Clean dishwasher

How To Clean A Dishwasher With Vinegar, Baking Soda, Or Bleach

The most common cause of dishwasher odor is a clogged drain filter. If your dishwasher has one, it’s most likely located on the bottom rear of the tub. Peterson says to remove this filter and clean it in your kitchen sink with hot soapy water—or your vinegar mixture—and a bottle brush to reach all the crevices.

How to Clean a Dishwasher for Sparkling Clean Dishes

Yes, it washes your dishes, but a dishwasher needs you to wash it. Say goodbye to funky smells, residue, and mold—and hello to fresh and clean.

Wendy Rose Gould is a freelance lifestyle reporter based in Phoenix, Arizona. For the last 10 years, she’s covered beauty, health, wellness, and travel for leading lifestyle outlets, including NBC, The Zoe Report, Bustle, Glam, TripSavvy, and others.

Isaac Winter is a fact-checker and writer for Real Simple, ensuring the accuracy of content published by rigorously researching content before publication and periodically when content needs to be updated. Highlights: Helped establish a food pantry in West Garfield Park as an AmeriCorps employee at Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center. Interviewed Heartland Alliance employees for oral history project conducted by the Lake Forest College History Department. Editorial Head of Lake Forest College’s literary magazine, Tusitala, for two years.

The thought of learning how to clean a dishwasher—a cleaning appliance—seems counterintuitive, yet dishwashers harbor some yucky stuff: funky smells, lingering residue, and even mold. The odor and sight of a dirty dishwasher is off-putting but, more importantly, your machine doesn’t perform well when it’s not clean—the same way your washer won’t work as well unless you’ve periodically run a washing machine cleaner through it. That ultimately translates to dishes that are less than sparkling. The fix: Learn to clean a dishwasher the right way.

“Over time, food particles can accumulate in the drain filter, drain hose, spray arm, or elsewhere in the dishwasher,” notes Vera Peterson, president of Molly Maid, a Neighborly company. “Standing water [or stagnant moisture] can also cause mold to grow inside the dishwasher.”

Deep-cleaning a dishwasher, even the best models, requires some elbow grease, but streaming an upbeat playlist or your favorite podcast can make the task more enjoyable. It will also help extend the life of your dishwasher and keep it running longer. Our experts give the full rundown on how to clean a dishwasher, even if it’s moldy, smelly, or simply isn’t cleaning dishes as well as it should.

How Often to Clean a Dishwasher

Dishwasher cleaning frequency depends on how much it’s used. Generally, Peterson recommends cleaning your machine every two to four months, regardless of whether it’s a built-in or countertop dishwasher. Cleaning expert Jelina Saliu, president of Safely, cleans her dishwasher—which she says is in constant use—once a month.

You know it’s time to clean your dishwasher when you notice any of these:

  • A mildew-y or funky odor
  • Dishes that aren’t getting clean
  • Dishes with white or yellow mineral deposits
  • Dishes that smell
  • A film on the dishwasher’s interior surface
  • Mold

What You Need:

  • Vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Soap
  • Brush or sponge
  • Washcloth
  • Bottle brush
  • Cleaning cloth
  • Store-bought mold cleaner (optional)

How to Clean a Dishwasher With Vinegar and Baking Soda

Step 1: Remove Items

Empty your dishwasher of all dishes and silverware. Remove the racks, too (if possible) to make them easier to clean. (If racks aren’t removable, that’s OK.)

Step 2: Wash Racks and the Door Gasket

Use hot soapy water and a scrub brush to clean the rack and door gaskets. Alternatively, generously spray them with equal parts vinegar and water, and then gently scrub.

Step 3: Scrub Interior Walls

Constant use causes soap scum and grime to accumulate on the dishwasher’s walls and door. “Scrubbing them down with hot soapy water and a cloth or scrub brush can make a huge difference,” says Peterson.

Step 4: Clean the Dishwasher Filter

The most common cause of dishwasher odor is a clogged drain filter. If your dishwasher has one, it’s most likely located on the bottom rear of the tub. Peterson says to remove this filter and clean it in your kitchen sink with hot soapy water—or your vinegar mixture—and a bottle brush to reach all the crevices.

