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How to clean a dishwasher: 5 easy steps for sparkling clean pots

Dishwasher starting to smell or leaving pots unclean? It may be in need of some serious TLC. Here's how to give your dishwasher a good scrub, plus tips for keeping it healthy and hygienic between deep cleans.

By Natasha Gregson | Last updated Feb 21, 2024

Man loading dishwasher

Whether your pots have started to come out of your dishwasher with a grimy film, or you've noticed a peculiar smell when loading in your dishes, it may be time to give your trusty appliance a good clean. Busy parents often use them daily, and it can be easy to forget that even the best dishwasher requires regular cleaning to perform at its best. A clean dishwasher not only ensures that your dishes come out sparkling clean, but it can also make your appliance last for longer too.

Plus, let's face it, kitchen appliances are pretty pricey, so whether it's your dishwasher or your fridge freezer, you want to keep them clean, hygienic and running well for as long as possible. We know that yet another cleaning task on your to-do list may not sound so appealing, but fortunately cleaning your dishwasher is a simple process that can be done in just five easy steps.

From cleaning the filter to giving it a more thorough going over, here's how you can have a sparkling clean dishwasher.

How often to clean your dishwasher

This really depends on how frequently you use your dishwasher, the hardness of your water, and other factors such as the type of detergent you use.

As a general rule, it's a good idea to properly clean a full-sized or slimline dishwasher at least once a month, but there are things you can do weekly or even daily to keep it clean.

Also, if you have a large family and use your dishwasher more frequently or you live in a hard water area (you can check that here), you may need to clean it more often. Hard water can cause mineral deposits to build up in your dishwasher, which can lead to clogs and even damage over time.

If you notice any of the signs that your dishwasher needs cleaning, such as a bad smell or residue on your dishes, it's important to clean it as soon as you can using the best dishwasher cleaner or even vinegar (more on that below). Waiting too long to clean your dishwasher can make the task even more difficult and grim - and nobody wants to make a cleaning job harder!

Related: The best oven cleaner, as recommended by Mumsnet users

How to clean your dishwasher

Open dishwasher

1. Remove the bottom rack and clear residue

To keep your machine running smoothly and to make sure you're getting the most out of your best dishwasher tablets, it's important to remove any food residue after each wash. The thought of an extra daily cleaning task may understandably fill you with dread, but this is a speedy, easy process that can be done in minutes.

When your dishwasher is empty, open it, pull out the bottom rack, and check the bottom of the machine for any hidden food debris. Use a damp cloth or sponge to wipe away any residue, paying special attention to the edges and corners of the dishwasher.

That's it! It's a quick task, and one that can prevent a foul-smelling build-up, ensuring your dishwasher is always ready for its next load.

What Mumsnet users say

"Mine gets grungy round the edges... so I do a periodical minesweep round the corners with a cloth and cleaner too." nobutreally

2. Clean the filter regularly, about once a week

In addition to removing residue after each wash, it's important to clean your dishwasher's filter on a weekly basis. The filter is responsible for catching any food particles or debris, and a dirty filter can lead to poor performance and even damage to your dishwasher. Not to mention, the longer you leave it, the more grimy and unpleasant it'll be when you get round to cleaning it.

To clean the filter, start by locating it at the bottom of your dishwasher (check the manual if you're not sure where it is - they're usually found just underneath the spray arm). Most filters can be easily removed by turning them counterclockwise and lifting them out.

Once you've removed the filter, rinse it under hot water to remove any debris. If the filter is particularly dirty, soak it in a solution of hot water and dish soap for a few minutes before rinsing it clean.

Before replacing it, take a moment to clean out any debris from the filter and place this gunk the kitchen bin. Using a damp cloth, sponge or toothbrush, wipe away any residue, making sure you thoroughly clean the hard-to-reach crevices where residue can sit.

Finally, replace the filter by turning it clockwise until it clicks into place.

What Mumsnet users say

"I clean the filter every few days, the rims weekly, and use a cleaner every six to eight weeks." ICJump

"I take the spray arms off and clean them every other day or so. I do the filter once or twice a week and use a dishwasher cleaner every couple of weeks." Geepers

Related: On the hunt for new appliances? We've got the lowdown on the best freezer and American fridge freezer for effective frozen food storage

3. Give the exterior and interior a wipe down

Woman loading dishwasher

It's also important to wipe down the interior and exterior of your freestanding or integrated dishwasher regularly to keep it in tip-top condition. This includes the door (inside and outside), and the dispenser. We'd recommend doing this once a week.

To clean the interior of your dishwasher, use a damp cloth or sponge to wipe down surfaces, paying special attention to the edges and corners of the machine. For hard-to-reach areas, use a toothbrush or small brush to scrub away any debris. Make sure you clean the dispenser where you put the dishwasher tablets too - gunk can easily build up here.

