Clean Team: How to Deep Clean Your Dishwasher the Right Way

It might seem counterintuitive to clean your dishwasher—doesn’t it clean itself during a wash cycle?—but performing a thorough cleanse every couple of months will extend the life of your appliance.

After a multi-course feast with friends or even a simple weeknight dinner with family, the last thing you want to do is spend an hour scrubbing away at all of the dishes and silverware. Dishwashers are the MVPs of the kitchen, tackling all of the hard cleaning work while you retire to the couch, so it’s a good idea to say “thank you” to your dishwasher now and then with a deep clean. Help it perform at its best so you can relax and put your feet up after dinner.

Ready to tackle your first deep clean, but not quite sure where to begin? Have no fear—we’re here to help you every step of the way.

Gather your supplies

Luckily, most of the items you need to clean your dishwasher are already in your pantry—but if they’re not, we’ve got you covered with the essentials:

Deep clean your dishwasher in 7 easy steps

Now that you’ve got your gear ready, it’s time to get down to business. Set aside some time after your next wash cycle is complete and follow these steps to hit refresh on your dishwasher.

Completely empty the dishwasher.

Once all of the dishes have been put away, remove the racks, utensil tray, and basket to open up your workspace and help you tackle all of the nooks and crannies. If your utensil tray has seen better days, fill up the sink with warm, soapy water and let it soak while you clean the rest of the dishwasher.

Wash the filter and spray arms.

Check the spray arms to make sure all of the holes are cleared and scrape out any debris with a toothpick. Finish with a quick rinse with soapy water and follow the same process with the filter.

Clean out the drain.

This area of your dishwasher can easily become clogged with stickers from jars and dishes, as well as rogue food particles. Clear the clutter by mixing together a paste of baking soda and water and use a toothbrush to scrub the paste around the drain.

Run a wash cycle.

Get rid of funky smells by sprinkling a few tablespoons of baking soda in the bottom of the machine before running. Alternatively, you can run a cup of white vinegar through your dishwasher on a normal cycle to kill mildew and keep soap buildup at bay. Beware of bleach! Do NOT use bleach if your dishwasher has a stainless-steel interior.

Wipe down the seals.

Soak a damp cloth in white vinegar and a few squirts of lemon juice and take a pass around the seal. For tighter areas, break out the toothbrush again.

Remove hard water deposits.

If you notice a whitish-gray residue on the walls of your dishwasher, it may be mineral buildup that has calcified from your tap water. To remove, simply pour two cups of white vinegar into a glass or bowl, place the container at the bottom of your dishwasher, and run one cycle on low wash. Stop the machine halfway through so the vinegar can set on the bottom, let it sit for 20 minutes, and then finish the cycle.

Polish the exterior.

Restore your dishwasher’s sparkling exterior by wiping down the outside with a sponge. If your dishwasher is stainless steel, spritz some glass cleaner on a paper towel or soft cloth and apply (avoid spraying cleaner directly on the washer so the moisture doesn’t damage the electronic controls).

Keep your dishwasher running smoothly

Maximize your time between deep cleans with a few tips and tricks to ensure your dishwasher performs at its best.

Load it properly.

Believe it or not, there is a rhyme and reason to how you should position items in your dishwasher. Giving your dishes and cutlery enough space allows the water and detergent to do its job, and cuts down on the chance that you’ll have to run an additional cycle.

Place small items in the top rack.

Cups, glasses, and small bowls can go in the top rack, as well as dishwasher-safe plastics to prevent them from getting warped by the heat source.

Position larger items in the bottom rack.

Plates can go in the bottom rack, in addition to oversize items such as platters and dishwasher-safe cutting boards. Position these larger items around the sides and toward the back so they don’t block water and detergent.

Handle your silverware.

While forks and spoons should be loaded with the handles facing down, knives should go handles up to avoid cutting yourself as you remove them. If you have an open basket, mix up your silverware to prevent the spoons from nesting inside each other and restricting water flow.

Don’t overfill or underfill it.

It can be tempting to pack your dishwasher to the brim (especially after a big meal with lots of plates and bowls), but if your washer is too full the water won’t have enough space to circulate and provide a thorough clean. On the other hand, you might feel the urge to run a half-full dishwasher if you’re hit with a sudden ice cream craving and have run out of spoons. Avoid excess water waste by hand-washing the necessities and waiting until the washer is fully loaded to run it.

Scrape off excess food.

Make sure all of the larger pieces of food go into the trash but don’t worry about getting every last bit. Pre-rinsing dishes too well can actually trick your dishwasher into thinking they’re already clean, resulting in less water circulation.

Run the garbage disposal before starting a wash cycle.

Since your dishwasher and garbage disposal share a drain, it’s a good idea to run the disposal and clear things out before starting a cycle.

Wash, Rinse, and Repeat with Sam’s

Ready to reward your dishwasher with a little TLC? We’ve got you covered with all of the detergent, baking soda, and white vinegar you’ll need to roll up your sleeves and start scrubbing. With your Sam’s Club membership, you’ll rack up instant savings on essential cleaning products. And with Free Club Pickup, you can use the time you saved to get a head start on your deep-clean (or catch up on Netflix—we won’t tell).