How to Clean a Dishwasher

A woman cleaning her dishwasher.

I just recently moved into a new apartment, a very nice new apartment. And in that apartment there sits a dishwasher. I have to tell you at first I used it very rarely, out of habit I continued to wash most of my dishes by hand. But now that I have been here for a few months, I don’t ever want to live somewhere where there isn’t a dishwasher. The wonderful, beautiful, and convenient ease of operating one is worth sacrificing every point of pride for more traditional practices. Is there really any honor in prune fingers? I didn’t think so.

So apparently dishwashers need to be cleaned once in a while, less frequently when it is used on a regular basis, which mine is. But parts can get clogged, and things can start to grow, stain, rust, etc. So I put this little article together to show you all how to clean your dishwasher with natural household products. Below are the steps to cleaning a dishwasher with vinegar and baking soda, and to the right, you will find some organic cleaning products made by Seventh Generation.

Steps to Cleaning a Dishwasher

  1. Iron stains on the bottom of a dishwasherDishwasher Stains. The first step is to remove the racks so that you can see what sort of stains you have. The bottom rack will come out easily, but the top . . . not so much. On my dishwasher, the top rack was locked into aluminum gliding arms. On the end of the arms were two plastic clips that came out with a little dexterous manipulation. Once the clips were removed, the top rack slid right out. Using a flashlight, you will now be able to locate the stains. Most of the grime will be around the drain near the floor.
  2. taking off the main spray armDisassemble the Dishwasher. On the floor of the dishwasher is the main spray arm. On my dishwasher it was held in place with an easy-to-remove plastic screw. Once I unscrewed it, the whole thing lifted up allowing me to see what was trapped underneath it near the drain. I really didn’t expect to find anything in it, but to my surprise I found two pieces of broken glass. I also discovered that a piece of my dishwasher was broken—a small, round plastic seal. Another reason to periodically clean your dishwasher.
  3. dishwasher3Vinegar and Soap. To clean the dishwasher, I decided to use white vinegar, a little soap, a green scrubby, and some elbow grease. I combined a couple cups of vinegar and 6 drops of soap in a bowl. Dipping my green scrubby into the solution, I went to work scrubbing the walls and floor of the dishwasher. The stains disappeared after 10 passes with the scrubby. I thought the floor of the dishwasher looked relatively clean, but after closer inspection, I discovered a thin film of grime was present. The grime came off very easily with a single pass of the scrubby.
  4. bottles of vinegar, baking powder, other cleanersClean the Accessories. Next, you will want to clean the spray arm you removed from the floor of the dishwasher, and make sure nothing is blocking the holes. Sometimes bits of food can get through the filter and lodge themselves in the holes, debilitating the spraying arm. Use the same mixture to remove any build-up of lime scale or stains on the accessories. The racks will probably be more or less clean, but it won’t hurt to wash them, too.
  5. Scrubbing the spray armRinse with Water. Once you have finished scrubbing, rinse the stains with a little water to make sure that you got them all. If you manged to get all the stains out, reattach all the components you removed. You will notice that in the bottom of the dishwasher there is a pool of liquid. This is the cleaning solution and water. Don’t worry about draining it. You will be getting rid of it in the next step.
  6. Clean dishwasherBaking Soda. For this article I tried something I had not seen done anywhere else. I realized that the easiest way to rinse everything out of the dishwasher would be to run a quick cycle. But then I thought what if you put ¼ cup of baking soda in the soap dispenser? The baking soda would combine with the vinegar and perhaps further clean the dishwasher. My only concern was that there might be some residue leftover. I tried it with a quick rinse cycle, which is the shortest cycle on my dishwasher. After the cycle finished, the dishwasher was really clean and there wasn’t any residue. Make sure to put the baking soda in the open tray and not the closed tray. Quick rinses don’t last long enough for the other one to open.

Dishwasher Cleaning Products

There are several cleaning products that are “specially” designed to clean your dishwasher. This to me is a poor investment. After reading the ingredients of many of these products, they are little more than mixtures of citric acid. The prices of these products vary greatly, and I have no idea which one is the best. But I do know that vinegar is cheap as hell, and it works wonderfully. If you want to use citric acid; try lemon juice. I understand that lemon juice is an effective cleaner much like vinegar. Lemon juice contains citric acid like the other special products. It is just not as concentrated. Citric acid is pretty corrosive in its pure form and can cause blindness. But the nice thing about lemon juice is when it gets in your eyes, it will sting like heck, but you can wash it out very easily. If you do decide to go with a commercial cleaner of some sort, try to find something that is nontoxic. Cleaning products do not need the ability to kill you in order to clean something well.

Natural Dishwasher Cleaners

Sprayer of Seventh Generation Kitchen CleanerWild Orange and Cedar Spice Kitchen Cleaner from Seventh Generation. The people at Seventh Generation believe that every decision we make today will impact the next seven generations. With that in mind, they create nontoxic, biodegradable cleaning products that still work. I know—what a concept.

Magnoball Lime DescalarThe Magnoball Lime Descaler crystallizes the lime in the water with magnets. The crystallized lime cannot deposit itself on anything, thereby keeping the accumulation of lime scale down. The magnoball has a five-year lifespan. You can get Magnoballs at Amazon.

Box of Seventh Generation Dishwasher DetergentFree and Clear Automatic Dishwasher Powder. This isn’t a dishwasher cleaner, but while we we’re on the subject, I thought I would mention that switching to Seventh Generation dishwasher detergents is a good way to reduce the amount of pollution you contribute to the environment. Most other dishwasher detergents contain chlorine and phosphates, which are very harmful to the environment.