How to clean a dishwasher – the step-by-step guide for sparkling dishes every time

If your glasses and crockery aren't coming out as clean as you'd expect, it's time for a deep clean

kitchen with dishwasher and kettle
(Image credit: Future PLC)

Many assume that these hardworking appliances clean themselves, and it's true that dishwashers are fairly hygienic. However, if you don't know how to clean a dishwasher then you'll be wasting time, energy and money with those now inefficient wash cycles.

Even the best dishwashers money can buy will need some occasional TLC in order to keep running at maximum efficiency.

The good news is that once you know how to clean a dishwasher, it's actually pretty painless, and well worth the time and effort. Here's how to get your faithful dishwasher smelling fresh, looking like new and delivering pristine dishes time after time.

How to clean a dishwasher

By regularly cleaning your machine, you can prevent the build of limescale, bacteria and odours, ensuring perfectly hygienic, fresh dishes.

While you should deep clean an oft-used your machine every few months, the frequency of your cleaning should depend on how often your dishwasher is used.

white kitchen worktop with open dishwasher and toaster

(Image credit: Future PLC / William Goddard)

What you'll need

  • Sheets of old newspaper
  • Hot, soapy water or a vinegar-water solution
  • A pointed implement, such as a skewer, toothpick or tweezers
  • Old toothbrush
  • Multipurpose cleaner
  • Microfibre cloth

1. Run a hot wash

You'll want your best cleaning products at the ready, but preparation is the key to a successful dishwasher clean. The first two steps will lay the groundwork nicely.

Start by turning on your dishwasher, remove any dirty dishes and cutlery and run a hot wash cycle. When it has finished, turn the dishwasher off at the mains and open the door fully. Spread newspaper on the floor in front of it to catch any drips.

An open dishwasher in a dark blue kitchen

(Image credit: Future PLC/David Parmiter)

2. Empty the dishwasher

Take out any baskets and cutlery holders/trays that can be removed, and soak them in hot, soapy water. If they're very greasy, use a solution that's one part white vinegar, at Amazon to five parts water.

3. Clean the dishwasher impellers

Remove the spinning arms and wash with warm soapy water. Choose a small pointed tool, such as a toothpick or tweezers, to clear debris from the water holes, as blocked rotators will affect water circulation.  Once clean, simply reinstall.

dishwasher with white trays

(Image credit: TBC)

4. Clean the filter

If your machine has a filter, pull both parts out and clean off any debris.Soak both the metal tray (the micro filter) and plastic coarse filter in soapy water, then rinse them through and put them back into your dishwasher.

To stop this from getting too bunged up, it's worth your time checking your dishwasher filter once a week.

5. Clean the dishwasher drain

Pull out the bottom rack and look at the dishwasher floor, especially the drain, and remove any build-up. Using a toothbrush and a multipurpose cleaner, scrub the drain well, then rinse.

An open dishwasher in a light grey kitchen with silver hardware

(Image credit: Future PLC)

6. Clean the dishwasher with white vinegar

We're big fans of cleaning with white vinegar, and it's the perfect product for giving your dishwasher a deeper clean.

'Fill a small cup with the vinegar, making sure it sits securely in the top rack,' advises Andrea Pesce, appliance expert at Domestic & General. 'Then run your dishwasher on an empty hot cycle to allow the vinegar to work its magic. Never put white vinegar in a full wash as its acidic nature can cause damage to your dishware.'

Knowing how to clean a washing machine with vinegar is a really useful addition to your cleaning rota, so make sure to do this a couple of times a year. 'Repeating this every three to four months can help you maintain a well-working appliance and help keep the need for a dishwasher repair at a minimum.' 

7. Run another cycle

Place the clean removable racks back inside the dishwasher and pour a cupful of dishwasher salt into the filter and run it on a rinse cycle to finish the deep clean.

Blue cabinets with dishwasher in kitchen

(Image credit: Future PLC)

8. Clean the exterior

'Remember, the door and door-seal do not get reached by the water from the spray arms and so these will need to be wiped down to remove any food or detergent residue,' says Sophie Lane, product training manger for Miele GB. 'This can just be done using a clean, damp cloth.'

The best way to make sure the whole exterior is clean is to check the sides and hinge areas, including the rubber gasket around the door. Then wipe down the door with a cloth and multipurpose cleaner, taking care to clean around the buttons.

Dishwasher salt

black worktop with dishwasher and potted plants

(Image credit: Richard Gadsby)

Are your dishes not coming out as sparkling as you'd expect? The solution could be to add more dishwasher salt to the machine. Dishwasher salt softens the water running your machine and stops limescale – the cause of those pesky marks – from building up.

