How often do you clean your dishwasher? Most folks don't even think about cleaning the inside of a dishwasher since it already has soap and water running through it. But think about this: your bathtub has soap and water in it, too--and you clean that! A dishwasher is similar. The fact of the matter is that food debris can destroy your dishwasher if you don't perform some simple cleaning measures.
Types of Dishwashers
There are many different types of dishwashers out there. Some have plastic or stainless interiors. Some have dish drawers instead of the standard door style. There are even dishwashers that don’t have built-in filters, so the owner must remember to regularly clean out a fine net basket in the bottom of the unit. Debris buildup in a filter or in a net basket can reduce your dishwasher’s performance. But no matter what kind of dishwasher you have, their need for a regular cleaning regime is the same.
Use Vinegar to Chase Away Soap Scum
Plain white vinegar will remove soap scum. Vinegar is also a natural antibacterial and will help reduce mold or mildew. The easiest way to clean all the parts of the dishwasher is to soak them. Fill your kitchen sink (or laundry room sink) about halfway with hot water and add about 2 cups of white vinegar. If you want something that smells a little better than vinegar does, use lemon juice instead. Now add all the loose parts from inside the dishwasher. The utensil basket, the sprayer arms (consult your owner’s manual on how to remove them), and if they will fit, the other racks. The next step is to wipe down the top, sides, and bottom of the dishwasher with some of the liquid from the sink.
Now would be a good time to wipe the gasket, and don’t forget the area where the hinge is. A lot of gunk can accumulate in that hinge, and we never think to look there.
Wipe down the exterior with the same solution.
If there is any rust in your dishwasher, be sure to use a rust remover product made for dishwashers. Anything stronger could damage your unit.
Clean the Filter
If you have a dishwasher with a filter, consult your owner’s manual for how often they recommend cleaning it. Your manual will also instruct you on how to remove the filter. As said earlier, not all dishwashers have filters. If you have the type of dishwasher with a basket that collects debris, you can remove that basket and let it soak with the rest of the parts.
Clean the Spray Arms
Now that your spray arms have soaked for a while, take them out and inspect the holes. If there is anything blocking any of the holes, you can use a pipe cleaner to clean them out. (You can also use a wire or a toothpick, but I’ve found it's much easier on the appliance to use a pipe cleaner. Wires can damage and scratch the spray arm, and toothpicks could break off inside the arm.)
Go Even Further
If you want to go even further with your cleaning, consult your owner’s manual. I have found that they give many useful tips on how to keep your dishwasher in tip-top shape.
- Always scrape debris from dishes (and rinse if you have the time) before putting them in the dishwasher. This is especially true if you don’t run the dishwasher every day.
- Do not use bleach on stainless steel. Bleach can be used on plastic, but to be safe, it should be diluted. Do not ever mix bleach with anything other than water.
- To lessen the cleaning job next time: 1. Add a cup of vinegar to the bottom of the empty dishwasher. 2. Run the dishwasher about half way through a cycle. 3. Stop the washer and let it sit for about an hour 4. Turn it back on and let it finish the cycle. If you do this about once a month, you will save yourself a ton of time when you do the deep cleaning next time.
- Deep clean your dishwasher as your manufacturer suggests, which is usually once every six months.
- Remember that gaskets dry out if the dishwasher isn’t run on a regular basis. If you are not going to use it for dishes, you should at least let it run through a cycle occasionally to lubricate the gaskets.
- Here is a money-saver that probably no one has ever told you: you don't need to use a rinse aid if you have a water softener.
- If your dishwasher has odors that you just can’t get rid of, sprinkle some baking soda on the bottom of the unit and let it run through a cycle. Don’t use baking soda and vinegar at the same time, though, since they do react with each other.
There you have it--a simple and easy do-it-yourself project that also protects your investment.