In today's cleaning post, I've got another "I never think to do this" cleaning task - how to deep clean a dishwasher using vinegar and baking soda. It's one of those things that we all (myself included) forget to do, but if done properly, can seriously impact day-to-day chores in your home.

dishwasher utensil basket

Why You Should Clean Your Dishwasher

If you're anything like our family, you run your dishwasher at least once a day. This is especially true since we've all been home (and eating every meal at home) in the past couple of years. Those dishes from snacks and meals add up quickly!

After a while, we noticed that our dishwasher wasn't drying as well and just didn't knock out stubborn messes as well as it did when it was new. We attributed it to the age of the dishwasher.

dirty edge of a dishwasher rack

As it turns out, it just needed a deep cleaning! I had no idea what kind of impact this would have on the dishwasher. Not only is it drying better, but the cleaning seems much more efficient since we did these few little tasks.

TL;DR: Cleaning Your Dishwasher Will...

  • Knock out germs
  • Eliminate smells
  • Allow your dishwasher to clean more efficiently
  • Improve your dishwasher's drying power

How Often You Need to Clean Your Dishwasher

The deep cleaning tutorial you're going to see today doesn't need to be done very often. This is a process I complete once every few months at most.

The reason you actually don't want to do it often is that vinegar will break down the rubber and plastic in your dishwasher over time. It might be natural, but it's still pretty acidic.

Supplies Needed

Melamine sponges
Dishwasher-safe bowl
Dish soap
Old toothbrush or small scrub brush
Baking soda

Step 1: Clean all interior edges with a melamine sponge.

Let's get the interior first. Start off with a completely empty dishwasher (which is like spotting a unicorn, I know - just pile those dishes in the sink for now).

edge of a dishwasher door

The dirtiest places on my dishwasher (which is a Whirlpool) are the edges and the vents/filters. There is always a build-up of soap scum and hard water. I'll show you how to clean a dishwasher filter in just a minute; for now, let's get the edges.

cleaning edge of a dishwasher door with a melamine sponge

I use a wet melamine sponge (like Mr. Clean magic erasers - I get them on Amazon for a fraction of the cost!) and really scrub the edges of the door and the edges of the bottom of the dishwasher. It's also a good idea to gently scrub the rubber seals (be careful not to rip/tear them though).

Step 2: Remove & clean the dishwasher vent cover.

door of a dishwasher - vent and detergent dispenser

On my dishwasher's door, there is a vent that can get really gross with hard water and mildew. The dishwasher vent cover needs to be taken off occasionally and scrubbed.

To do this (again, on a Whirlpool), turn counter-clockwise about a quarter of the way. I have to use a screwdriver to (gently) pry it to the left.

dirty inside of a dishwasher vent

(Gross, right?) Once the dishwasher vent is off, scrub both the vent and the inside.

dishwasher vent without cover
dishwasher vent after cleaning

Cleaning the dishwasher vent cover allows steam to escape your dishwasher easily, making drying efficient. Not only does it look prettier when it's clean, but it makes your dishwasher work better!

Step 3: Remove and clean the dishwasher filter.

bottom of a dishwasher

This is going to be a little different on every model, but there will be a filter somewhere in your dishwasher to catch bigger food particles and any built-up gunk and grime left on dishes.

Catching this debris makes sure the water lines to your dishwasher don't become clogged - very important! Mine is below the bottom rack (in a Whirlpool).

bottom of a dishwasher

That round thing you see is the filter. Remove the filter from the dishwasher (you might have to turn to dislodge it).

unscrewing a dishwasher filter

Get ready to be grossed out.

dirty inside of a dishwasher filter

I bet you had no idea this was even there - much less how nasty it was! Rest assured, it's simple to clean. (And important to clean - this will allow your dishwasher to drain more efficiently.)

cleaned inside of a dishwasher filter

Just use a little bit of dish soap and a small scrub brush to get in there and dislodge any deposits and dirt. An old toothbrush might also help get into the nooks and crannies.

Give it a good rinse with hot water and *important* place it back in the dishwasher before moving on.

