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Dishwashers are a lot like cars, vacuums, coffeemakers, or even your computer—sometimes they need a little maintenance to keep them working correctly. But how often should you clean your dishwasher? And what’s the difference between a regular cleaning vs. deep cleaning one?
Read on to find out and learn other tips, such as how to determine the best method to use. Also, check out our step-by-step how-to guide on how to do quick monthly cleanings as well as links to instructions on other cleaning methods you can use.
In a hurry? Use the Table of Contents link above to skip through to the juicy bits.
Regular vs. Deep Dishwasher Cleanings
Cleaning a dishwasher can be broken down into two categories: monthly cleaning and deep cleaning.
It’s a good idea to incorporate both methods throughout the year. This way, you’ll have better luck preventing various problems that are common among dishwasher units, such as drainage issues, clogs, or even mold. Above all, cleaning your dishwasher consistently will help ensure that your dishes are coming out as clean as possible.
Monthly cleanings are usually recommended by dishwasher manufacturers as well as most cleaning professionals. Opinions regarding the method on how to go about it may vary or come down to personal preference. However, the main idea is to get rid of any potential grime and to descale the machine before any minerals have a chance to build up, potentially clogging or messing up the unit.
It’s quite similar to how you might treat a coffeemaker. Just as you likely wouldn’t want to drink coffee that came out of a dirty or clogged up coffeemaker, you probably don’t want it—or worse—with your dishes either. It’s also good to keep in mind that whenever there’s water, plumbing, and water pumps involved, be it a dishwasher, coffeemaker, or even a pool or water fountain: every bit helps when it comes to maintenance.
Some people prefer to descale their dishwasher with vinegar, including during times when they may be washing their dishes. It’s also common for people to scrub their unit with baking soda, soap, or a mix of the two. Others may use a dishwasher cleaning product or tab once a month, or even a combination of store-bought and vinegar rinse methods—though these methods are usually done at separate times.
When in doubt, it may help to try several methods to see which one works best for you.
Deep cleaning usually focuses on descaling and removing debris, similar to the monthly routine. However, it also addresses cleaning the mechanical parts of the unit along with things such as the baskets, racks, and any other elements that typically get neglected during the more regular cleanings. It may also entail disassembling and cleaning items such as coarse filters along with the filter basket, among other steps as well.
Deep cleaning a dishwasher should be done at least once, if not twice, a year to keep it running smoothly. Some people may even do it seasonally (or quarterly) as preventative maintenance. Plus, it’s a lot easier to clean it while it’s already semi-clean rather than waiting until everything builds up.
If you’d prefer to deep-clean your dishwasher unit, click here for our in-depth, step-by-step tutorial (opens new tab).
How Often Do You Need to Clean Your Dishwasher?
While light cleanings should generally be done every month, you may want to consider several factors when it comes to how you should go about it.
For example, some machines and dishwasher detergents can work better with food left on plates and bowls, while others may work best when you rinse things off before loading them. The quality, features, and cleaning capabilities of the unit itself is also something to consider.
At the same time, leaving food on the plate or in bowls can also lead to more debris, grease, and grime buildup getting inside the machine. Because of this, you may need to do monthly maintenance cleanings to compensate for this, as well as deep clean the unit a little more often throughout the year than those who rinse their dishes regularly.
What’s the Best Way to Clean Your Dishwasher?
Knowing how to clean your machine and the best way to go about it should first begin with reading the user manual, which is a step that most people tend to skip. However, the manufacturers often include essential tips and tricks, including how to load the machine for the best results. You might even find a few beneficial points that make the task of cleaning it more effective.
If you can’t locate the user manual, you can usually find it on the manufacturer’s website. To find the right one for your dishwasher, you’ll need to figure out what the unit’s serial number might be. Most machines have the serial and model numbers located near the very top of the dishwasher door or on the door’s left or right-hand side.
Once you’ve read the manual’s instructions, the best approach or even what products to use can depend on how you use your machine, how often you clean it (if at all), and any other issues of concern that you might be facing or the overall goal you wish to achieve. It can also come down to personal preference.
Natural vs. Store-Bought
Oftentimes, products will mention what they’re specifically designed to do or problems they’re meant to address. It’s also common to see products that target specific issues such as limescale or odors, while other products may address descaling or grease buildup better than other options available.
The same can be said for specific homemade approaches, such as vinegar. Vinegar is great for deodorizing, tackling grease, and descaling. Still, it may not be as effective as some store-bought options, depending on the situation—especially for more severe cases of hard water or mineral buildup.
Your machine may factor into how well products work, and the features it has may also play a role in how well certain products or methods work with your particular unit. The same can also be said for natural or homemade options.
In some cases, the natural or homemade version may not always be the most effective choice for tackling particular concerns. At the same time, there are also moments where homemade or natural options work great, if not better, and are a more cost-effective solution.
Issues to Consider and Experimenting
Because so many factors can play into how individual products may or may not work, it’s often beneficial to experiment. As you do, think about what your goals are and what your overall concerns might be. You can then look online, at reviews, or product information to gauge how specific methods or products may handle those goals and issues.
As you think about your goals or how to problem-solve specific problems, here are some points that you may wish to think about while looking at your options:
- Water hardness or quality
- Type of minerals that are dominant in your h20 (i.e., limescale)
- Whether you pre-rinse dishes
- The last time you cleaned your unit
- Mineral buildup
- Food particles on dishware
- Film on dishes
- Drainage issues
How to Quickly Clean Your Dishwasher (Basic Monthly Cleaning)
For this demonstration, we did both methods on two separate cycles since we’re in the middle of selling my mother’s home and her dishwasher hasn’t been cleaned for quite a while. For the store-bought run, we used Lemishine’s Dishwasher Cleaner. Click here to check out their site.
- Start with an empty dishwasher.
- If your machine has a filter basket, check it for debris and clean it as necessary.
- Clean the soap dispenser compartment using a soapy sponge and wipe it clean (optional).
- Clean around the door gasket (rubber seal) with a soapy sponge and wipe it clean (optional).
- Manually scrub the inside of the unit clean unit with a homemade/natural product OR use a dishwasher cleaner product:
- Follow the above steps Use a little dish soap and hot water on a sponge to scrub the inside of the unit, from walls and base to sprayers and racks. Then wipe clean (optional). If there’s a lot of grime, try mixing the soap with some baking soda for a little added grit and cleaning effect.
- Place a glass with a 1-to-1 ratio of water and vinegar in the top rack of the dishwasher. Some people also do this when running a regular wash cycle with dishes inside and as a natural rinsing or descaling agent.
- Run unit while empty on Sanitize mode or the hottest setting available. Or check the user manual for instructions, particularly for specific machines with features such as steam, etc.
- Follow the initial 1-5 steps as needed.
- Use a dishwasher cleaning agent, which usually comes in tab or powder form, but is also available in liquid form with some brands. This should remove at least grime, help to descale such as vinegar might, and help fight odor issues, depending on the product used. Some brands may even help to address problems with mold, drainage concerns, and so forth.
- Run a cycle on Sanitize mode or as instructed by the product manufacturers.
In the end, knowing how often you should clean your dishwasher can help maintain your machine and prevent common issues that often arise with dishwashers in general. More importantly, it’s also a great way to make sure that your dishes are coming out better than ever.
Let us know your favorite way to clean your dishwasher down in the comments below.
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