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How to Clean and Maintain Your Dishwasher Step By Step

One would think that a dishwasher is one of those appliances that should be self-cleaning. Alas, that’s not quite how it works, as a lot of dirt, grime, and mineral buildup can actually collect in your dishwasher over time, and all this harmful residue will ultimately make your dishwasher smell awful and function much worse than when you bought it. Luckily, just 15 minutes of occasional cleaning and maintenance we’ll explain in this article can prevent all of these issues and will make sure your dishwasher runs smoothly for years.

How to Prevent Build-Up and Bad Smells

Dishwasher cleaning guide opened dishwasher
The first thing to keep in mind when it comes to dishwasher maintenance is also the easiest and most pleasant one - you have to make sure to run the dishwasher frequently. We're assuming that you're regularly topping up salt, detergent, and rinse agent, which is the right thing to do. Regular use will not only prevent any residue from clogging up the filter of the appliance, mildew, and bad smells, it will also reduce the need of having to clean the dishwasher yourself to just twice a year. Below you’ll find a step by step guide to dishwasher cleaning.
Keep in mind that you’ll need to empty the dishwasher before doing any of these steps. You’ll also benefit from the dishwasher user manual, as it will show you how to pull out the racks and disassemble the filter of the dishwasher. If you don’t have a manual on hand, you can try finding it online by searching for the brand and model of your dishwasher on google.

Step 1. Inspect and Unclog the Nozzles of the Sprayer Arms

Dishwasher cleaning guide sprayer arms
The sprayer arms are among the most important part of your dishwasher, as it is them that distribute the water throughout the dirty dishes by spinning and spraying out water at different speeds. When they get clogged with mineral deposits or other debris, your dishwasher will become less effective at cleaning the dishes, so unclogging them regularly is a must.
To do so, remove the racks from the dishwasher first, and then examine each nozzle of the sprayer arms. If any of them are clogged, clean them using a toothpick or any other thin pointy object you already have at home.

Step 2. Clean the Inside of the Dishwasher

Dishwasher cleaning guide detergent dispenser in dishwasher
Now that your dishwasher is empty and all corners are easily accessible, it's time to clean. Take a cloth, some all-purpose cleaner, and carefully wipe down all corners of the dishwasher. The difficult-to-reach places are where most bad smells are coming from, and we find that it's the easiest to use an old toothbrush to give those the deep clean they need. Some of the most often ignored and dirty places in your dishwasher are:
  • The detergent dispenser, especially the inside
  • The inside part under the door
  • The gasket
  • The flatware basket.

Step 3. Patch Up Any Chips and Cracks

The racks themselves can be affected by wear and tear, too, and sometimes, pieces of paint start to chip away from them, which is not just unsightly but can also cause rust. The best way to touch up the exposed metal parts is by using dishwasher touch up paint: it looks like a small nail polish bottle and comes in different colors, and is widely available both online and in hardware stores. Painting those chips is crucial, as chipped and rusty racks can scratch or chip your dishes.

Step 4. Clean the Dishwasher Drain

Dishwasher cleaning guide drain
Before you follow all the steps we're about to describe, make sure to unplug your dishwasher. Now, start by removing any bits located around the drain with a cloth. You can repeat this step every few months, but for a deep clean, you'll also need to disassemble the drain. Now, depending on the model of your dishwasher, the process of taking out the filter will either be very easy or will require a screwdriver.
The user manual to your dishwasher should explain how to disassemble the drain and remove the filter in detail.
Once the filter is out, clean it from all possible debris and food, and rinse it in the sink. Be careful not to rip the mesh lining of the filter. After that, clean the inside of the drain using a brush or cloth and some all-purpose cleaner. When you're done with that, reassemble the drain and plug your dishwasher back in.
Now is also the time to wipe down the outside of the dishwasher, as the cleaning and scrubbing might have also made the outside and sides of the machine a bit dirty.

Step 5. Finish with a vinegar rinse 

Dishwasher cleaning guide vinegar
Image Source: Reddit
Now that your dishwasher is nice and clean, the racks are touched up and dry, and the drain is reassembled, one final step you can do to get rid of any bad smells and mineral buildup in your dishwasher is a vinegar rinse. Before you commence with this step, reassemble your dishwasher completely, putting back the racks and all the different compartments.
You will need a dishwasher-safe cup or bowl, as well as 1 cup of vinegar for this rinse. Simply fill the dish with the vinegar and put it on the top rack of the dishwasher. Select the highest temperature setting and turn on the dishwasher with no other cookware inside and start the cycle. This step is also important because it usually results in cleaner, sparklier dishes.
After that, you're done! Repeat this process every 6 months, and you'll see that it helps maintain your dishwasher's functionality and cleanliness.
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