An Unexpected Trick to Keep Your Dishwasher Smelling So Fresh, So Clean

We've unearthed an interesting use for NASA’s favorite drink.

April 25, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten

When I bought a dishwasher for my apartment two years ago, I really felt like I’d made it in life. Maybe because in Chinese households, at least the way I remember them, they don’t exist. Even when there’s one right in the kitchen, that’s not a dishwasher. It’s a storage unit at best.

Case in point: this scene from Fresh Off the Boat, when the youngest son in the Huang family, during lunch at a friend's house, learns that the machine his own family uses as a “drying rack” has another purpose. “You mean the thing we put our dishes into after we wash them in the sink?” his older brother asks in disbelief. Thus begins a small generational war in the home as the boys scheme ways to actually use the dishwasher—something their mother hoped would never happen in their lifetime.

All this to say, I grew up sans dishwashers, and was pretty much completely unaware that they needed any kind of maintenance at all (don't they do the maintaining...of dishes)? As you might imagine, this has led to some less-than-ideal smells coming from my kitchen, and then to the shocking realization that people are actually supposed to clean the dishwasher itself.

And guess what? One of the best things for this is, apparently, Tang.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“If the dishwasher is smelly, put a cup of vinegar in the bottom and run a cycle without dishes or soap.”
— Dee

(Yes, really.)

I can’t remember how or when I first learned that people put Tang in their dishwashers to clean them, but it’s true: The citric acid in the orange-flavored drink mix is expert at removing the hard water stains, soap scum, and general gunk that accumulate from multiple dishwashing cycles, leaving your dishes cloudy.

It’s an approved method on Wacky Uses, a website dedicated to finding unusual applications for every household item you can imagine. According to Wacky Uses’ Joey Green, the proper method is to fill the soap receptacle with Tang and run the dishwasher (without dishes or even soap). Some people prefer just to toss a couple spoonfuls of Tang directly on the bottom of the dishwasher, but the end result should be the same: a sparkly clean machine that runs like new and smells vaguely of citrus. Even dishwasher repair professionals swear by it.

Because it’s the citric acid that really does the trick, you can also use things like lemon-flavored Kool-Aid (or something similar), as long as it contains the magic ingredient.

Or, you know, you could just use the ingredient itself.

Have you ever tried this? Let us know in the comments below.

