In theory, your dishwasher should be constantly cleaning itself — but sadly, it isn't. Over time, bits of food, grease, undissolved detergent and water minerals build up on the dishwasher's filter and interior walls. Along with an unpleasant smell and look, this gunk can actually leave spots and film on your glassware, dinnerware and flatware. In short, that means if you don't clean your dishwasher correctly, your appliance can't fully do its job, no matter how carefully you load it. Plus, if you let the food and grime build up, it can damage the dishwasher's filter and pump, ultimately resulting in costly repairs.
In the Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab, we have lots of experience keeping dishwashers clean. Along one wall in our Lab, we have stations to hold six full-size dishwashers for testing, and new models are constantly coming in and going out. After testing hundreds of dishwashers, dishwasher detergents and dishwasher cleaners, we've also uncovered the best methods to keep a dishwasher clean and odor-free.
As with most things, regular maintenance makes the job easier but there are some preventative steps you can take to help keep your dishwasher's interior clean. Use a quality dishwasher detergent and rinse aid, like those from GH Seal star Cascade, with ingredients to help wash away deposits. If you live in an area with hard water, consider installing a whole-home water softener (it will help keep your shower cleaner and laundry softer, too) or adding salt to your dishwasher (if you have a model that accepts it) to help prevent spotting on glassware and mineral build-up inside your dishwasher. Popping the door open at the end of a cycle helps to prevent stale odors, too.
How often should you clean your dishwasher?
Depending on how often you use it, here are the things to do daily, weekly and monthly to keep your dishwasher clean:
- Daily: Remove visible bits of food
- Weekly: Wipe down the door edges and gasket of any debris and remove and clean the filter
- Monthly: Deep clean the interior
- As needed: Clean the exterior, edges and interior of drips and spots
Can you clean your dishwasher with bleach?
No, bleach is not recommended, especially if the dishwasher has a stainless steel interior. Some dishwasher detergents contain bleach, but that's to remove tea and coffee stains from cups and other dinnerware. And do not use bleach with vinegar — the combination of the two can create potentially lethal chlorine gas.
How to clean your dishwasher daily, weekly, and monthly:
Here's our in-depth step-by-step guide to learn how to clean a dishwasher, whether you're looking to de-gunk the gasket, filter or door or just do some daily maintenance to keep odors at bay:
The root of most odor problems is usually leftover food that has turned your dishwasher into a second garbage disposal. Get in the habit of cleaning any remaining bits of foods after each dishwashing cycle. Pull out the bottom rack and look for any leftover food that may have fallen into the well. Remove it with your fingers or a paper towel to prevent odors and future buildup.
GH Lab Tip: We generally don't recommend that you pre-wash items, but do wipe excess food from plates, silverware, bowls and other items before loading them into the dishwasher. If you don't plan to run a cycle immediately, rinse them quickly at the sink or run a Rinse Only cycle to prevent unwanted smells. Also, always remove any labels or stickers from jars you may be reusing before putting the item into the dishwasher to prevent them from clogging the filter.
To clean the door:
- Wipe away any residue and spots that may have splashed or settled onto the interior surface of the door, door edges, handle and dishwasher controls with a damp microfiber cloth or sponge.
To clean the door gasket:
- Gently scrub any icky gunk from the rubber seal using an old soft toothbrush.
- Wipe clean with a damp cloth or paper towel.
GH Lab Tip: Avoid using a bleach-based cleaner if the interior of your dishwasher is stainless steel. Check your owner's manual before using hydrogen peroxide to remove mold or mildew.
If your dishwasher filter isn't clean, nothing else will be. The filter is found below the bottom spray arm — you'll need to pull out the bottom rack to get to it. If you're not sure how to remove it, check the owner’s manual or manufacturer’s website for details. To eliminate pesky spots on future loads:
- Unlock and remove the filter and rinse it under hot running water.
- Using a soft toothbrush, scrub the mesh screen and plastic frame to remove any grease or particles stuck in the crevices. Then, rinse it clean.
- Lock the filter back into place.
GH Lab Tip: Do not operate your dishwasher without the filter properly locked in place, as you can cause severe damage to your machine and possibly void the warranty.
Once per month, it's important to get down and dirty to remove any trapped particles, mineral buildup and detergent residue hiding in your machine's internal parts. Dishwasher cleaners, like Good Housekeeping Seal star Cascade, are an easy fix as they contain surfactants that dissolve and clean away trapped food bits and greasy residue.
GH Lab Tip: Check the instructions before using any commercial dishwasher cleaner. Most require an empty dishwasher, but some can be used in the same cycle with dishes and detergent for even more convenient cleaning.
If you opt to take the DIY route to fight residue and buildup, go with vinegar in an empty dishwasher.
- To clean with vinegar, place a dishwasher-safe bowl filled with one cup of distilled white vinegar on the top rack and run a normal (hot) cycle without detergent or dishes.
- To clean your dishwasher with vinegar and baking soda for extra freshening, after running the vinegar cycle, sprinkle a cup of baking soda in the bottom of your empty dishwasher, and run a short hot cycle.
Fingerprints make any surface look dull and grimy, but they really stand out — in a bad way — on stainless steel appliances.
Some dishwasher models sport fingerprint-resistant finishes, but not all. That's why we suggest using a stainless steel cleaner like GH Seal Star Weiman to shine up your dishwasher door and impart a protective finish. Not only does it leave behind a streak-free shine, but it contains ingredients to help repel future dirt and smudges. And the Weiman Stainless Steel Microfiber Cloth, also a GH Seal star, is double-sided and in our test, cleaned and polished easily and without streaking.
GH Lab Tip: Stay away from abrasive cleaners or pads that can scratch and mar your dishwasher's exterior. Always clean and wipe stainless steel in the direction of the metal's grain to avoid streaks.