Whether you use dishwasher salt or it's just one of those terms you've heard floating around, it's useful to have a refresher into what this is and how you can best use it for how to clean your dishwasher.

Change the dishwasher salt

Your machine may well have a light that comes on when your salt needs to be topped up, so look out for this. Cleaning expert Kelly from points out that even soft water contains some calcium and magnesium, which can eventually cause limescale.

'Always keep your dishwasher salt reservoir toped up,' says Kelly. 'If you live in a hard water area you'll need to top the salt up more than living in a soft water area. Your dishwasher and dishes will thank you for it.'

How to use dishwasher salt

Dishwasher salt, at Amazon, can be added into the softener compartment. This is usually located next to the drain in the base of your dishwasher (rather than the door). It's often accessed via a screw cap.

Some machines come with a special piece of paper that you can use to test the hardness of your water. From the results of that test, your instruction manual will recommend how much salt to add each time.

If not, simply add the right amount of salt as recommended on the salt packaging. Use a funnel to make the job easier.

Before your next wash, run a pre-wash to get rid of any salt that may have escaped the softener compartment. Now you're ready to go!

Dishwasher rinse aid

While salt shifts limescale, rinse aid basically makes sure no water is left behind on your dishes and glassware. Any leftover water can leave marks, but rinse aid prevents this by stopping water droplets from 'sticking' to your crockery.

kitchen worktop with dishwasher

(Image credit: TBC)

How to use dishwasher rinse aid

You'll usually find the compartment for rinse aid in the door of the machine, near to where you add your tablets. Slowly pour in the rinse aid until the compartment is full. And that's it.

Your machine will do the rest of the work, controlling how much rinse aid it adds to the wash depending on the cycle.

Cleaning expert Kelly has a top tip for when you're getting water marks or streaks despite using rinse aid. 'Turn your rinse aid setting up. In the rinse aid compartment, you will notice a very small dial with numbers, all you need to do is turn the dial to a higher setting,' she says.

kitchen area with pink dishwasher and white drawers

(Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole)

Best dishwasher cleaners

If donning a pair of marigolds isn't up your street, these brilliant products will do the hard work for you.

Dr. Beckmann Service-it Deep Clean Dishwasher Cleaner, £2.70 at Amazon

Dr. Beckmann Service-it Deep Clean Dishwasher Cleaner, £2.70 at Amazon

Remove bacteria and bad odours with this cleaning powder that cleans the inside of your machine, and finish with the specially designed wet wipe for cleaning the seals.

Finish 250ML Dishwasher Cleaner Lemon |£5.34 at Amazon

Finish 250ML Dishwasher Cleaner Lemon |£5.34 at Amazon

Deep clean your DW with this cleaner that removes hidden dirt and limescale and removes odours


How to clean a washing machine with vinegar

When it comes to how to clean a washing machine with vinegar, you're in luck as it's an easy and cheap process. As explained in our step-by-step guide above, you can use vinegar in an empty cycle towards the end of your deep clean or, if you need to, you can just run an empty cycle every couple of months without the deep clean in order to keep things ticking over.

How do you get rid of a bad smell in the dishwasher?

To prevent bad odours, you need to make sure you're using a suitable washing programme for the level of soiling on your dishes and the quantity of dishes you're washing. 

It's also important to make sure your dishwasher is not overloaded as this – and incorrect stacking – can cause poor washing results. So you've got reason to be annoyed if someone's stacking isn't up to scratch.

Lastly, learning how to clean a dish3washer will keep bad smells at bay.

How do I clean my dishwasher with hard water?

If you live in a hard water area and can afford it, consider investing in a water softener system, which removes hard minerals from water. It goes under your sink and can be plugged up to your dishwasher, washing machine and shower.

Using dishwasher salt is also a gamechanger for hard water areas, so make sure you're using this and in the right way.

Sure, it takes some elbow grease, but put a little effort in and you'll be rewarded with not only sparkling clean dishes and glassware, but a dishwasher that will run more efficiently for longer.

Amy Cutmore

Amy Cutmore is an experienced interiors editor and writer, who has worked on titles including Ideal Home, Homes & Gardens, LivingEtc, Real Homes, GardeningEtc, Top Ten Reviews and Country Life. And she's a winner of the PPA's Digital Content Leader of the Year. A homes journalist for two decades, she has a strong background in technology and appliances, and has a small portfolio of rental properties, so can offer advice to renters and rentees, alike. 

With contributions from