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Karen Lo

Written by: Karen Lo

lunch lady


Dee February 19, 2020
Put 1/2 cup white vinegar in a cup on the top rack every time you run your dishwasher. It eliminates water spots and keeps the appliance and the pipes clean. If the dishwasher is smelly, put a cup of vinegar in the bottom and run a cycle without dishes or soap.
Lauren B. February 18, 2020
Would’ve liked to see the dishwasher be opened at the end of that cycle and see just how clean it got. Hummmmm.
Hilary L. February 18, 2020
Made me want to immediately clean my dishwasher. I don 't have any Tang handy right now, but I have lots of packets of Emergen-C. Think they might work!
Helene R. May 20, 2019
I’m 74 years old and when I read your suggestion about cleaning my dishwasher, I investigated my dishwasher and found the filter. Never knew it was here and I am embarrassed to admit that I never cleaned it before. It was eye opening. I washed it out and put in vinegar and my dishes looked great. Thank you.
tastysweet February 19, 2020
You mean there is a filter in the DW? Where?
BR95510 February 19, 2020
I have a Bosch and found mine right on the bottom under the lowest rack. It was very easy to remove and then I was able to dismantle it to clean it. And it needed it!! This is a great article!
tastysweet February 19, 2020
My DW is GE Triton XL. Bought when we built our condo in 2003!!!
I was wondering! what looks like a 3”h cylindrical part on the left bottom side under the lowest rack. I bet that’s it. Will check the manual. I can’t possibly imagine, if it is, what it looks like. Think I will have my husband check it out😉.
Thank youBR95510
tastysweet February 19, 2020
Went online and looked up my DW and found where the filter is. Not where I thought:)
Susan August 16, 2021
Me too. Never knew there was a filter to be cleaned or changed.
Valerie May 17, 2019
White vinegar is the way to go. Put a cup half full on the top rack & run the dishwasher. No odours. Of course, you have to clean the filter regularly. As to the washing machine: I just prop mine slightly open after each washday, and have no musty smells.
cosmiccook May 16, 2019
Check w your manufacturer to make sure the citric acid doesn't erode certain seals and parts.
Sarah May 16, 2019
I use a tablespoon of citric acid to run through the dishwasher once a month. I put all the glasses and Pyrex in for that load (no utensils or plates). It's kept the dishwasher like new.
Susan K. May 16, 2019
I'm a big fan of Borax in both my the dishwasher and washing machine. I also use baking soda and vinegar in the dishwasher. Works really well.
Lindsay N. May 16, 2019
Susan, when you use vinegar, do you just pour it in the bottom of the dishwasher before running it? How much do you use?
Susan K. May 19, 2019
Hi Lindsay. I put baking soda in the bottom first followed by 1/2 cup vinegar. Our water is hard with minerals and leaves the plastic inside of machine chalky looking and glassware spotty. BS and V are natural and do a great job all over the house.
Eva C. August 2, 2019
I recently purchased Borox, at my husband's insistence, to deal with an ant problem. I've been using the leftover in my washing machine along with laundry soap and I've been surprised at the boost in whiteness it provides!
Susan August 16, 2021
Susan do you put the baking soda in the soap tray? Where do you put the vinegar?
Susan K. August 16, 2021
I put both vinegar and baking soda in the bottom of the dishwasher before a load and wash as usual. Also if you use vinegar alone, pour into a little dishwasher safe cup, right side up, dishes and glassware come out sparkling.
GinaMaria May 16, 2019
marlene M. May 16, 2019
A lot of stores do not sell tang any more.
Jaye B. May 16, 2019
I haven't seen Tang on a grocery shelf in years.
Melissa R. May 16, 2019
I live in South Carolina. Walmart sells Tang, usually on the same aisle as kool-aid or sometimes on the aisle with breakfast cereal. Bi-Lo sells Tang, too. It can be purchased on Amazon, too. I love drinking Tang! I don't mix it as sweet as the directions say to measure, usually use 1/2 or less mixed in a Gatorade bottle.
Kathleen July 13, 2019
I haven't been looking for it, so it could be there and we are just ghosting each other.
Janet M. May 16, 2019
What about the juice of a lemon?
Gail G. May 16, 2019
This brings up a related trick: unsweetened koolaid (if you can find it) overnight, for toilet stains
Susan May 17, 2019
And people actually drink this crap too, my my!
Susan August 16, 2021
Is there such a thing as unsweetened koolaid? Where do you find it? How much in the toilet?
Eric K. April 27, 2019
Man, I loved Tang.
FrugalCat April 26, 2019
I have very hard, mineral-y water, and I have been using powdered citric acid in my dishwasher (And washing machine) for years. Lemi- shine sells it next to the dishwasher tablets, or you can buy it in bulk from Amazon.
Traveler April 28, 2019
I have been using Lemi-Shine in my dishwasher for years as well. Never occurred to me to use it in the washing machine. Thanks for the suggestion!
Jaye B. May 16, 2019
I wonder if LemiShine works better in the laundry washer than the products made specifically for that purpose. I was not as impressed as I expected with those.
Auntie D. April 25, 2019
Karen, I use Citric Acid, you know, the stuff you buy for canning?
It's cheaper and a little goes a long way.
Simply fill the Soap Dispenser in the machine and run it on a normal cycle,
Clean and fresh smelling Dish Washer.
Ardy H. April 25, 2019
Tang might be a little expensive. I use white vinegar which is cheap if you buy it by the gallon at smart and final
Leo April 26, 2019
As an appliance expert on dishwasher the old fashion vinagar or brine salt work as well and don’t forget affresh