Whether it’s to help sell your home or just to be ready for a family get-together, dishwashers need a deeper cleaning than just running a wash cycle without any dishes inside. This guide will answer common dishwasher cleaning questions like how often I should clean a dishwasher and how to deep clean a dishwasher.

Dishes that are not clean because of a dirty dishwasher.
Source: (Nathan Dumlao / Unsplash)

Why do I need to know how to deep clean a dishwasher?

Cleaning your dishwasher is an essential part of home maintenance preventative care. However, if you neglect this task regularly, you’re likely to get a buildup of grease, limescale, and minerals. On top of rotting food in the drains, this residue buildup can cause your dishwasher to function poorly over time. As a result, your glasses will be cloudy, the cutlery will have water spots, and it won’t be able to effectively wash away stuck-on food or grease.

Plus, if your dishwasher is neglected for too long, it could lead to expensive (and preventable) repairs. If your dishwasher still has a warranty, you could run the risk of voiding the warranty due to improper maintenance, which includes cleaning.

How often should I clean my dishwasher?

Dishwasher manufacturers, like Bosch, recommend homeowners clean their dishwashers once a month if it’s used a lot. If the dishwasher is only used occasionally, you can clean it three to six times a year, but we don’t recommend letting it go longer than six months between cleanings.

Is a stinky dishwasher a deal breaker if I’m selling my house?

“Appliances, on most purchase and sales contracts, are sold as-is. They’re not something that’s negotiated. When a home inspector goes through the house, they’ll look at them, but there isn’t a huge amount of emphasis put on that,” Kathryn Townsend, a top agent who’s sold 87% more single-family homes than other agents in Cumberland County, Maine, says.

While the dishwasher may not be a deal breaker on its own, most agents agree that an immaculate kitchen does help sell a house, and a stinky or dirty dishwasher can damage crucial first impressions.

Three ways to make certain your dishwasher helps your sale rather than hurts it are:

  • Deep clean the dishwasher so it’s ready for that buyer who decides to peek inside
  • If dishes are in the dishwasher be certain they are clean before the showing
  • Keep the dishwasher owner’s manual handy in case the buyer asks to see it

These tips all suggest to the buyer that you’ve taken care of other things related to the house.

A spray bottle used to deep clean a dishwasher.
Source: (Towfiqu barbhuiya / Unsplash)

How to deep clean a dishwasher

There’s no one way to deep clean a dishwasher, as there are several methods you can choose from, and none of them will break the bank. You probably have the supplies in your pantry right now! However, before you can begin to clean, you’ll first want to remove all of the removable parts, such as the utensil holder, filter, and drain. Take these pieces and submerge them in hot soapy water with a half cup of vinegar. Leave them submerged until you’re ready to put them back in the dishwasher.

Now you can choose your preferred cleaning method:

Using distilled white vinegar to clean your dishwasher

Using distilled white vinegar as a cleaning agent is very popular among homeowners and professional cleaners because it’s great for cutting through grease, grime, and any buildup inside the unit.

What you’ll need:

  • 2 or 3 cups of distilled white vinegar (apple cider vinegar can work too)
  • A dishwasher safe bowl
  • A spray bottle
  • Cleaning cloth

Cleaning instructions:

  1. Fill the bowl with vinegar.
  2. Place the bowl on the top rack.
  3. Start a wash cycle using the hottest setting.
  4. Once the cycle has finished, pour a mixture of one part vinegar and one part water into a spray bottle. You’ll want to spray this mixture inside the dishwasher in the spots that were missed during the wash cycle.
  5. Use the cleaning cloth to wipe down the areas where you’ve sprayed.

Note: Using vinegar could void the warranty because the acid in the vinegar could break down the rubber or plastic components. Make sure you read through your dishwasher’s warranty and the user guide before use. 

Using vinegar and baking soda to clean your dishwasher

“Across the board, using vinegar and baking soda is the best way to clean the dishwasher to get rid of smells,” says Townsend. Baking soda is often used as a cleaning agent because it’s a mild alkali and will help grease and dirt dissolve in water, making it easier to clean away.

LiveScience.com explains why this combination is such a powerhouse for cleaning:

“As a base, baking soda dissolves organic compounds like dirt, grease, and other sticky ickies. In addition, the mineral structure of each baking soda particle provides a gentle abrasive to clean without leaving scratches behind. As an acid, vinegar breaks down minerals that form from hard tap water, forming unsightly stains on sinks, tubs, and counters.”

What you’ll need:

  • 2 cups of baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide
  • 1 cup of distilled white vinegar
  • Dishwasher safe bowl
  • Vinegar and water mixture in a spray bottle
  • Cleaning cloth

Cleaning instructions:

  1. Combine the baking soda with the hydrogen peroxide to create a thick paste.
  2. Spread the mixture evenly on the bottom of the dishwasher.
  3. Start a wash cycle using the hottest setting.
  4. Once the cycle has finished, pour a mixture of one part vinegar and one part water into a spray bottle. You’ll want to spray this mixture inside the dishwasher in the spots that were missed during the wash cycle.
  5. Use a cleaning cloth to wipe down the areas where you’ve treated.

