Quite possibly the hardest-working appliance in your kitchen, the dishwasher seems positively magical: Load with dirty dishes from a dinner party, put in the dishwashing tablet, press the on button, and two hours later – presto! – your dishes come out spotless. Your dishwasher must be a pretty clean place, right? Wrong.

I used to think my dishwasher was clean – that is, until I found mac and cheese from last Wednesday's dinner crusted onto a glass I put in there on Friday. Gross.

Turns out your dishwasher needs a good once-over every so often to make sure it's doing its job efficiently. Here's how to clean a dishwasher in a few simple steps:

  1. First, take out all the removable parts. I had to refer to my manual for this one. It isn't just the spinning arms that need cleaning. There's actually a filter in the bottom that needs to be removed from time to time and cleaned out. That filter is where caked-on food goes to die … or just sit. Once all the pieces are cleaned out (you can use vinegar and hot water, paper towels, and even toothpicks for this purpose), reassemble them in the dishwasher (once again, refer to the manual if you're having trouble).
  2. Then, pour some vinegar in the bottom of the dishwasher – a cup or two should do the job, turn the water on in your faucet until it gets hot, and then start the dishwasher cycle. Stop it halfway through to let the vinegar on the bottom soak for 15-20 minutes and then complete the cycle. The vinegar will help to remove any grease, soap scum, or debris hiding in the corners and crevices of your dishwasher.
  3. Once you've run a vinegar cycle, wipe down the interior of the dishwasher, and sprinkle some baking soda on the bottom of the dishwasher, let it sit a few hours or overnight, and then run the dishwasher on the hottest cycle again. This will help deodorize your dishwasher and get it smelling fresh again.
Some tips to keep in mind for daily maintenance of your dishwasher:
  • If you want to rinse off the big chunks of food first before you put dishes in, please do, but you don't have to scrub them completely clean. Dishwashers actually rely on grease and dirt to do their job. Weird, but true.
  • Also, run the water in your sink until it gets hot before you start the dishwasher. This will ensure that you have the hottest water possible cleaning your dishes, which will get the job done more efficiently.
  • Run your disposal before you start a cycle. The drains from the dishwasher and the disposal are connected, so if your disposal is full of old food, it can push dirty water back into your dishwasher, essentially nullifying a cleaning cycle. Yuck.
  • Also, occasionally wipe down the gaskets of your dishwasher and the bottom of the door with some vinegar on a rag. These areas don't usually get any water sprayed on them so food and debris can collect there. Also, don't load dishes too tightly. Dishwashers clean by spraying water on the dishes and if it can’t get to them – it isn't gonna clean them very well!
Some people say that Lemon Kool-Aid or Tang can work to clean your dishwasher. I for one, have never tried this, probably because I can't wrap my head around using something to clean that has stained my children's face and clothes. Go figure. If you're sick of washing dishes altogether, be sure to check out these (positively magical) dishes that clean themselves. Happy cleaning!
How to clean a dishwasher
Your dishwasher needs a good once-over every so often to make sure it's doing its job efficiently. Here's how to clean a dishwasher in a few simple steps.