Are You Neglecting Your Dishwasher?
When it comes to kitchen appliances, the dishwasher is second only to the garbage disposal in terms of maintenance neglect. It’s not a matter of willful neglect of your dishwasher’s needs—more likely, it’s simply been overlooked. After all, why clean something that has the job of cleaning something else? But even cleaning appliances need a little help to keep on working their best. (Now might also be a good time to remind you to regularly clean and maintain your clothes washer!)
Why Dishwasher Maintenance is Important
If you have a dishwasher, you’ve experienced this before: it runs through its cycles, the green light comes on alerting you that the dishwasher has done its job, you open the door, and inside, everything looks clean. Dishes are clean so the dishwasher is clean. But as you remove the dishes, you notice the usual sparkle is gone, or there is a filmy residue. You may think you need a better dishwashing detergent, but a dirty dishwasher could be the culprit.
Here’s the ugly truth: food debris and other deposits can build up in your dishwasher the more you use it. Eventually, that buildup will take away all that sparkle, with dishes looking and feeling grimy and gross. What your dishwasher needs is a good cleaning.
So get out your owner’s manual if you still have it, or look up your dishwasher’s make and model online. You’ll want to have the manual handy to locate the different parts of your dishwasher.
9 Steps to Dishwasher Sparkle
Follow these nine steps to maintain your dishwasher. Doing so about every three months can keep it running well and performing magic on your dishes every cycle.
1. Run a full cycle on an empty dishwasher (no dishes)
Pour a cup of distilled white vinegar solution on the bottom inside of the dishwasher before you run an empty cycle. The solution helps loosen up food debris, and water and mineral deposits, and after the cycle completes, makes it easier to clean the inside of the dishwasher.
2. Remove the dish racks and flatware holder
Next, clean the racks and holder in warm soapy water in the sink. Inspect them for cracks or signs of wear and tear.
3. Clean inside the dishwasher
Use warm, soapy water on the walls, back, and bottom of the dishwasher. You may want to invest in a long-handled brush to more easily reach the back walls. Next, hit the detergent dispenser—you’d be surprised how much buildup accumulates there. You may need a toothpick or an old toothbrush if the detergent is caked on.
4. Clean the spinning arms and/or spray nozzle
The dishwasher’s spinning arms have holes where water sprays out from during a cycle. Sometimes the holes fill up with deposits. If you start to notice your dishes are not getting a thorough clean, these holes may be the culprit. Clear out any debris with a toothpick or pipe cleaner. You should also test the arms to make sure they are spinning correctly.
Many dishwashers also have a spray nozzle on the bottom of the dishwasher and it often looks similar to the top spinning arms. Mineral deposits also can build up inside the spray nozzle. A toothpick or small pipe cleaner is all you need to clean the nozzle. Consult your manual as needed for cleaning most of these parts.
5. Clean the filter (if you have one)
Not all dishwashers have a filter. If yours has one—also located at the bottom of the dishwasher—remove it to clean, then rinse, and return it to the same spot. You will need your manual for cleaning your filter.
6. Clean around the drain
Your dishwasher’s drain is also located on the bottom and will clog up over time with food bits, deposits, and occasionally, small pieces of garbage that accidentally end up in a dishwasher. A clog is also a culprit for dishes that don’t look like they were cleaned after a cycle. Visually inspect the area around the drain and use a wet sponge to clean up the outside.
Sometimes, cleaning around the outside is not enough to clear clogs and you need to remove it to do a thorough clean. A bad clog means that the dirty water isn’t draining properly. Gross! A clog also means the pump has to work too hard. You can either hire a pro to service the dishwasher drain or consult websites for DIYers. Have your manual out as well for DIY cleaning.
7. Clean the inside edges of the door
The edges around the inside of the dishwasher door and the bottom base of the door also your attention. Food gunk accumulates there, too—and each time you shut the door, it just gets matted down and layered over with any new gunk. An old toothbrush will loosen up the caked-on bits, then use a warm soapy sponge and shine it up to match the inside part of the door that always gets a wash during a cycle – a good cleaning and you’ll think the inside looks brand new.
8. Clean the door gasket and outside the door
Use a damp cloth to clean accumulated gunk and soap residue from the rubber gasket. A clean gasket helps keep your door seal tight. Next, clean the outside of the door using a soft, clean, slightly damp cloth. Check the web, or you're manual, for the right kind of cleaner to use, depending on the material (such as stainless steel) of the dishwasher door.
9. Run a full cycle again
Now that you have loosened up and washed down every part of the inside of your dishwasher, it’s time to run another cycle to get everything rinsed thoroughly and ready to use again for your dishes.
Dishwasher Maintenance and Troubleshooting Tips
- Repeat the steps above every few months to keep your dishwasher cleaning its best.
- Check whether your dishwasher has a Cancel or Drain button on the door’s control panel. If so, push the button after every cycle completes. This will clear all the water from the drain hose. This, like regular maintenance, is a good habit to form as it removes any sitting water in the hose. It also allows you to test the relay and pump on a dishwasher. If you can hear the dishwasher drain, those components are working correctly.
- Run your dishwasher regularly. Doing so helps prevent buildup from accumulating in the spray nozzle and armholes. It may also mean you don’t have to clean your dishwasher as often.
- If you discover your dishwasher has stopped draining, try these DIY tips in this dishwasher troubleshooting guide.
Our Basic Home Warranty Plan Covers Your Dishwasher
Regular dishwasher maintenance is critical to keeping it running clean so your dishes come out clean. Another way to protect your dishwasher is with home warranty coverage. The basic home warranty plan from First American can cover your dishwasher, as well as other appliances and home systems in your home, from unexpected or sudden breakdowns. Learn more about what a home warranty is, the appliances and systems that our home warranties cover, or simply get a quote.