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How to clean a dishwasher

You’re probably reading the headline of this article thinking, “don’t dishwashers clean themselves when they clean the dishes?” Sadly, much like how a shower collects grime over time, they don’t. Food particles and other general gunk cake the walls and door of a dishwasher with time, and if your machine is really dirty, it can create terrible smells and slow down, or impede, the washing process. In order to keep your dishwasher running well and smelling pleasant, we recommend washing it at least once a month, or when funky smells first begin to creep in. It’s easy, and like the aforementioned buildup, it takes virtually no time at all.

Related: Stop pre-rinsing your dishes, and other advice on how to load a dishwasher

Required materials

  • A washcloth or sponge
  • Dish soap
  • 2 cups of white vinegar
  • A dishwasher-safe cup
  • 1 or 2 cups of lemon juice

Step 1 — Empty the dishwasher and remove attachments

First off, there can’t be any dishes in the racks or else your dishwasher will clean the dishes and not the actual dishwasher. That said, take out anything you can easily remove, such as the blades at the bottom or the silverware rack. Rinse the gunk off any attachments before returning them to the dishwasher. Try not think about what that gunk might be — just close your eyes and get it done.

Step 2 — Check the filter and wipe down the door

If your dishwasher has a filter at the bottom, reach down and see if anything big has gotten stuck, such as a container or a spoon. This is really important because if anything is blocking the drain, you’ll be left with standing, dirty water and a bigger mess than the one you started with. Once done, use a cloth and some dish soap and clean the edge and outside of the door, along with wherever else the water doesn’t reach when the machine is on.

Step 3 — Vinegar wash

Now, place 2 cups of white vinegar in a dishwasher-safe cup and place it on the top rack. Afterward, run the dishwasher. This will safely kill germs and remove stains. Using bleach or any other chemical cleaner is dangerous because, if not rinsed properly, they can stick around and get on your dishes. Sticking with white vinegar ensures that, even if you do accidentally ingest any residual liquid, you won’t be taking in toxic chemicals. Plus, the latter is cheap and has myriad of other uses, including cooking.

Step 4 (optional) — Lemon juice wash

White vinegar will get rid of the smell of old food, sure, but it will likely replace it with the smell of vinegar. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it will dissipate over time. However, if the vinegar smell bothers you, place a cup or two of lemon juice in the top rack and run the dishwasher again. This will make your machine smell lemony fresh.

That’s it! That’s all you have to do to thoroughly clean your dishwasher. If you feel really dedicated to cleanliness, you can unscrew the mechanism that moves the blades and clean underneath, but that really isn’t as necessary. Depending on how well you rinse your plates before throwing them in the dishwasher, you shouldn’t have to repeat this process very often — just when it gets too ripe for you to handle.