How to Clean Your Dishwasher {The Household Organization Diet}

Okay, so today we are going to be cleaning our dishwashers. Honestly I don’t think that I have ever really thought about cleaning our dishwasher in the 9 years that we have owned it other than the occasional wipe down. Yes, there were some hard water stains on it but the dishes seemed to come out clean and there were no bad smells. Should be fine, right?

Well, apparently we should be cleaning our dishwashers to optimize its efficiency and remove all of the built up debris and deposits.  I must say that I was rather surprised at all of the gunk I found.  Serious YUCK!!
How to Clean your Dishwasher.
Cleaning Supplies:
  • microfiber cloth
  • vinegar
  • vinegar and water spray bottle
  • toothbrush
  • Scotch Brite Scrubber {I love using this filled with water and vinegar – works great in the bathroom too!}
  • paper towels {I do try to use my cloths as much as possible but I did use some paper towels on the extremely gunky areas}.
Here’s what you need to do:
  • Empty your dishwasher and remove the bottom rack and silverware holder.  I also removed the little top from the rinse holder.  Wash all parts with vinegar and a little bit of dishsoap.
  • Take a close look around the drain at the bottom of your dishwasher and make sure that no debris has accumulated here.  I found a nice big chunk of plastic wrap.  Remove any parts that can be easily removed.   I wouldn’t recommend that you remove any more parts unless you know what you are doing and your dishwasher is unplugged!  Wash parts with water and vinegar and replace.
How to Clean your Dishwasher.
  • If you are wondering about all of that gunk in the picture, our detergent dispenser has not been working for years – we just throw in a dishwasher pack into the bottom of the dishwasher when we run it.  Apparently we haven’t opened it up in a while as it was filled with sludge. {this picture was taken after I had already cleaned some of it out!}  I will now be checking this regularly! :)
  •  Check all of the holes in the spinning arms.  They should all be open so that water can easily pass through.  Use some tweezers or a toothpick to remove any gunk.  {no gunk on mine!}
  • Wipe down the edges of the door and around the gasket with the water and vinegar spray and a microfiber cloth.  These spaces don’t actually get washed during the dishwasher cycle.  Use your toothbrush to get into all of the little areas.  I also removed the rubber plug that was at the bottom of the dishwasher on either side to clean inside it.  More YUCK!!!
How to Clean your Dishwasher.
  • IMPORTANT: Make sure that you don’t miss cleaning under the bottom of the door.  I couldn’t get any pictures of it but it was by far the grimiest area.
  • Run your garburator {garbage disposal} prior to running the dishwasher to help clear the pipes {you can read more about cleaning the garburator here}.
  • Since we had the hard water buildup, I used the Scotch Brite filled with water and vinegar to scrub over areas that had extra buildup.
  • I may have gone a bit overboard with vinegar on the next step but I placed about 1-2 cups of vinegar in the bottom of the dishwasher and about 1 cup in a glass on the top rack of the dishwasher and ran it through a complete cycle {on the hottest wash}.  I also poured some vinegar down the rinse aid spout. I paused the cycle about half way through and let the vinegar sit for about 30 minutes.
How to Clean your Dishwasher
  • Although the dishwasher was definitely much cleaner after this step, as you can see, there were still some hard water stains left {although they were much fainter}.  Just for fun I decided to run the cycle through again with lemon juice {you can also use unsweetened lemonaid or lemon Kool-Aid}.   I did love the nice smell but it really didn’t make much difference with the residual hard water stains.  I even tried my Norwex micro pad but no luck.  I guess it is pretty hard to erase 9 years of hard water stains!
  • Wipe down the outside of your dishwasher with the vinegar and water spray and a microfiber cloth.  Pay extra attention to the buttons and knobs {you may need to get your toothbrush in here too!}
  • If you want to clean your toothbrush that you just used to clean the dishwasher, place it in the next dishwasher cycle to disinfect it {and add your scrub brushes while you are at it!}
This will be one task that I will be adding to my monthly routine {on a smaller scale!}  Now that I know the build up areas, I can give them a quick wipe down then do the wash cycle of vinegar or lemon juice to give it a good clean. And hopefully I will not have to deal with that gunk build up again!


  1. says

    I have a question! Did the vinegar take off what you labelled in one photo serious yuck? I have that on mine, and I have scrubbed it with baking soda and vinegar to no avail. I have run it with a cup of vinegar in it, but not three cups. Maybe I should try that? I have thought about breaking down and using bleach, but the thought of bleach in a dishwasher freaks me out. It seems really baked on!

  2. says

    Also that rectangle thing at the top of the dish washer door. I took a butter knife and pryed it off and was REALLY suprised all the gunk under it…

  3. says

    It looks like we have the same dishwashwer. I was having serious troubles with my dishes coming out dirtier than when I loaded the machine. My husband and I took apart and cleaned all the same parts you did, but we also removed the vent cover on the inside of the door (really really really gross) and then we also found that the clips that hold the top rack on the rails held a gross amount of grossness, and the clips that stop the top rack from being removed from the rails. After cleaning these, our problem was solved, now I clean these parts every month or so and my dishes are coming out clean again.

  4. says

    It’s amazing how gross it gets in there, isn’t it? Periodically I run the dishwasher empty with a little bit of bleach in it. That’s probably against the rules but it sure helps.

  5. says

    Love washing it down with vinegar. A tip from our service tech about vinegar… never use it with detergent it neutralizes the detergent and causes major build up(he had to use a chisel and vacuum cleaner on our dishwasher)…. big problem. Using vinegar on an empty dishwasher for sanitizing, is fine.

    I use a product called Lemishine. Not affiliated just really love it! I use their detergent, more as an occasional boost, their rinse aid is far superior to other big brands, and their machine cleaner. Keeps dishes shiny, and machine stays much cleaner. My dishes were all cloudy, after using Lemishine on them once, it was awesome, they shined. I hesitantly told my SIL about it, and she is the most skeptical person out there. She texted so thrilled about it, and THANKED me for sharing. She never contacts me. Tells you it works. It’s under $5 too!! it is so helpful with hard water issues.

  6. Janis says

    My apt. Dishwasher is two years old. We hardly use it my husband clean the food trap out once. We always clean pots and plates the few times we used it. Today clean out frig. Decided to do a load in washer instead of hand washing ohhh, the stagnate water when the washer was on could choke you. Had to take out everything and hand wash got on line to see what this could be found this site plus others I never had this problem with our old dishw. These new ones are the pits did not know garbage disposal and dishw. was on the same line ugh. But found out the remedy made sure no kinks in hose and no Glinka on food trap these new washers keep 1/4 inch of water supposedly in the bottom of washer to prime for next cycle . But if your like me and don t need to use it everyday, then first to clean and get rid of smelly water put bleach in a glass(not plastic) glass! Run it through a wash then put vinegar in a glass, run it through a cycle also cut up a lemon every now and then and put it in your disposal ,advise from my apt. Maintance guy I do use garbage disposal so this helps.

    • Jenn says

      Thanks for the tip! Our dishwasher definitely gets used on a daily basis so I have not had to worry about that. ;)

  7. says

    Fantastic information. I have never clean my dishwasher. You inspired me to do it. It looks soooo easy job. I am going to follow your advices because there is a big chance to miss a spot. Thank you so much for sharing your post! Greetings!

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