How to Clean Your Dishwasher With Vinegar, Baking Soda, or Bleach

Luckily, they're pretty easy to clean.

Empty Dishwasher
Photo: AndreyPopov/Getty Images

Do you ever load your dishwasher, run it with your favorite, reliable detergent, and then find that your glasses are cloudy? If that scenario sounds familiar, it's time to clean your dishwasher. While you may keep your windows shiny, your floors spic and span, and your heirloom family silver looking like it's brand new, it may not occur to you to wash the machine that washes your dishes. Dishwashers really do need the occasional cleaning, though, because over time grease, soap scum, and food debris can build up, reducing efficiency and providing a breeding ground for germs.

I have a confession to make: I'm 30 years old, and I've never once cleaned my dishwasher. In fact, I didn't even know that you're supposed to clean your dishwasher frequently until I interviewed Amanda Poole, merchant of dishwashers and disposers at The Home Depot, for this story. Below, I've covered everything you (and I!) need to know about how often and how to clean your dishwasher for sparkling dishware after every cycle.

How Often To Clean Your Dishwasher

According to Poole, you should be thoroughly cleaning your dishwasher every month, including the entire interior, door, gasket, and filter. "If you only use your dishwasher occasionally or prewash your dishes, you might not need to clean it that often," she says. "But don't let it go without a cleaning for longer than six months."

Cleaning a dishwasher is a key preventative step in home maintenance. "If you habitually put this chore off, unwanted residue like minerals, grease, grime, and limescale will build up inside your unit," she says. "Over time, it will become less effective, compromising its effectiveness over time." Not only that, but poor performance might lead to costly repairs that could be avoided if you clean your appliance regularly.

What You Need

  • White vinegar
  • Hot water
  • Optional: baking soda or bleach

How To Clean Your Dishwasher With Vinegar

Vinegar is natural and safe to use in your dishwasher and works well as a DIY dishwasher cleaner. "First, empty the dishwasher, then put one cup of white vinegar in a dishwasher-safe bowl and place it on the top rack of the dishwasher," explains Poole. "Run the hottest cycle on the dishwasher. Skip the drying cycle and open the dishwasher door to let it air-dry."

To clean removable dishwasher parts with vinegar, Poole suggests filling your sink half-full of warm water and adding two cups of white vinegar. "Place the parts in the sink and let them soak for 20 minutes," she says. "Then rinse them and put them back in place."

Baking Soda

You can also sprinkle one cup of baking soda on the floor of an empty dishwasher and run a short cycle on the hottest setting to clean the interior and kill odors. "As with cleaning a dishwasher with vinegar, skip the drying cycle and let the dishwasher air dry," says Poole. "Using vinegar and baking soda are easy, effective ways to clean inside a dishwasher, but do not use them together at the same time—clean with the vinegar first and then with the baking soda."

Bleach

According to Poole, cleaning a dishwasher with bleach can deep clean the interior and remove tough stains, mold, and mildew. "Pour one cup of bleach into a dishwasher-safe, bleach-safe bowl and place it on the top rack of your dishwasher," she says. "Then run a full cycle but skip the drying cycle."

It's important to note that you should not use bleach in a stainless-steel dishwasher or a dishwasher that contains stainless steel parts, as bleach will damage it. "Also, avoid bleaching at the same time you clean with baking soda or vinegar," says Poole.

How To Clean the Dishwasher Drain With Vinegar

Cleaning your dishwasher drain trap requires a bit more care than cleaning your overall dishwasher. "First, put one cup of white vinegar in a large, microwave-safe bowl, then heat it in the microwave for 15 to 20 seconds so it is slightly warm," suggests Poole. "Take the bowl out of the microwave and stir in two tablespoons of baking soda." Pour the mixture into the drain at the bottom of the dishwasher, and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes.

In the meantime, boil a kettle of water. "Just as the boil is dying down, carefully pour the water down the dishwasher drain to help clear out any debris or clogs," says Poole. "Do this slowly, taking care not to get splashed with the hot water." If you have a garbage disposal, make sure that it's also clean and running well, as dishwasher clogs and draining problems can sometimes be traced to a clogged or dirty garbage disposal.

Tips To Keep Your Dishwasher Clean Longer

If you want to keep your dishwasher clean for longer periods of time, it's important to clean the dishwasher filter often. "Cleaning your dishwasher's filter after each use is a simple and quick step that will keep your dishwasher cleaner longer," explains Poole. "Wash the filter by hand in warm, soapy water, then gently scrub it with a small, soft-bristle brush if there are stuck-on food particles. Rinse the filters thoroughly under warm running water and replace them."

Another great tip from Poole to prolong cleaning is to prewash your dishes and remove food residue prior to running the dishwasher. However, some higher-end models have built-in food waste components, so prewashing is not required.

How to Get Rid of / Prevent Smells in the Dishwasher

If you've neglected cleaning your appliance, dishwashers can grow stinky from trapped food particles, bacterial growth, and mildew. If yours has developed an unpleasant odor, start by cleaning the drain trap and clearing any clogs from the spray arms. Then run the dishwasher according to our directions, first with vinegar to cut through grease and soap scum, then with baking soda to neutralize smells. Open the door after each cycle runs to air dry the interior.

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