“Why do my coffee mugs have all these specks in them?!” I asked myself a week ago.
Let’s be honest. I knew the reason why—the dishwasher was in desperate need of a deep clean—but I was in denial because I don’t particularly enjoy cleaning out old, slimy food remains. (Does anyone, really?) However, unless I wanted to spend the rest of my days re-washing every spotty dish coming out of the dishwasher, I realized I’d just have to suck it up.
Here’s the process I used to clean every inch of my dishwasher, as well as some pictures that I'm hoping will motivate you to clean your own (just don't judge me!).
To get started, open up your dishwasher and pull out the bottom rack. This is usually pretty clean since it gets blasted along with your load of dishes. If it’s looking dirty, you can let it soak in the sink (or the bathtub since it’s bulky). You may also want to soak and wipe off the utensil basket.
The first step to a sparkling clean dishwasher is to wipe out all the cracks and crevices. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Rubber gloves
- Paper towels or a clean rag
- Soapy water
Gunk tends to get stuck along the edges of the dishwasher, so you’ll want to use a damp paper towel or rag to gently wipe down along the rubber seams and the door hinge. We recommend you wear gloves for this task, as there can be sharp edges—something I learned the hard way.
Don’t forget to wipe under the float and around the soap dispenser, if needed. If you find any moldy spots, don’t panic—just scrub them away thoroughly, and we’ll disinfect the dishwasher in a later step.
That wasn’t so bad, right? Unfortunately, the next part is kinda gross—cleaning out your dishwasher’s filter. Most experts say you should be cleaning this filter, which gets clogged with food waste, at least once a month, but mine hadn’t been cleaned since I moved into my apartment...well, several months ago…and maybe not even then.
What you need:
- Rubber gloves
- An old toothbrush or small cleaning brush
- Soapy water
- An ironclad will
Because every dishwasher is different, you’ll want to look up how to remove it on your model. My Frigidaire required me to pop off the spraying arm, then twist the filter to pull it out. If you’re not sure how yours comes apart, consult the manual.
Once you get the filter out, you’ll probably be greeted by a mass of old food—gag. Mine even had pet hair in it (I wash my pets’ food bowls in the dishwasher). Rinse off the biggest particles with water, and if needed, soak in soapy water for 30 minutes to loosen things up.
While the filter is soaking, use a toothpick to clean out the holes in the spraying arms, removing any food particles that may have gotten stuck in there.
Now comes the really gross part. Using the toothbrush or cleaning brush, scrub out all the filter’s cracks and crevices. Rinse it with water when you’re done, then let the filter air dry before putting it back in place.
The worst is over! This next step is pretty hands-off, which is always nice. To sanitize the insides of your dishwasher and get rid of lingering odors, you can use vinegar—an all-natural cleaning superstar.
To wit, you’ll need:
- 2 cups of white vinegar
- A dishwasher-safe bowl
Replace the bottom rack and utensil holder, then fill up the bowl with white vinegar. Place the bowl on the top rack of your dishwasher, then run a hot cycle without any dishwashing detergent. The vinegar will work its magic, leaving the inside of your appliance clean and deodorized.
While the cycle is running, you can clean up the exterior of the appliance. If it has a stainless steel finish like mine, you can use two common pantry ingredients to complete this task:
- White vinegar
- Olive oil (yes, really)
- A microfiber cloth
First, you’ll want to spray a generous amount of vinegar onto your dishwasher—if you don’t have a spray bottle, you can also just pour the liquid onto the cloth. Identify the grain of the metal (just like wood, stainless steel has lines running in one direction), then wipe with the grain. This will remove dirt and grime.
To polish the appliance, you’ll want to do the exact same steps with a small amount of olive oil. It sounds weird, I know, but this was what got rid of the lingering stains and scuffs on my dishwasher! Just be aware that your dog may come over and try to lick it off.
If you have a plastic exterior, your job is even easier! Just take a sponge drenched with soapy water and wipe down the appliance and its control panel. Use a microfiber cloth to dry it off and prevent water spots.
And just like that, your dishwasher is clean again! I’m happy to report that my coffee mugs are coming out cleaner than ever, and I’ve learned a very hard lesson about not washing the dishwasher filter for years on end. I mean months, of course.