Using bleach to clean your dishwasher

Bleach should only be used if your dishwasher is not stainless steel, nor does it contain any stainless steel parts; otherwise the bleach will stain or damage your stainless steel appliances.

What you’ll need:

  • Half cup of bleach
  • Dishwasher safe bowl
  • All-purpose cleaner
  • Cleaning cloth

Cleaning instructions:

  1. Fill the bowl with bleach.
  2. Place the bowl on the top rack.
  3. Start a wash cycle using the hottest setting.
  4. Spray the all-purpose cleaner inside the dishwasher in the spots that were missed during the wash cycle.
  5. Use a clean cloth to wipe away the cleaner.

Note: You can also use the vinegar and water mixture if you prefer not to use harsh chemicals in the dishwasher. Also, if the odor persists, you may need to repeat the cleaning process.

How to clean the dishwasher door and gaskets

The interior of the dishwasher is clean, and the removable parts are soaking in hot soapy water. But you’re not done yet because you have to make sure that all gaskets are cleaned to prevent mold and mildew in the cracks.

Cleaning them is pretty simple because all you have to do is take a small brush like a toothbrush and dip it into a mixture of ½ cup of vinegar with 3 cups hot water. Then you’ll dip the brush into the solution and gently go over the gaskets.

If there are still signs of mold or mildew, make sure you read the manufacturer’s instructions to see if you’ll need a special cleaner for the gaskets or if you can use an all-purpose cleaner.

A person taking apart a dishwasher to deep clean it.
Source: (Arturs Budkevics / Shutterstock)

How to clean the dishwasher filter

When it comes to the source of foul odors in the dishwasher, chances are there’s food stuck in the filter and drain. New dishwasher models typically feature self-cleaning filters, but if you have a unit with a removable filter, follow these steps (although we recommend checking your owner’s manual for more detailed instructions for your specific model):

  1. Unlock the filter and pull it out.
  2. Check the inside of the filter base for food. If there is food, remove it and wipe it clean with a clean cloth.
  3. Use warm soapy water and a soft-bristle brush to clean the filter.
  4. Rinse the filter with warm water.
  5. Put the filters back in place and make sure they are locked in place before running the machine.

How to clean the dishwasher drain

Along with the filter, the dishwasher drain is a common source of foul odors.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 cup of distilled white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of baking soda
  • Microwave safe bowl
  • Medium pot of boiling water

Cleaning instructions:

  1. Pour the vinegar into a bowl and place it in the microwave for 15 to 20 seconds.
  2. Take the bowl out of the microwave and then mix in the baking soda.
  3. Pour the mix down the dishwasher’s drain.
  4. After this, carefully pour the hot water down the drain to loosen any clogs or debris stuck in the drain.

If your dishwasher still emits a foul odor, look at the spray arms because sometimes food can get stuck in the jet holes. If they’re blocked, poke the holes with toothpicks and then wipe the debris away using a warm soapy cloth.

Everyday dishwasher cleaning tips

You can ensure that the next time you have to deep clean your dishwasher it won’t be so hard by following these tips:

  1. Make sure there’s no food left on the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. No food = no odors.
  2. Check the spinning arms every few days to make sure there’s no food stuck in the jets.
  3. Wipe down the gaskets with a slightly damp cloth after each use to make sure there’s no excess water or debris in any cracks.
  4. Clean the drain once a week (or more if the dishwasher is used a lot) to prevent food buildup.
  5. Put a bowl of vinegar on the top rack during a wash cycle at least once a week to prevent mineral deposits, water spots, and buildup.
  6. Make sure you’re using manufacturer-recommended detergents and rinse agents.
  7. Don’t forget to use the sanitization cycle if your dishwasher has this feature.
  8. Read the owner’s manual for brand and model-specific care instructions.
Plates that were deep cleaned in a dishwasher.
Source: (Karolina Kołodziejczak / Unsplash)

Knowing how to deep clean a dishwasher keeps it odor free

When you know how to deep clean a dishwasher, you don’t have to worry about foul odors or poor performance. You can rest assured that your dishes will be sparkling clean for your next big gathering every single time. Plus you won’t have to worry about the warranty being voided due to improper maintenance!

And, although a stinky dishwasher may not be a deal breaker, if a potential buyer was to walk into the kitchen and there’s a foul odor, they might wonder what home maintenance tasks have been neglected, which could make them look a little closer at other areas of the home that could be a deal breaker.

Don’t let a stinky dishwasher get in the way of your next social gathering or a potential home sale. Remind yourself to give it a good deep cleaning once a month by adding it to your to-do list or setting a reminder on your phone. You’ll be glad you did!

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Header Image Source: (Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock)