How To: Clean a Dishwasher
It's tempting to think that your dishwasher gets a good cleaning every time you run it through a cycle, but that's unfortunately not the case. Here's how to keep it sparkling clean, sweet smelling, and effective.
At first, the idea of cleaning a dishwasher—an appliance that fills with suds and water on an almost daily basis—may seem a bit strange. But think of it this way: You regularly maintain your vacuum, right? Well, the dishwasher isn’t dissimilar. Whereas there, the sucked-up dust and debris are what threaten to clog and hinder the performance of your vacuum, food scraps, soap scum, and stubborn grease are what can compromise your dishwasher. Even if you installed the unit pretty recently, you should know how to clean a dishwasher in order to maximize its efficiency.
STEP 1: Detach the dishwasher’s bottom rack.
Access the dishwasher drain by pulling out the detachable bottom rack. Thoroughly examine this crucial area, and remove any gunk or chunks you find by glove-covered hand. (These not only impede drainage but can also damage the appliance.)
STEP 2: Run a cycle with nothing but one cup of vinegar.
Fill a dishwasher-safe container with one cup of white vinegar, and place it on the upper rack of the otherwise empty machine. A natural cleaner with many talents, white vinegar takes care of two big problems that often plague dishwashers: clogs and smells. Count on it to cut grease that may line walls from previous loads of dirty dishes, clear away old detergent build-up, and even dissolve mineral deposits—all of which could one day clog the plumbing and cause your appliance to underperform. The fact it neutralizes food odors so that your dishwasher won’t smell is practically a bonus!
Close the door and run the dishwasher through a hot-water cycle. Once the vinegar has worked its magic, you should open the door to a clean dishwasher—all grease and grime washed away, and any musty odors that may have been present now removed.
Note: You can use a package of unsweetened lemonade mix rather than vinegar to achieve similar results when you clean a dishwasher. Its citric acid works similar to vinegar in cutting through lingering food particles. Look for this in the list of ingredients, and remember to stick with regular lemonade, though; flavored options can leave stains.
STEP 3: Complete a short rinse cycle with baking soda.
Now sprinkle a cupful of baking soda across the bottom of the appliance, then run it on a short hot-water cycle. Whatever food smells weren’t wiped out with vinegar will be absorbed by the baking soda, the same way they are when you place a box of Arm & Hammer in the fridge. The slightly abrasive nature of baking soda will act like a scrub, to boot! When the cycle’s done, you should notice that your fresh-smelling dishwasher now boasts a brightened, stain-free interior.
STEP 4 (optional): If there’s mold or mildew leftover, consider a cycle with bleach.
Has your dishwasher suffered a vicious attack from nasty mold? While vinegar will kill mildew, some dire cases may need the harsher cleansing power of bleach. Add a bowl filled with one cup of bleach to the bottom of the basin, then run the machine on a full cycle—that is, unless the interior of your dishwasher contains stainless steel, in which case you should completely avoid the use of bleach. Bleach and stainless steel are not friends. If your dishwasher with stainless steel parts still has a mildew problem after following this how-to, repeat a vinegar cycle as instructed in Step 2.
STEP 5: Add this routine clean to your calendar.
Repeat the above steps every one to two months, and you’re likely to add years of service to the machine that tackles your least favorite chore.
Keeping Your Dishwasher Clean
Now that you know how to clean your dishwasher, perhaps the best way to keep it this way is to treat it with basic respect and consideration day in and day out—after all, the machine isn’t invincible. Observing a set of simple usage guidelines can help you wring the best possible performance from this workhorse appliance, even as you prolong its lifespan.
• The dishwasher shares a drain with the kitchen sink, so if you have a garbage disposal, run it before washing the dishes to ensure that the drain is clear.
• It’s smart to conserve electricity and water by running the dishwasher only when it’s full, but resist the temptation to pile dishes too high or too tightly. This prevents the sudsy water from traveling around all sides of each dish and getting your load completely clean.
• Don’t prewash dishes too thoroughly before adding them to the dishwasher. For detergent to do its job effectively, there needs to be a certain amount of grease and food residue present. Otherwise, the detergent simply creates foam during the wash cycle, and that excess can be detrimental to the appliance.