Related: Check out a few more of my favorite Grove cleaning products!

Step 4: Break out the baking soda and vinegar.

spray bottle of vinegar and baking soda in a canister

If you've read any of the other Cleaning Basics posts, the fact that I use vinegar and baking soda to do this deep clean will be no surprise to you. They are simply the most useful cleaning ingredients out there!

I also love that they are non-toxic, especially in an area where my family's dishes will go. You can go buy a specialty dishwasher cleaner (like Affresh) if you'd like, but I've found that these two cleaners work just fine...and you probably already have them!

I like using vinegar and baking soda for their smell-busting properties. This combo is great for getting rid of smelly odors in the dishwasher (usually caused by mold, mildew, and hard water buildup).

baking soda sprinkled in the bottom of a dishwasher

Spray the entire inside of the dishwasher (including racks) with vinegar and sprinkle baking soda all over. It will fizz a little - that's normal. Use the baking soda and a sponge/scrubber to scrub any dirty areas.

Step 5: Run a cleaning cycle on your dishwasher.

bowl of white vinegar in top of a dishwasher

Place a dishwasher-safe bowl with about a cup of white vinegar in the top rack.

upside down utensil organizer in an empty dishwasher

You also might want to check that utensil rack - the bottom of mine can get nasty! I unfold it, scrub it with a bottle brush if needed, and place it upside down in the dishwasher while I'm running my cleaning cycle.

buttons on a dishwasher

Close up your dishwasher and use the high-temperature wash setting to run a full cycle.

Step 6: Clean the exterior of the dishwasher.

stainless steel dishwasher with a blue towel hanging on handle

While you're waiting for that cleaning hot water cycle to run, you might as well clean the outside of the dishwasher! I wipe my stainless steel down a few times a tends to get a ton of stains and water marks around the vent.

Final Result

cleaned bottom of a dishwasher

In just a couple of hours (with very little effort), you'll have a new and improved dishwasher! This is one of those cleaning tasks you won't notice as much in looks as you will in efficiency; your dishwasher should wash and dry better after completing this.

In-Between Cleanings

Now, as I mentioned above, this process isn't something I do every month. I have a reminder on my cleaning schedule to give the dishwasher a light cleaning once per month, during my kitchen week.

When I do this cleaning, I...

  • wipe around the edges of the door
  • wipe the sides and the bottom of the inside
  • scrub the utensil rack, if needed
  • give the vent a light scrub with a scrub brush or old toothbrush
  • rinse out the filter

This is a process that takes maybe 10 minutes - no biggie! It just keeps mildew and hard water at bay in between deep cleanings.

More Tips to Keep Your Dishwasher Clean & Efficient

  • Don't put dishes in the dishwasher with a significant amount of food caked on. That food will wash into the filter and can easily clog it.
  • Use as much glass (and as little plastic) as possible. The drying feature in most modern dishwashers is designed to efficiently dry glass, not plastic. Pay attention the next time you clean out your dishwasher - I'm willing to bet the glass is much dryer than the plastic pieces!
  • Use hot water. Dishwashers are designed to sanitize dishes, which requires hot water to get that temperature high enough. This means not overworking your water heater while the dishwasher is running, so delay those showers or washing machine cycles.
  • Don't overload the dishwasher. Your dishwasher will clean much less efficiently when there is too much in it. All dishes should be in a single layer and not touching.

Clean on, cleaner friends! 🧽 I would love to see some of your favorite dishwasher cleaning tips & tricks- leave them in the comments. And, make sure to follow along via email for my latest cleaning updates.

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  1. Mandy Ehrig says:

    Do you have a 2020 teacher planner/notebook?

    1. It's coming next week!

  2. Julie Briones says:

    Hey, Leslie... love the tip posts you shared on Tuesday Turn About... I'm trying to pin this post, and it seems that your actual pin is disabled for pinning, and you don't have a Pinterest share button... so I'm struggling to pin! Help! 😉

    1. Leslie Lambert says:

      Sorry about that, Julie! I just added another pinnable image at the bottom of the post. Thanks for pinning!