DIY Cleaning & Organizing

How to Clean a Dishwasher Filter

If you notice a funky smell coming from your dishwasher and dishes aren’t coming out as clean as they usually do, it’s likely because the dishwasher filter is overdue for a cleaning.
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Woman wearing a flannel shirt and cleaning gloves reaching into her dishwasher to access the filter.
Photo: Tom Fenenga for Bob Vila

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Dishwashers have a filter located under the bottom rack that traps food particles and other debris that comes off of your dishes during each cycle. Over time, this debris can build up on the filter, resulting in poor cleaning performance and an odd smell. In some cases, a clogged up filter can even cause damage to the dishwasher’s mechanical parts. There’s no need to put this job off. Cleaning a dishwasher filter is an easy job you can do in minutes.

How Often to Clean Your Dishwasher Filter

How often you should clean your filter depends on how frequently you use it and how thoroughly you scrape and rinse your dishes prior to putting them in the dishwasher.

“Dishwasher filters should be cleaned about every 6 months,” says Alan Ridgeway, owner of Ridgeway Plumbing Atlanta. “Keeping a filter clean ensures your dishwater is optimized for cleaning and sanitizing your dishes, pots, pans, glasses, and silverware.”

Tools & Materials

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Project Overview

Working Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Skill Level: Beginner
Estimated Cost: $0 to $10

Before You Begin

Depending on the type of dishwasher filter you have, you may not need to clean it all. If you’re lucky enough to have a self-cleaning dishwasher filter that not only catches food particles but also grinds them up, sending food particles down a drain, you won’t need to remove and clean it. It’s still a good idea, however, to run a hot water cycle with vinegar to help remove deposits that can build up your dishwasher—keep reading to learn more on that.

How to Clean Your Dishwasher Filter

Step 1: Locate the filter.

Woman removes lower dishwasher basket to access dishwasher filter.
Photo: Tom Fenenga for Bob Vila

Start by removing the dishwasher’s lower rack. “It’s pretty easy to clean a dishwasher filter, but the exact placement of the filter and how to get to it may vary from brand to brand,” Ridgeway says. The cylindrical-shaped filter is usually located at the bottom of the tub next to the base of the lower spray arm, though in some dishwashers you’ll find it in the back corner of the tub.

Step 2: Remove the dishwasher filter.

Woman removing screen and dishwasher filter from the bottom of her dishwasher.
Photo: Tom Fenenga for Bob Vila

To remove the filter, rotate it a quarter turn counterclockwise and pull it out. “The filter is a small screen under that,” Ridgeway says. “It looks like a tea strainer.” Be gentle as you remove it as a damaged filter can negatively impact your dishwasher’s performance. Some dishwashers have a round, disc-shaped filter below the cylindrical one that you can lift out and clean.

Step 3: Fill the sink with the cleaning solution.

Stainless steel sink filled with soapy water.
Photo: istockphoto.com

Fill a sink or bowl with warm water and a squirt of dishwashing liquid.

Step 4: Soak and scrub the filter by hand.

Woman scrubs sudsy dishwasher filter using a scrub brush.
Photo: Tom Fenenga for Bob Viila

Soak the filter in the soapy water for about 15 minutes to loosen caked-on grease or soap scum that has collected on it. If there are stuck-on food particles or stubborn soap scum from dishwasher detergent, use a stiff-bristled brush to clean the filter. If the filter isn’t very dirty, you can also skip this step and head right to rinsing.

Step 5: Rinse the filter with hot water.

Remove the filter from the bath and rinse it under hot water, making sure that it’s clean of all soap scum and food particles.

Step 6: Return the filter to the dishwasher and secure it.

Woman wearing rubber gloves returns clean dishwasher filter to dishwasher.
Photo: Tom Fenenga for Bob Vila

Before returning the filter to the dishwasher, check the area that holds the filter for any debris or food particles. Use a damp paper towel or sponge and wipe the area in and around the filter hole. Next, reinstall the dishwasher filter by placing it in the hole and turning it clockwise a quarter turn so that it locks into place.

Pro Tip: While you’re cleaning your filter, Ridgeway suggests cleaning the dishwasher sprayer arm. “They get clogged, preventing water and soap from spraying on dishes,” he says. “These can simply be unscrewed, taken out, and cleaned with a small toothbrush.”

Tips for Keeping Your Dishwasher Filter Clean

If you don’t relish the task of cleaning your dishwasher filter and all the goo that collects in it, there are few steps you can take to extend the time between cleanings.

  • Be diligent about scraping and rinsing food off your dirty dishes before placing them inside your dishwasher.
  • You can also give your filter an assist by giving the entire dishwasher a periodic deep cleaning, which will help to eliminate any food or soap scum residue on the racks or the tub walls that can eventually end up in the filter.
  • Ridgeway suggests running the dishwasher about once a month with white vinegar. “It works well to keep soap scum and other clogging substances from sticking around,” he says. Run a hot cycle with nothing more than a dishwasher safe bowl filled with a cup of vinegar. The vinegar will help to break up any soap scum or food residue on the inside of the dishwasher. Alternatively, you can use a dishwasher cleaner.

Once you’ve finished cleaning your dishwasher filter, give the entire dishwasher a thorough cleaning about once every three months.