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How to Clean your Dishwasher

Keep your house in tip-top shape. Learn How to Clean a Dishwasher

Last week I shared on Instagram and Facebook that I was cleaning my dishwasher.

Seems cleaning a dishwasher peeks a lot of interest! lol

The days are finally getting longer, the sun is warm and the trees are filled with chirping birds.  Signs of Spring always get me in a mood to do some Spring cleaning!

How to clean a dishwasher

How to Clean a Dishwasher with Vinegar:


It might sound odd to “clean the dishwasher”.  After all, you are using it to clean dishes, so you would think the dishwasher would say clean as well, right? Wrong!  You need to clean your dishwasher periodically to keep it running efficiently and smelling fresh!

What I do is pretty simple. The directions might look involved, but really, it’s very easy.

What you need to clean a dishwasher:

Distilled White Vinegar

Baking Soda

Old soft toothbrush, q-tips, toothpicks

Soft cloth

Paper towels

cleaning a dishwasher

Steps to clean a dishwasher:

  • Start with an empty dishwasher.
  • Fill one side of kitchen sink with distilled white vinegar water (I just dump, but I would say 1-2 cups of vinegar with a half full sink of water)
  • Remove the utensil holders and racks. Wipe them down checking  for stuck-on food bits and debris in the bottom of washer.
  • Remove and disassemble the arm and grate and filter, if you have one, from the floor of the dishwasher (I remove all parts that I can remove by hand).  Place in sink to wipe down with damp rag and vinegar water.  Make sure the holes that spray the water out on the blades are clear of tiny bits of food, you can use a toothpick to clear them if necessary.
  • Using paper towels, remove debris and food gunk (I’ve even found hair??) .
  • Use a damp rag that’s been wet with vinegar water to wipe down inside and edges of door, use a toothbrush or q-tip to get in tiny places. *if you are having trouble removing some gunk, try using a soft toothbrush and a baking soda paste.
  • Reassemble and replace all parts.
  • Clean garbage disposal.  Click here to read how I clean my drains with vinegar and baking soda.  Then run the garbage disposal and dump a cup of ice cubes down while it’s running, to help remove any debris in the garbage disposal.
  • Add 2 cups of white vinegar to the bottom of the dishwasher and turn it on to Energy or Low Wash. Stop the machine in mid-wash, so the vinegar can set on the bottom and work. Let it stand for about 20 minutes, then turn on to finish cycle. (sometimes I will let it sit over night, and turn it back on to finish when I get up)
  •  When done, wipe out the inside with dry paper towels.
  • Don’t forget to wipe down the outside while you’re at it.  Depending on the type of dishwasher you have,  spray the front of your dishwasher with a mild spray cleaner or stainless steel cleaner.
  • step back and enjoy your clean dishwasher!

cleaning dishwasher

I’ve heard you can clean your dishwasher with a packet of Lemonade Kool-Aid .  I have not tried this, but would love to hear if anyone has.

Since we have hard water, I use Lemi-Shine in most cycles to help cut down on hard water build up on my dishes and my machine.

As far as detergent goes, I usually buy what ever is on sale or what I have a coupon for, although I’ve heard Finish is supposed to be the best.  What dish washing detergent do you use?

I put the instructions on how to clean a dishwasher into a free printable for you.  Just click the picture then use your browser print option to  print.

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more by Cheryl »

Cheryl Sousan

A self-proclaimed neat freak, Cheryl chronicles her journey through homemaking on her blog,, where she shares recipes, tutorials, crafting and her ever-growing love for photography. This St. Louis mom juggles her passion for life, her daughters and her tiger-loving husband, all while her obsession with tidiness cleans up the trail blazed behind her. Google+


  1. Unsweetened lemon-flavored Kool-Aid works great, and I can usually get it for free using a coupon. But I noticed you didn’t include a reminder that the inside bottom of a dishwasher is kind of a dead spot where water never reaches, so be sure to open the door wide and clean down there. You may be shocked by what you find.

  2. Thank you for writing this how-to article! You wrote it when I needed it the most and I will definitely be cleaning my dishwasher later tonight.

