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How to Clean Your Dishwasher

Would you eat out of your dishwasher? In an informal office poll, most of us agreed that we wouldn’t, but can’t really put our finger on why not. After all, it’s the machine that’s supposed to clean and sanitize our dishes, glasses and forks. Shouldn’t it clean itself at the same time? After taking a close look inside my own dishwasher, though, it turns out our collective gut instinct was right: dishwashers can be pretty nasty places, and the dirtier they are on the inside, the less we can trust their ability to clean our eating utensils. Here’s how you can keep it clean in 7 (relatively) simple steps.

HOW TO CLEAN YOUR DISHWASHER

Remove debris from the drain

Pull out the bottom rack and visually inspect the drain(s) for bits of food, glass, small utensils, bits of paper (remove labels before washing glass jars!), or anything else that might have become trapped there. Remove what you can see, using tweezers or needle-nosed pliers if necessary, taking care not to scratch the finish on the dishwasher.

Remove debris from the spinning arm

Check the spinning arms on the top rack of the dishwasher. Are any of the holes clogged by debris or hard water build-up? Clear them with a toothpick, tweezers, or a bent wire, or simply scrub with a toothbrush and baking soda.

Clean the inside edge of the door

Use a toothbrush or soft cloth with a thin paste of baking soda and mild dishwashing liquid to clean around the inside edge of the door, paying special attention to the bottom area where the door meets the bottom of the dishwasher and the inner parts of the door seal. Both can collect lots of junk! Be sure to rinse well to remove all residue as the water from the dishwasher doesn’t touch this area.

Clean the utensil caddy

Fill your sink with hot soapy water and soak your utensil caddy. Scrub, taking special care to clean the bottom where junk from dirty spoons, forks, and knives can collect.

Remove and scrub the drain

If you’ve had enough for one day, just move on to the easy stuff in step 6. If you’re going for a really great clean, though, you’re going to have to remove the drain(s) that you inspected in step 1. First, unplug the dishwasher (the plug is most likely under your sink). Then, very carefully, unscrew any screws that are holding the drain in place. Take care to remember the order in which you’re removing any parts (take pictures if necessary), and make sure not to drop any screws down the drain! Scrub the drains in hot soapy water, focusing on the undersides. Once fully clean, replace drains and screws and plug the dishwasher back in.

Run a cycle with vinegar

Now for the easy part! Fill a bowl with white vinegar and place it upright in the top rack of the dishwasher. Run a short cycle at the hottest temperature possible, but without the heat dry cycle. You’ll want to make sure there are no other dishes in the washer for this step. The vinegar will help wash away any loose grime, as well as break down hard water deposits that might have collected on the walls of the dishwasher, on the spinning arm, or on the heating element. While removing build-up from the walls makes your dishwasher more pleasing to the eye, removing it completely from the heating coil and spinning arm is imperative to getting your water hot enough and circulating enough to really clean your dishes, so repeat this step if you notice excessive hard water build-up. Once the cycle finishes, you’re done and your dishwasher is ready to keep your dishes as clean as possible!