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How to clean your dishwasher

Get the best 'set and forget' performance from your machine.

unscrewing the spray arm in a dishwasher
Last updated: 26 March 2020

We expect our dishwasher to last around 11 years, but if you don't take the time for a few minutes of maintenance then yours may not go the distance. 

Can't stand the thought of dishwasher maintenance? Our dishwasher buying guide tells you what to look for if you just want to replace it. For the rest of us, a little dishwasher TLC isn't too onerous. Here are our tips to help you keep your dishwasher running trouble free.

How to clean your dishwasher


  • Scrape and go. Scraping large particles into the bin or compost means you won't have to pick them out of the filter later, but there's no need to rinse plates before racking them (rinsing can even fool your dishwasher's automatic mode into thinking your crockery's cleaner than it is, so it won't wash as well).

  • Leave the door ajar. This isn't always practical, but this helps extend the life of your door seals, and circulating air helps keep mould and odours at bay. Some models even open automatically to aid drying performance.
  • Use good quality dishwasher detergent. Not only will they do a better job, quality cleaners are less likely to leave detergent residue behind and help prevent slimy deposits from building up in your appliance.


  • Clean your dishwasher seals. Grime build-up around seals causes them to deteriorate more quickly. Run a damp cloth over door seals and contact points to keep them in top condition.
  • Clean the filter. Washing out the internal filter under hot running water and using a plastic brush to lightly scrub off the dirt means your dishwasher will clean more efficiently (and means less grime makes its way deeper into your appliance). Check your manual for instructions on how to remove it. The bigger trap filter can just be rinsed under hot water.


  • Give the exterior a once-over. This not only keeps your kitchen looking spick and span, it helps keep corrosion at bay. Clean your dishwasher's door and fascia with a soft cloth and hot soapy water (or an all-purpose cleaner, but check your manual first), paying attention to corners, handles and around the controls. Glass cleaner works wonders on grime and fingerprints on stainless steel. For fully integrated appliances, clean the fascia as you would the rest of your cabinetry.
  • Fill the rinse aid dispenser. Topping up the reservoir next to the detergent dispenser will help keep your glasses streak-free. Many dishwasher tablets include their own rinse aid, but it's extra important if you prefer powders.
  • Run your dishwasher regularly. Dishwashers like frequent use, and leaving them to sit for too long can give fats and other deposits time to dry, harden and block pipes, allow seals to dry out, and may even contribute to insect infestation. Plus they're generally more water and energy efficient than hand washing, so using the dishwasher more will save you money as well as time.


  • Run the dishwasher on its hottest cycle while empty. Or better yet, pour a couple of cups of vinegar into a bowl on the bottom rack. This helps flush grease, limescale and deposits out of the pipes and removes foul odours.
  • Check the spray arms. Grime can become lodged inside the jets, making them less effective, so if your manual advises it, remove the spray arms and poke a toothpick into the water exit holes to clear any obstructions and keep them flowing freely.

Should I use a commercial dishwasher cleaner?

There are several commercially available cleaning products that claim to clear out your dishwasher's internals and leave it as good as new. 

Running a cleaner through your dishwasher is a great way to flush away built up grease and limescale, but unless you've let neglect get the better of you and you're now dealing with a decade's worth of grime in one go, you may better off with plain old white vinegar. 

Vinegar pros

Like its commercial counterparts vinegar helps shift discolorations, foul smells, and nasties built up in your pipes, but has the added benefits of being less toxic, cheap and readily available. 

Vinegar cons

Some dishwasher manufacturers, such as Miele, advise against using vinegar in their appliances as its acidity can potentially damage sensitive internals over time and recommend proprietary products designed for their machines instead. So check your manual first.

How to clean your dishwasher with vinegar

  • Pour two cups into a bowl on the bottom rack of your otherwise empty appliance 
  • Give it a run, pausing the cycle in the middle for half an hour or so to give it an extra good soaking.
  • If the dishwasher still gives olfactory offense, throw in a generous handful of baking soda and run it again to give stubborn smells their marching orders.

Why pour the vinegar into a bowl and not just tip it straight in? Because many dishwashers run their drain pump at the start of the cycle to clear residual waste water left over from the last run, and this would pump your vinegar straight down the drain. Using a bowl bypasses this initial pump out and keeps the vinegar in the machine where it's needed.

Even more advice

  • Your dishwasher's manual will also give you the basic steps to help you get the longest life and best performance from your machine.
  • If you're experiencing problems with your dishwasher, check out our dishwasher troubleshooting guide.

If you're not sure what you can or can't wash in the dishwasher, see what else CHOICE's kitchen experts recommend in our guide, what can I wash in the dishwasher?

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