Step 5: Clear the Drain

With the filter removed, proceed to cleaning the dishwasher drain. Remove any food particles or buildup, and then use a sponge and hot soapy water—or your vinegar mixture—to clean. Next, rinse and re-insert the filter.

Step 6: Run Two Cycles

To fully clean your dishwasher, run two separate cycles: one with vinegar and one with baking soda. “For the first cycle, place a bowl filled with distilled white vinegar on the top rack of the dishwasher and run a normal cycle,” says Peterson. “Then, pour a cup of baking soda into the bottom of the dishwasher and run a second cycle.”

Step 7: Clean the Exterior

While your dishwasher is running, tackle the exterior. For stainless steel, use a stainless steel cleaner and wipe dry with a lint-free cloth. For plastic or glass surfaces, wipe with a damp cloth and a drop of detergent, and then rinse with a damp cloth and dry. For a glass exterior, you can also use a glass cleaner and lint-free cloth.

How to Clean a Moldy Dishwasher

Our cleaning pros say you can follow the same steps as above to clean a moldy dishwasher, but it’s important to wear gloves and a mask for safety as you work. For pervasive mold, use a store-bought, mold-targeting dishwasher cleaner (instead of vinegar, baking soda, and soap). After the cycle runs, keep your dishwasher open to air-dry, which further discourages mold and mildew growth.

How to Prevent a Smelly Dishwasher

Whenever you combine water and food particles, smells are bound to happen. Follow these tips to keep odors at bay and help your dishwasher stay clean for longer:

  • Thoroughly rinse dishes and silverware before placing them in the dishwasher.
  • Deep-clean your dishwasher once every one to four months.
  • Clean the dishwasher drain and filter at least once a month.
  • Run vinegar and baking soda cycles every two weeks.
  • Double-check that water used in the dishwasher is running hot.
  • Don’t run other hot-water appliances while the washer runs (to avoid diverting resources).
  • When not in use, keep your dishwasher cracked open to prevent mildew and mold.
  • When not used for an extended period (like when you’re on vacation), place newspaper and/or a bowl of baking soda in the dishwasher.

How To Clean A Dishwasher With Vinegar, Baking Soda, Or Bleach

Do you ever load your dishwasher, run it with your favorite, reliable detergent, and then find that your glasses are cloudy? If that scenario sounds familiar, it’s time to clean your dishwasher. While you may keep your windows shiny, your floors spic and span, and your heirloom family silver looking like it’s brand new, it may not occur to you to wash the machine that washes your dishes. Dishwashers really do need the occasional cleaning, though, because over time grease, soap scum, and food debris can build up, reducing efficiency and providing a breeding ground for germs.

I have a confession to make: I’m 30 years old, and I’ve never once cleaned my dishwasher. In fact, I didn’t even know that you’re supposed to clean your dishwasher frequently until I interviewed Amanda Poole, merchant of dishwashers and disposers at The Home Depot, for this story. Below, I’ve covered everything you (and I!) need to know about how often and how to clean your dishwasher for sparkling dishware after every cycle.

How Often To Clean Your Dishwasher

According to Poole, you should be thoroughly cleaning your dishwasher every month, including the entire interior, door, gasket, and filter. “If you only use your dishwasher occasionally or prewash your dishes, you might not need to clean it that often,” she says. “But don’t let it go without a cleaning for longer than six months.”

Cleaning a dishwasher is a key preventative step in home maintenance. “If you habitually put this chore off, unwanted residue like minerals, grease, grime, and limescale will build up inside your unit,” she says. “Over time, it will become less effective, compromising its effectiveness over time.” Not only that, but poor performance might lead to costly repairs that could be avoided if you clean your appliance regularly.

Empty Dishwasher

What You Need

  • White vinegar
  • Dishwasher-safe bowl
  • Hot water
  • Optional: baking soda or bleach
  • Soft-bristle brush
  • Toothpicks
  • Toothbrush
  • Clean cloth

How To Clean Your Dishwasher With Vinegar

Vinegar is natural and safe to use in your dishwasher and works well as a DIY dishwasher cleaner. “First, empty the dishwasher, then put one cup of white vinegar in a dishwasher-safe bowl and place it on the top rack of the dishwasher,” explains Poole. “Run the hottest cycle on the dishwasher. Skip the drying cycle and open the dishwasher door to let it air-dry.” Make sure to skip the detergent during this cycle.