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  4. I got geared up to do this today and then found my dishwasher to be a bit complicated to disassemble. =( Mine looks very clean inside, but my dishes aren’t always coming clean. Any ideas?

  5. Thank you so much for posting this article! My dishwasher lately has not been getting my top rack of dishes clean, I used your tips on cleaning the dishwasher, I wasn’t able to take the spray arms out as mine are bolted in (too lazy to go find a wrench) I sat on the floor with a opened up paper clip and couldn’t believe the gunk that came out of the little holes on the arms YUCK. I use vinegar to clean most of my house but never thought to use it in the dishwasher! I have it on speed cycle right now can’t wait to see how much better it will clean now. Sorry I missed the entry to win the washer and dryer, both my washer and dryer are 15+ yrs old the washing machine gets rust on my clothes and the dryer you have to use two dry cycles to get anything dry grrr! Oh well I’m just glad I found your article! Thanks again!

    • I live in an apartment complex for 5 years now with a basic dishwasher that had to be replaced shortly after moving in. I have sold appliances in the past and know that builder/apartment basic appliances are only meant to last about 4-5 years if that. The previous dishwasher was the original from 85 when the complex was built. It had never been cleaned and the line where clogged with so much lime there was no way we would have ever been able to get it to run clean. As I have lived in this area for 37 years I am well aware that the water is so, so hard. Nothing will clean your dishes and work in your dishwasher like Finish. It is the only thing I have ever found that has worked with our Indianapolis water. I have tried others but they eventually stop working. Cascade builds up and stops working also. I run a cycle with vinegar at least every other month in my dishwasher just to keep it from building up and have been known to open the door and throw in a cup of vinegar during a wash cycle full of dishes. Another tip no matter if your dishwasher has a disposal in it and it high end, it never hurts to rinse your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. I only run mine when it is full, about every 3 rd day and if you put dishes with food on them in it the dishwasher starts to smell. I also put my sponges in the dishwasher to clean them. I buy about 4 gallons of vinegar every other month. I put it in baggies and hang on the shower heads, sink nozzles etc. because everything gets so clogged up. Vinegar in your washer periodically will keep it clean also.

      • I use vinegar in my rinse cycle in the washing machine. There’s a little cup up under the lid where you can put in liquid fabric softener. I don’t use fabric softener because all it does is dump wax on my towels and make them work not as well, and when the clothes go through the dryer they’re softened up anyway. But I’ll put vinegar in that cup. It works fine, probably helps cut down soap residue.

  6. An owner of an appliance business told me to run the dishwasher without dishes periodically, and look inside during wash at all the soap that appears. It is amazing how much residual soap there is. He also recommended using less liq soap than manufacturers recommend.

  7. we used to use the finish liquid tabs until i noticed it started giving the silver parts (inside door, etc) of my dishwasher a blue hue to them. almost like iridescent. I’m excited to find this article in hopes that it will get rid of the hue! Thanks!!

  8. Hi Cheryl,

    Great article! I heard that half a lemon in a dishwasher can give it a clean and fresh smell, is this true?

    We had an incident with a smelly cup that needed blitzing in our dishwasher and it has left a bit of a nasty smell.

    Many thanks,

    Beth and Andy

    • My helpful 10 yr old son ran the dishwasher for me and absentmindedly and innocently used dishwashing liquid instead of dishwasher detergent. Yes, we had suds billowing out of the machine. I quickly Googled how to remedy this and discovered that a capful of liquid fabric softener will do the trick. And, sure enough it did. What I also discovered was that my dishwasher smelled terrific for a long while after that! So, now I do that a few times a year just for fun 🙂

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  11. Thanks for a chance to win such great prizes. I use alot of vinegar also when cleaning my house. I just discovered blue Dawn with vinegar and it works awesome on tub soap scum. I’m definitely add you to my favorites….. thanks, Kristy

    • I just plain use dishwashing liquid to clean my tub. I reasoned that what’s dirtying the tub is soap scum, so just use a little more soap and it should break that all up. Bingo. It’s a little annoying to rinse out so you have to learn to use just enough. I use a plant-based liquid in the first place so it’s pretty eco-friendly. (Planet brand.)

