How to Clean a Dishwasher

Cleaning the dishwasher sounds like an oxymoron; shouldn’t the dishwasher be clean already? Yes and no! Every so often you have to clean your dishwasher.

how to clean a dishwasher

Cleaning, Sanitizing and Deodorizing Automatic Dishwashers

There is the filter in the bottom of the dishwasher that that traps food particles, there is the flatware basket and spray the sides and top of the inside of the dishwasher door, often overlooked, the rubber seals, and of course the front door panel.
These need to be attended to regularly in order to keep your dishwasher working well and smelling sweet.

Clean the filter often especially if you don’t rinse your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher.

~Wipe out the inside of the dishwasher using your basic acidic cleaning solution (distilled white vinegar, water, and a drop or two of dish detergent or Castile soap) and a soft cloth. Rinse as often as you need to. Pay special attention to bottom of the dishwasher.

~Move on to the inside of the door, and the insides and top of the door. Integrated dishwashers have the controls tucked away inside the top of the door and this panel should be wiped with a super soft cloth and water. It’s usually made of soft plastic and you don’t want to scratch it.

~Take note of the rubber seals along the side of the door, or set into the machine itself depending on your model. The rubber seals can get dirty and mildewed although it’s hard to see since the rubber is black. If you find any mildew or mold inside your dishwasher, finish your cleaning with a spray of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide and don’t rinse that off.

Dishwasher Front Door Panel

Cleaning the front door panel of the dishwasher is a normal part of surface cleaning in your kitchen. Many dishwashers nowadays have a brushed stainless steel front door panel. Brushed stainless steel is very hard to maintain, I highly advise against installing brushed stainless steel appliances in your kitchen. Every finger print shows, and since they are almost always greasy prints, they are very hard to remove without marring the stainless steel surface.

If you have stainless steel front door panel on your dishwasher and it is already greasy with prints and smudges, you will need to literally re-do the finish. That means using a solvent based cleaner. Commercial stainless cleaning products normally contain dangerous petrochemical solvents like naphtha, petroleum distillates, and 2-butoxyethanol.

You can avoid that by simply using our natural solvent, vinegar, to do the same thing. Wipe down the stainless steel front door panel with straight vinegar and a very soft cloth. Use plenty of vinegar or lemon juice, wipe with the grain, and work quickly covering the entire surface, even if the prints and smudges are only in one spot. Polish until you regain a smooth even finish. This can be tricky to achieve a perfect, like new result. Do it more than once if need be.

If you have hard water streaking on your dishwasher’s stainless steel front door panel you can try using an opposite technique using alkaline mineral cleaners such as baking soda, cream of tartar, and club soda instead of vinegar or lemon juice. For an all-purpose Stainless Steel cleaner try mixing 1 part baking soda to 2 parts club soda in a bowl. Rub the mixture on your stainless surface; wipe off the extra (don’t rinse with water) and then polish with a dry cloth. Thanks to Renee Loux, Easy Green Living, for that ‘All Purpose Stainless Steel Cleaner’ recipe.

Like all green cleaning techniques, prevention is always the best method. In this case wiping up fingerprints as they occur will keep your stainless steel dishwasher front door panel looking new longer. Using a non-toxic store bought cleaner will work and many of them contain plant oils. A little bit of oil spread super thin over your brushed stainless steel surface will help prevent grease from sticking to the steel and make cleaning easier.

If your dishwasher’s front door panel is shiny white or black vinyl or plastic you will have an easier time keeping it clean and shiny. Try not to use abrasives on these surfaces, just a spray of your all purpose acid cleaning solution and a soft cloth will be all that is necessary. If you have some stuck on gunk, try a microfiber cloth and water with gentle pressure until it comes loose. Polish the surface after cleaning with a microfiber polishing cloth or lint free cotton cloth.

Deodorizing and Sanitizing the Dishwasher

Deodorizing and sanitizing your automatic dishwasher using vinegar will at-the-same-time clean all those inside parts and take care of mineral spots caused by the minerals found in hard water. You may not want to go through this often, but if your dishwasher has a funny lingering, slightly off odor, try it. Again thanks to Renee Loux for her dishwasher deodorizing instructions. Clean your dishwasher and the filter before deodorizing.

“Pour 2 cups of white vinegar into a bowl and sit it upright in the bottom rack. Run the machine through a short wash cycle and it will be clean, deodorized, and ready to run!”

Rinse Aids and Detergents

Vinegar makes an excellent rinse aid to remove hard water spots and detergent residues from your dishes. Just add the vinegar to the rinse compartment instead of a commercial chemical rinse aid.

Many commercial dishwasher detergents are filled with chlorine bleach, phosphates, and multiple fragrance chemicals. We have been learning here at Naturally Bubbly that out of all the chemicals used in cleaning products, fragrances can be the most toxic to humans. And they are basically unnecessary, so always choose fragrance-free products.

Instead try a non-toxic, environmentally friendly brand of dishwasher detergent like Seventh Generation. Their dish washing detergent and dish liquid were found to be some of the safest products on the market by the Silent Spring Institute. Read my post about the 11 safest cleaning products revealed in a study by the Silent Spring Institute. I’m happy to say I am using both of those products in my kitchen.

You can make your own dishwasher detergent by simply mixing equal parts laundry borax and washing soda. Use the same amount of this mix as you would store bought detergent. Just don’t use your homemade dishwasher detergent on aluminum or Teflon. Thanks to Ellen Sandbeck, Green Housekeeping, for this recipe.

Automatic Dishwasher versus Hand Dish Washing – Which is More Energy Efficient?

Unless you are practicing camp washing techniques, or drought time water rationing, you probably will end up using more water to wash dishes by hand than with an automatic dishwasher. It’s just more fun and less tedious, I find, to allow the water to run on and on as I wash. Some people say automatic dishwashers are a waste of energy and water, but that is not necessarily true. Here are some tips to follow to make sure you are using your dishwasher in the most efficient way possible. Feel good about your dishwasher! I love mine dearly.

Dishwasher Cleaning Tips

how to clean a dishwasher

~Scrape off food, especially cheese but don’t rinse your dishes before loading into dishwasher.

~Use less detergent than the detergent compartment will hold. More detergent does not mean cleaner dishes. One tablespoon of detergent is actually enough to clean properly and prevent a film or residue from forming on your dishes and glassware.

~Wash only full loads of dishes. If it takes you a few days to fill up the dishwasher, try running a quick rinse cycle at the end of each day to keep the dishes from smelling until you get to running a full wash cycle.

~Use the energy saver button if you can. Don’t always feel you have to run a full long wash every time. If your dishwasher isn’t cleaning properly, it could be for reasons you could correct, like cleaning the filter, replacing the water intake hoses, and making sure the heating element gets as hot as it’s supposed to.

~Avoid using the “heat dry” option. Air drying works fine if you have time to empty out any puddled water in your clean dishes after the cleaning cycle is finished and leave the door of the dishwasher open until everything is dry.

~Keep in mind that normal washing cycles in your dishwasher don’t produce water hot enough to kill pathogens and bacteria. The best way to make sure your dishwasher-cleaned dishes are sanitary is to allow them to dry completely in the racks before putting them away. For really sanitary dishes, don’t dry with a dishtowel, air dry. If you need to sanitize, use the sanitizing option on your dishwasher if you have one.

Welcome to my website!

Julia has been practicing green cleaning for several years as the owner of As You Like It Home Cleaning and organic gardening for almost 20 years running Julia Houriet Custom Gardening. She studied landscape design at Radcliffe Seminars in Cambridge Massachusetts. Her expertise is gleaned from education and years of experience.

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