To clean removable dishwasher parts with vinegar, Poole suggests filling your sink half-full of warm water and adding two cups of white vinegar. “Place the parts in the sink and let them soak for 20 minutes,” she says. “Then rinse them and put them back in place.”

How To Clean With Baking Soda

You can also sprinkle one cup of baking soda on the floor of an empty dishwasher and run a short cycle on the hottest setting without detergent to clean the interior and kill odors. “As with cleaning a dishwasher with vinegar, skip the drying cycle and let the dishwasher air dry,” says Poole. “Using vinegar and baking soda are easy, effective ways to clean inside a dishwasher, but do not use them together at the same time—clean with the vinegar first and then with the baking soda.”

How To Clean With Bleach

According to Poole, cleaning a dishwasher with bleach can deep clean the interior and remove tough stains, mold, and mildew. No detergent is needed for this cleaning cycle. “Pour one cup of bleach into a dishwasher-safe, bleach-safe bowl and place it on the top rack of your dishwasher,” she says. “Then run a full cycle but skip the drying cycle.”

It’s important to note that you should not use bleach in a stainless-steel dishwasher or a dishwasher that contains stainless-steel parts, as bleach will damage it. “Also, avoid bleaching at the same time you clean with baking soda or vinegar,” says Poole.

How To Clean The Dishwasher Drain With Vinegar

Cleaning your dishwasher drain trap requires a bit more care than cleaning your overall dishwasher. “First, put one cup of white vinegar in a large, microwave-safe bowl, then heat it in the microwave for 15 to 20 seconds so it is slightly warm,” suggests Poole. “Take the bowl out of the microwave and stir in two tablespoons of baking soda.” Pour the mixture into the drain at the bottom of the dishwasher, and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes.

In the meantime, boil a kettle of water. “Just as the boil is dying down, carefully pour the water down the dishwasher drain to help clear out any debris or clogs,” says Poole. “Do this slowly, taking care not to get splashed with the hot water.” If you have a garbage disposal, make sure that it’s also clean and running well, as dishwasher clogs and draining problems can sometimes be traced to a clogged or dirty garbage disposal.

Tips To Keep Your Dishwasher Clean Longer

If you want to keep your dishwasher clean for longer periods of time, it’s important to clean the dishwasher filter often. “Cleaning your dishwasher’s filter after each use is a simple and quick step that will keep your dishwasher cleaner longer,” explains Poole. “Wash the filter by hand in warm, soapy water, then gently scrub it with a small, soft-bristle brush if there are stuck-on food particles. Rinse the filters thoroughly under warm running water and replace them.”

Another great tip from Poole to prolong cleaning is to prewash your dishes and remove food residue prior to running the dishwasher. However, some higher-end models have built-in food waste components, so prewashing is not required.

How To Get Rid Of Smells In The Dishwasher

If you’ve neglected cleaning your appliance, dishwashers can grow stinky from trapped food particles, bacterial growth, and mildew. If yours has developed an unpleasant odor, start by cleaning the drain trap and clearing any clogs from the spray arms with a toothpick. Then run the dishwasher according to our directions, first with vinegar to cut through grease and soap scum, then with baking soda to neutralize smells. Open the door after each cycle runs to air-dry the interior.

How To Prevent Smells In The Dishwasher

To keep your dishwasher smelling clean for longer, make sure to clean any trapped food from the silverware baskets, bottom of the dishwasher, and filter each day. Keep the door open after each cycle to let it air-dry. A few times a year, clean mildew and mold build-up around the door gaskets using a toothbrush dipped into a mixture of half a cup of vinegar and three cups of hot water. Wipe away any remaining grime.

Frequently Asked Questions

According to, mold is a “species of microscopic fungi,” while mildew is a specific type of mold or fungus. Mildew thrives in areas with high moisture levels and can cause a musty odor in unaired places.

How do you know if there is mold in your dishwasher?

Most dishwashers have some degree of mold since it is a moist and hot enclosed environment. A musty odor, and visible evidence, signify the presence of mold, but microscopic mold most likely exists before these signs are evident.