To clean the exterior of your dishwasher, use a damp cloth to wipe down the front and sides of the appliance to get them gleaming. If there are any stubborn stains or marks, use a mild cleaning solution and a soft-bristled brush to gently scrub the area. Make sure you clean around any control buttons or dials too - a toothbrush is good for reaching residue around them.

Finally, don't forget to wipe down the dishwasher door, including the seal. This is an area that can easily collect residue and grime, so be sure to pay extra attention to the edges and hard-to-reach spots.

What Mumsnet users say

"I wipe round the door trim almost daily when I’m doing a clean up of the kitchen." e1y1

"In between [deep cleans I] empty and rinse out the filter, wipe around with white vinegar, including door edges, and check spray arms for blockages." LIZS

Related: The best glass cleaner for keeping windows and mirrors sparkling

4. Clean the spray arms

The rotating spray arms on your dishwasher are essential for keeping pots and glassware looking impressively shiny; they release water during a cycle to clean your load. They have tiny holes that distributes this water around the machine. However, these are very easily clogged up with residue, and hard to clean with a simple wipe.

To keep them all spick and span, start by removing them from the dishwasher. Most spray arms can be unscrewed to be released, although check your dishwasher's manual if you're unsure.

Once they're out, rinse them under hot water to remove any debris. If there are any stubborn clogs in the small holes, use a toothpick to remove the blockage. You can also use a small flexible wire for this too. Then, give them another quick rinse, dry them off (see our best tea towels for absorbent options), and pop back in the dishwasher, locking them into place ready for your next load.

What Mumsnet users say

"Have you checked the spray arms for pine nuts, bits of sweetcorn etc blocking the holes? If you tap them hard on the side of the sink it can be amazing what comes out." ogredownstairs

"I've got a Bosch (15-years-old and still going strong!) and get the same problem [not cleaning effectively]. It's almost always the spray arms either being blocked or being fouled by something." IDontDoIroning

"One tip I'd give is to clean the seals with an old toothbrush. Lord I was ashamed of what came out of mine recently and the results are now infinitely better." BitOutOfPractice

Related: Best placemats for stylish table settings

5. Run a cycle with vinegar or a dishwasher cleaner

Best slimline dishwashers

The last step of your dishwasher cleaning journey is to give it a good deep clean once a month. While this may sound labour intensive, it's actually pretty simple, and once you've added dishwasher cleaner or vinegar and set a cycle, you can put your feet up and leave your dishwasher to work its magic.

To run a cycle with vinegar, start by pouring a cup of white vinegar into a dishwasher-safe container. Place it, facing upwards, on the top rack. Then, run a normal cycle using hot water. For extra cleaning power, you can also follow it up with a quick cycle, adding a cup full of baking soda on the bottom level to really get those pots sparkling.

Alternatively, you can use a dishwasher cleaner - Amazon has a good selection here - but vinegar will be a cheaper option. If you do use a specific cleaner, just make sure you follow the instructions, and use the advised amount - too much detergent can sometimes cause build-up issues in appliances too.

One thing to absolutely avoid, however, is bleach. While we know many Mumsnet users swear by it for cleaning, the dishwasher is an area that should stay bleach-free as it can damage your machine.

What Mumsnet users say

"I cut a lemon in half and shove it on the top and put about 200ml white wine vinegar in a measuring jug at the bottom and put it on a really hot pan wash with nothing else in it about every six weeks or so (after I’ve cleaned the filter out yet again!). It’s loads cheaper than the dishwasher cleaners." PipsM

"I use white vinegar, Good for limescale and getting rid of smells. Do clean the seals regularly, they get disgusting!" LuxuryWoman2017

Tips to keep a dishwasher cleaner for longer

If the thought of cleaning out your dishwasher filter sounds like a housework nightmare, and you're considering if hand washing and leaving your pots out on a dish rack to dry is actually the better option after all, fear not. The more effort you make to regularly maintain your dishwasher, the less off-putting the build-up can be. Here are some simple steps for keeping on top of things to make cleaning your dishwasher easier in the long run:

  • Scrape plates after mealtimes: Remove as much leftover food as possible from your plates before popping them in the dishwasher.

  • Be careful about the cleaning products you use: Avoid using abrasive or harsh cleaners on the interior or exterior of your dishwasher, as this can damage the machine over time. Vinegar is a good, cheap option that you may already have in your home.

  • Check the manual: We know it can be boring trawling through instructions, but every machine is different, and there may be specific cleaning and maintenance recommendations in there.

  • Clean it regularly: Keep on top of cleaning your dishwasher on a regular basis to avoid making things more difficult. For example, if a splatter of pasta sauce gets onto the door, clean it there and then. You'll have to remove it eventually, and doing it quickly can be easier than if it becomes dried on and needs a scrub.

Read next: The best mini fridge for compact cooling