean the filter. The same goes for dishwashers that have an unpleasant odor. If you’re afraid that you may forget to clean your dishwasher once every month, create a reminder on your calendar. 

It helps to keep your dishwasher slightly open when you’re not using it. The free circulation of air will keep odors at bay. It will also dry up excess moisture to prevent the multiplication of harmful microorganisms.