  12. i am 85 years old and is difficult to do everything. i can use the white vinegar and brush a little. thanx for your help.

  13. That you so much for this post! I recently moved into a new place and have been looking for a way to clean my dishwasher. Also, the closed soap spot hasn’t been opening lately during the wash. I couldn’t figure out how to get the pieces out of the dishwasher, so I skipped that

    • That you so much for this post! I recently moved into a new place and have been looking for a way to clean my dishwasher. Also, the closed soap spot hasn’t been opening lately during the wash. I couldn’t figure out how to get the pieces out of the dishwasher, so I skipped that part. But while the vinegar water was sitting in the bottom of the washer I scrubbed around with a toothbrush. And oh my gosh, I have never been so disgusted in my life! Food scraped off into the water. Eww. Also, black/ greyish hair looking stuff came off into the water from the thing that opens the closed soap container.. No wonder it didn’t work! This post really helped!

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  15. .I have always loved the science part of clean… the acid and a base taking care of all the elbow grease (and the scum and left-over grease too). However, If you ever see lemons on sale and are cleaning your dishwasher; they will foam up your baking soda just as well as the vinegar. I just prefer the smell.

  16. I recently bought new silverware. The instructions said to not use any kind of cleaning agent with lemon in it or it would ruin the silverware…just FYI

  17. Good stuff!

  18. My aunt has used Tang for years to clean her dishwasher. Now I do the same. Just fill the detergent cavities with tang dry mix and run. Cleans and smells fresh!

    • We do the same thing! It really does work! I was actually reading the posts to see if anyone had suggested it, so thank you Debbie :-)! (Only problem is it’s getting harder and harder to find Tang these days!!! LOL)

  19. I have a winter home in Arizona, so when its time to shut the house up for the long hot summer, I worry about things that could get stinky. Namely the dishwasher! Mine has a lip at the bottom of the door that hides food really well. That lip is not exposed to the regular wash cycle (cheap old DW). Before I leave, I make sure that lip is scrubbed down, now with your handy hints I can do a more thorough job – which is similar to the one I do once a year on my better DW at my permanent home.

  20. I use Kroger’s dishwasher tabs, more like packs really–it’s a lump of powder wrapped in some weird dissolvable plastic. Two packs per wash cycle. I’ve had problems with every other detergent we’ve tried that wasn’t high-end. It leaves residue or dishes don’t get clean enough. Even one Kroger tab/pack doesn’t get dishes clean enough. Two are perfect.

  21. I have switched to cleaning my dishes in the dishwasher using a homemade detergent that doesn’t have harsh chemicals and interestingly, contains unsweetened lemon KoolAid.

  22. my friends mom used Tang powder mix to clean her dishwasher. I tried it, 1 lid full of the powder where soap would go in an empty dishwasher. Boom! I t actually worked! Cleanest I ever saw my dishwasher!!

  23. I use a cheap or off brand of powder dishwasher soap. I was always told if you have hard water and you use one with a higher phosphorous percentage it will help clean your dishes better and cut down on the hard water deposits.

  24. So many well organized cleaning tips!!! You gave me so many ideas for my cleaning routine! You have no idea how grateful I am! Thank you!

  25. Thanks so much for providing a printable version of this instructable. Trying this right now!

  26. Great tips. Thank you for publishing. For very serious crime and mold problems my brother and I took the “dentist office approach.” He had a pressure washer and a wet shop vac handy and we pressure washed the inside of mothers dishwasher while vacuuming up the dirty debris. That was two summers ago and I noticed over Easter that it is building up again. The worst part seems to be around the edge of the door. The grime is so thick it is disgusting and we think our dishes are getting clean! I think I will do that and then use your tip for the vinegar wash.

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  29. I’ve never microwaved them in the husks, always cleaned them first then wrapped them in a damp paper towel and plastic wrap. I’ll have to try them this way next time and save myself the trouble!

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  31. I used cascade for years up until I started having problems with my dishwasher. Started using finish also and have never looked back. You have to make sure your water is also really hot, other words it does not dissolve the the soap. Great tips .

  32. Definitely good info! Thanks!

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