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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, including some of the best methods to use. And don’t forget to check out our step-by-step how-to guide on how to do quick monthly cleanings as well as links to instructions regarding deep cleaning methods you can use.
In this post…
- Regular vs. Deep Dishwasher Cleanings
- How Often Do You Need to Clean Your Dishwasher?
- What’s the Best Way to Clean Your Dishwasher?
- How to Quickly Clean Your Dishwasher (Basic Monthly Dishwasher Cleaning How-To Guide)
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 Dishwasher Cleanings
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 wouldn’t want it—or worse—on your dishes either.
It’s also good to keep in mind that whenever there’s water, plumbing, and/or water pumps involved with a mechanical device, be it a dishwasher, coffeemaker, or even a pool or water fountain: maintenance is usually a must to keep the machine working properly.
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 both 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 the Dishwasher
Deep cleaning usually focuses on descaling and removing debris, similar to the monthly routine. 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—though we recommend at least every quarter or so. 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 finding the best way to clean your dishwasher.
Rinse On. Rinse Off.
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 are also things to consider.
At the same time, leaving food on the plate or in bowls can still 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 the buildup, 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.
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 Dishwasher Cleaners
Oftentimes, products will typically mention what they’re 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. For instance, my mother’s favorite product dishwasher detergent (not appliance cleaner) worked great in her previous home, but not so well with her new place and brand-new 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. There are also moments where homemade or natural options work great, if not better, and are a more cost-effective solution. I’ve even had some products work better at different locations, possibly due to the water content.
This is why you might need to test things out until you find the right fit.
Things to Consider and Experimentation When Cleaning the Dishwasher
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 want to consider to think about while investigating your options:
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 (new tab).
Before using any online cleaning instructions for cleaning a dishwasher, always check with your manufacturer’s instructions first. And make sure to avoid harsh chemicals such as bleach in certain stainless steel appliances since this can sometimes cause havoc.
For deep cleaning dishwasher instructions, click here.
Monthly Dishwasher Maintenance
- 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).
- Run the dishwasher with your preferred cleaning method: homemade/natural product OR use a dishwasher cleaner according to the given instructions.
Note: Avoid using too much dish soap in the unit, or make sure to thoroughly wipe clean before running the unit.
Homemade Dishwasher Cleaning Method
- Follow the above steps 1-4 from the monthly cleaning.
- Use hot soapy water on a sponge to scrub the inside of the unit, from walls and base to sprayers and racks. If there’s a lot of grime or you need to spot clean, try mixing a drop or so of dish soap with some baking soda to form a paste for a little added grit, degreasing, and cleaning effect. Again, not too much dish soap! Because I can be lazy and hate extra steps, I like to use a small amount of Mrs. Meyers Baking Soda Cream.
- Wipe the unit clean of soap prior to running the unit.
- Place a glass with a 1-to-1 ratio of water and vinegar in the top rack of an empty dishwasher. Some people also do this for maintenance while running a regular wash cycle with dishes (on normal temp mode) as a natural rinsing or descaling agent.
- If choosing to run the machine with only vinegar and water and no dishes, set the machine to Sanitize Mode or the hottest setting available and run the cycle. Or check the user manual for instructions, particularly for specific machines with features such as steam, etc.
Heavy-Duty/Store-Bought Dishwasher Cleaning Method
- Follow the initial 1-4 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.
However, to keep things simple, try to set a schedule for yourself to do a light cleaning of the unit at least once a month or every two months. Setting your device to remind you is a great way to go about it.
You can then schedule deeper cleanings every quarter to twice a year, or as needed and according to your particular dishwashing machine so that you can get to the mechanical parts as well. When in doubt, check with the unit’s instruction manual or contact the manufacturer.
Let us know your favorite way to clean your dishwasher down in the comments below.
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