How to Maintain Your Dishwasher–––And Products to Avoid!

Your dishwasher cleans your dishes, but does it clean itself? Sadly, no. Over time, food particles, detergents, and even hard water can build up, creating unpleasant odors and diminishing performance. Consistent cleaning and routine maintenance will help extend the life of this vital kitchen appliance.

Keeping your dishwasher in its best condition starts with developing good habits. Before loading, scrape plates, bowls, pots, and pans to prevent recirculating excess food. Don’t overload your dishwasher with too many items, and don’t use “economy” cycles for heavily soiled dishes.

Daily — If your dishwasher has a visible food trap, try to develop a habit of wiping it clean after each load to remove any food debris, the same way you clean the lint screen of your dryer. It’s surprising how quickly scraps can accumulate if you don't scrape them off before loading.

Weekly — To eliminate odors, clean the parts of your dishwasher that aren’t washed when the appliance runs. In particular, the seal and the edges around the door where food bits may accumulate need to stay sparkling clean.

Monthly — Many dishwashers have removable filters, which should be cleaned monthly. Keeping the drain clear will help avoid a clog and ensure that the cleaning arms can move freely. Check the water jets for any debris or buildup. If needed, use a pipe cleaner or toothpick to clean out any collected residue.

Wipe down the exterior whenever it’s dirty, fingerprinted, or streaked, but at least monthly.

Once a month, run an empty cycle using a dishwasher cleaning product or a DIY option.

Try These Cleaning Products

The materials used to assemble dishwashers vary, so be sure to check your manufacturer’s user manual for specific cleaning instructions.

In general, interior cleaning should be done monthly to keep things fresh and operational. Here are three ways to get a deep clean:

  • Use a commercial dishwasher cleaning product like Affresh, Finish, Lemi Shine, or Plink.
  • Hard water buildup can be remedied with citric acid crystals (also called “sour salt”), which can be purchased in grocery stores, typically in the canning or baking section. Fill the detergent cup with three to four ounces of crystals and run a normal wash cycle, followed by a wash cycle with dishwasher detergent. Repeat the two steps, if necessary, to remove the mineral build-up.
  • Baking soda is a mild abrasive that is safe to use in your dishwasher. Sprinkle a cupful across the bottom of the tub and run a short hot water cycle.

What NOT to Use

Despite numerous websites and DIY channels suggesting you use vinegar to clean a dishwasher, Consumer Reports finds it ineffective and says it may damage rubber components. So, unless your user’s manual specifically states that you can use vinegar, avoid it.

Bleach is risky too! Even though it’s excellent at killing germs, mildew, and mold, bleach can ruin a dishwasher with a stainless steel tub or any stainless-steel parts.

Also, pine-based cleaners are not recommended for food-contact use, so they should not be used in your dishwasher.