How To Deep Clean Your Dishwasher

By Marilee Nelson |

How To Deep Clean Your Dishwasher

When’s the last time you cleaned the inside of your dishwasher? If the answer is “never”, or “I didn’t know I had to clean my dishwasher”, or “I ran some vinegar through it… once” then this tutorial on how to deep clean your dishwasher is for you! And as always, we’ll show you how to do it using completely non-toxic cleaning products.

Why Deep Clean Your Dishwasher (And How Often)?

Given how easy it is to buy a new home appliance with the click of mouse, most of us never learn about what we should do to care for our appliances. One simple thing you can do to enhance the function and extend the life of your dishwasher is to deep clean it a few times a year.

Without regular cleaning things like lime, minerals, scale, food particles, grease, grime, and residues from dishwashing cleaners will build up in the dishwasher’s parts, hindering its function and (eventually) leading to costly repairs that could have been avoided.

Some signs you need to deep clean your dishwasher include:

  • Dishes that just won’t come clean or have greasy residue
  • Cloudy glasses/wine glasses
  • A musty or unpleasant odor
  • Buildup on the rubber gasket around the door
  • Food buildup in the trap
  • Food buildup in the spraying arm
  • Rusting inside the machine
  • Poor function overall - it doesn’t clean like it used to

The good news is, you can take care of all these issues with regular deep cleaning!

How often should you clean your dishwasher? Many manufacturers recommend deep cleaning once a month for optimal performance, or even twice a month if you use your dishwasher a lot or have hard water!.

If you don’t have the time to do this monthly, then we recommend doing a weekly vinegar rinse (which we’ll cover in this article) and interior wipe down, and committing to a quarterly cleaning. You can also check with your manufacturer for their recommendations.

How To Deep Clean Your Dishwasher

What you’ll need:

  • Gloves (for sensitive hands and/or squeamish people!)
  • Branch Basics All-Purpose (or other natural all-purpose cleaner)
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Small cleaning brushes or old toothbrushes
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Your phone - This is so you can take pictures or video of how you take apart the dishwasher so you remember how to put it back together!
  • A screwdriver - Note: not all dishwasher models will require tools, as many have twist and pull parts
  • A dishwasher safe mug or measuring cup

Step 1: Clean The Removable Parts

  • Take out the utensil holder and dish racks.
  • Spray everything with Branch Basics All-Purpose, clean with a sponge or microfiber, and rinse.
  • If there’s stubborn, stuck-on food or other grime, soak in a sink full of warm water, 1 tsp. Branch Basics concentrate and 1-2 cups distilled white vinegar for 10-20 minutes. Wipe clean.

Step 2: Clean And Unclog The Spraying Arm

  • Start by taking off the spraying arm on the bottom and/or top (which will probably come out just by screwing it off with your hands).
  • Look for any clogs in the spray holes, which you can remove using a toothpick, sewing needle or quilt pin. Spray down with All Purpose and wipe with a microfiber cloth. Set aside.

Step 3: Clean The Filter(s)

  • Next, remove the filter(s) - Some dishwashers have an upper and lower filter and some have just one, by manually unlocking and gently pulling it out.
  • Check the filter base inside the dishwasher for trapped food and remove. Wipe with a damp microfiber cloth.
  • Next, spray down the filters with Branch Basics All-Purpose. If the filter is really dirty, let the spray dwell for 5-10 minutes. Next, use your small cleaning brush or toothbrush to scrub away any grease or stuck-on food.
  • For extra tough built up scum, soak filters in hot water to cover, 1 tsp. Branch Basics Concentrate and a scoop of Oxygen Boost!
  • Rinse and scrub filters under warm running water.
  • Put the filters back and make sure they’re locked in (if applicable).

Step 4: Clean The Drain Using One Of These Two Methods

The drain is the circular piece underneath the bottom sprayer where the water drains out. To clean it, you can remove it with a screwdriver or it may have pieces you can twist and pop out with your hands. Spray it and the basin below with All-Purpose, scrub it, and screw it or pop it back in.

Now, if removing this is too intimidating and/or you’d like another option, try using this hot water, vinegar and Oxygen Boost method:

Mix one cup of slightly warm distilled white vinegar with a scoop of Oxygen Boost and pour into the drain. Let sit for 10-20 minutes then rinse with a kettle-full of hot water to dislodge any clogs or debris and flush it down the drain. If this method doesn’t work well enough, then we do recommend taking it apart for further inspection and cleaning. You can do this! Use your phone’s camera to help and check out our video resources at the end of this article.

Step 5: Spray And Wipe Down The Entire Inside Of The Dishwasher

With all the parts out, it’s time to spray down everything inside the dishwasher with All-Purpose including the inside of the door, the basin on the bottom, and dishwasher walls. Spray, clean with a microfiber cloth, and wipe clean.

Step 6: Scrub Off The Gasket Around The Door

At this point, you’ll probably notice some build-up around the rubber gasket on the inside of the dishwasher door. Spray All Purpose all around the gasket and use your small cleaning brush or toothbrush to scrub off all that gunk. If there’s hard-water build up, spray on some distilled white vinegar, let sit for 10-20 minutes, then scrub. If you suspect you have stubborn mold, check out this tutorial on how to remove mold from your shower, which you can apply to your dishwasher.

Step 7: Run A Full Cycle With Vinegar

Fill a dishwasher safe mug or measuring cup with about 1 cup distilled white vinegar and place in the center of your dishwasher with no other dishes. Run a full cycle with hot water to complete the cleaning/deodorizing process. You’re done!

If, after going through all these steps, your dishwasher still has an unpleasant odor, refill your vinegar cup with an additional 1 cup of vinegar OR sprinkle 2 cups of baking soda on the bottom of your dishwasher and run on the hottest cycle. That should do it! Note: Choose either vinegar or baking soda for deodorizing. Don’t use them both together as they cancel each other out.

Can I Buy A Dishwasher Cleaner Detergent Instead?

Some dish detergent companies sell dishwasher cleaning detergents to make this task more convenient and hands-off. Although these can work, they won’t be as effective in removing food, build up and blockages in dishwasher parts, which is why dishwasher manufacturers recommend the regular deep cleaning processes outlined above. Plus, these products are made of very harsh chemicals which are best avoided for your health and the health of your septic system and our shared waterways.

Again, if you don’t have the time to do the deep clean as suggested, at least spray down and wipe the inside of your dishwasher a few times a month, clean out the fiter(s), and run a cup of vinegar through a hot wash cycle once a week until you can take the time to do a deep clean.

More Of A Visual Learner? Check Out These How-To Videos

Want step-by-step instructions? We've got you covered! Watch our YouTube video:

We also found the following videos helpful as they cover more of a range of dishwasher types while providing a visual aid. Just be sure to replace Branch Basics All-Purpose with any of the chemical or synthetic cleaner suggested, and use distilled white vinegar as directed.

Last but not least, spots on dishes and scale on dishwashers can also be an indication of hard water, which can damage your appliance over time. You can learn all about hard water and water filter fixes in The Impact of Soft and Hard Water on Laundry.

Marilee Nelson

Marilee Nelson

Marilee Nelson is an Environmental Toxins expert who has spent nearly 30 years advocating for the chemically-sensitive and chronically-ill. She is a Board Certified Nutritionist, Certified Bau-Biologist and Bau-Biology Inspector and specializes in Food As Medicine. She has helped thousands of families and individuals identify, heal and recover from toxic exposures and is on a mission to revolutionize the way American families view their health.