Yes, you need to clean your dishwasher — here’s the right way to do it

The inside of a dishwasher can easily become one of the dirtiest spots in a kitchen. EHStock/Getty Images
  • Food scraps, grease, and soap build up inside a dishwasher over time, making it smelly and less efficient.
  • Experts recommend a monthly deep cleaning – or a biweekly one if you use the machine more than once a day.
  • A hot rinse using vinegar or bleach will thoroughly sanitize the interior of a dishwasher.
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If you’re looking for something to clean, the best items to start with are arguably the most overlooked: the appliances you use to clean with. In the case of the kitchen, that notable distinction would go to the dishwasher. Because we think of dishwashers as self-cleaning, it’s easy to forget that — much like our oven, refrigerator, and pots and pans — it’s also a tool that needs a proper scrub, both inside and out.

Daily dishwashing tips

Maintaining a spotless dishwasher starts long before you break out the cleaning supplies. Part of GoCleanCo founder Sarah McAllister’s routine includes lightly scraping and rinsing dishes before loading them to prevent larger chunks of food from getting stuck in the dishwasher filter.

She also opts for pods as her cleansing agent. Often, using a liquid dishwasher detergent can cause a stronger smell as well as slimy dishes, while loose dishwasher powder can lead to a chalky mess. “I prefer the pods for convenience and there is less chance of splashing all over the floor,” says McAllister.

If your dishwasher is starting to smell or look mildew-y, follow McAllister’s process to get it back to gleaming.

What you need

  • Bleach or distilled white vinegar
  • Clean rag or paper towels
  • Stainless steel spray or a glass cleaner such as Windex
  • Toothpicks and cotton swabs

Warning: Exposure to a bleach and vinegar reaction can create chlorine gas, a mixture that is extremely dangerous to humans when inhaled.

How to clean a dishwasher

  1. Run a hot cycle with vinegar or bleach — but never both together. Those with a dishwasher that has stainless steel interior should use distilled white vinegar, while non-stainless steel dishwashers can be cleaned with bleach. Fill an open dishwasher-safe container with a 1/3 cup of vinegar or bleach and place it on the top rack. “Run on the hottest, longest cycle you have. This sanitizes everything and gets rid of smells and bacteria growth,” says McAllister.
  2. Clean the filter. “Remove and rinse your dishwasher filter of any debris. Using warm water and bleach or vinegar, you can scrub down the edges of the dishwasher and remove any caked on food or spills,” she says.
  3. Wipe down the exterior. Spills, water streaks, and fingerprints frequently get on the dishwasher door. For this, McAllister recommends a stainless steel spray, using it liberally and wiping with the grain of the steel, usually east to west. “If you see streaks, don’t worry. Give the cleaner some time to soak into the steel and it will look brand new,” says McAllister. For those with a more outmoded, non-stainless steel dishwasher exterior: “Wipe the door down well with warm soapy water, let dry, and then Windex it. Simple and easy!”
  4. Get into the nooks and crannies. Once the inside and exterior door of the dishwasher have been cleaned and dried, use a toothpick and cotton swab to get into the smaller crevices, like the vents, filters, and spinner arms, to make sure you aren’t missing any residual debris.

How often should you clean a dishwasher?

McAllister suggests a monthly cleaning, but if you have a larger family and use your dishwasher more than once a day, a bi-weekly deep clean would work best.

Insider’s takeaway

“Dishwashers are one of the dirtiest places in your home, and we neglect them the most,” says McAllister. “Anywhere there is water sitting, there can be mould growth.”

To prevent that from happening, regularly clean the dishwasher using vinegar or bleach — again, the two should never be combined — making sure to remove debris from the filter, vents, and other parts.

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