How To Clean and Maintain a Dishwasher

Keep the Soap Scum Out of Your Dishwasher

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How to Maintain a Dishwasher Rinse Agent. Photo © Erin Huffstetler

Have you wondered whether you should clean your dishwasher but you weren't sure how to do it? Dishwashers last longer and run more efficiently when they are properly maintained. Set aside 15 minutes every few months to give yours a thorough cleaning, and you'll be rewarded with years of reliable service.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Time Required: 15 minutes of hands-on time

What You Need to Maintain Your Dishwasher

  • Vinegar
  • A sponge, washcloth or paper towels
  • Toothpick or pipe cleaners
  • A dishwasher-safe cup
  • Owner's Manual - paper or online

5 Steps to Clean and Maintain Your Dishwasher

1. Find the Owner's Manual

Get out the owner's manual. If you can't remember where you put it (or you never had one), you should be able to find the owner's manual for your dishwasher online, along with the recommended maintenance instructions. Finding it first will help when it comes to completing the other steps. Check the make and model of your dishwasher and do an online search for it.

2. Unclog the Sprayer Arm Nozzles

First, remove the racks for the dishwasher so you can easily get to the sprayer arm. Check the nozzles on the sprayer arms for clogs. Clean them as necessary with a toothpick or pipe cleaners. 

  • Pay Off: When the nozzles are clean, they will spray better and your dishes will come out cleaner.

3. Clean the Drain

Unplug your dishwasher.

The plug for it is probably under the sink, if it is a built-in model. You may even want to turn off the circuit breaker just to be sure. Check your owner's manual to see if the tray around the drain just slides off or is easily removable, and follow those instructions. Remove any food or debris from the drain at the bottom of the unit.

 

  • Pay Off: The pump won't have to work as hard, and you'll eliminate drain odors.

4. Inspect and Touch Up the Racks

Inspect the racks for chips, and repair any that you find with dishwasher rack touch up paint.  Dishwasher rack touch up paint comes in multiple colors, so take the time to find a paint that matches your racks. Order it direct from the manufacturer or through an online retailer, like Amazon. 

If your dishwasher racks are already badly rusted, look into buying replacement racks. You may be able to find them on eBay for less than the manufacturer sells them.

  • Pay Off: The racks won't rust, and you won't have to worry about your dishes getting chipped on the exposed metal.

5. Run Vinegar Through a Dishwasher Cycle to Remove Soap Scum

Replace the racks, allowing touch-up paint to dry if used. Place a cup of vinegar on the top rack of the dishwasher, and run it through a complete cycle.  A packet of unsweetened lemon-flavored drink mix may be used in place of the vinegar. Just pour it into the detergent compartment, and run the dishwasher through a cycle.

  • Pay Off: Hard water deposits, soap scum and rust stains will be removed from the walls of the dishwasher