How to Clean a Dishwasher With Vinegar - Public Goods Blog

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The Quickest & Easiest Ways to Clean a Dishwasher

Dishwashers are convenient kitchen appliances that make your dishes sparkle in no time. Unfortunately, dishwashers won’t (usually) clean themselves and may be dirtier than you think.

Image of a clean dishwasher with clean dishes

We won’t ask when the last time was that you cleaned your dishwasher. Besides, with all of that hot, soapy water swirling around inside of the machine, doesn’t it sort of clean itself? Well, no.

Thankfully, with the right natural cleaning supplies and a little resolve, the process is easy and painless. All you’ll really need is some white vinegar, baking soda, and, of course, a dishwasher.

And there’s no need for harsh chemicals like bleach or ammonia. Those may give your appliance a factory-fresh sparkle, though besides being environmentally unfriendly, chemicals wear down the interior components of your dishwasher and reduce the lifespan. Below are a few simple steps for how to clean a dishwasher with vinegar and other natural ingredients, rather than chemicals.

Tips for Cleaning a Dishwasher

Here are a few things to keep in mind when cleaning your dishwasher that, ultimately, will help make the process more efficient and effective in the long run.

As with other appliances, some level of routine cleaning makes a big difference over time. Besides keeping germs and stains at bay, regular cleaning means a prolonged lifespan of your appliance and less work later on for the future you.

P.S.: Don’t overdo it with abrasives when you’re scrubbing your dishwasher! A sponge or toothbrush, combined with some hot water and natural cleaners, should be all you need to lift stains. Avoid steel wool and other harsh metal scrubbers, as these can seriously damage your dishwasher and even leave rust-prone metal fibers behind in the appliance.

How Often Should You Clean Your Dishwasher?

Do a basic cleaning of your dishwasher once per month. For a deeper clean where you really roll up your sleeves—cleaning out the drain, wiping down the spray arm, etc.—every three to six months is a safe window depending on use frequency. If your dishwasher has a self-sanitizing cycle, you can run that in conjunction with the steps below.

Getting Rid of Smells

Odd odors and lingering food smells don’t have to plague your dishwasher. Usually, these are caused by the bits of food rinsed off during the wash cycle that get stuck in the nooks and crannies.

Try following one of the methods below to get rid of lingering dishwasher odors. Be sure to check the spray arm, drain, filters, and any other tight spots inside of your appliance for food remnants and particles. Spot-scrubbing areas (more on that below) will also help remove caked-on or stubborn stains.

Already deep cleaned your dishwasher but still smelling something musty, damp, or otherwise unpleasant? There may be a block or kink in the drain hose. If smells persist unnaturally, consider contacting a plumber or the manufacturer.

Keep it Fresh

Lastly, always let your dishwasher air out after cleaning. The circulation helps clear out any cleaning product smells from the relatively enclosed environment. For that matter, whenever you’re done running a cycle of dishes, crack open the dishwasher door to ventilate the hot steam.

How to Clean Dishwashers With Vinegar

Here’s how to clean a dishwasher with vinegar in a few simple steps. We love white vinegar because of its power to cut through grime by itself or mixed with other ingredients in a DIY dishwasher cleaner. In this case, we’ll be starting with just vinegar!

Vinegar is great for killing some types of bacteria and mildew, in addition to cutting through grease and odors. Expect to get rid of built-up food particles, oils, grime, and other gunk stinking up your kitchen’s all-star appliance.

If you’ve deep-cleaned your dishwasher recently or are pressed for time, you can skip the steps on cleaning the removable components (steps one through three) and simply proceed ahead. That said, if you have time, it’s still a good idea to check the drainage area for any loose, easily wiped away food debris. You never know what you might find!

Step One

First, gather your supplies. Here’s what you’ll need:

Step Two

Begin by cleaning the filter and drain area located under the spray arm of your dishwasher. Roll out and remove the bottom rack. Wipe away any debris and bits of food, shells, bones, and various sediment using your soft towel or paper towels. It’s a good idea to do this every month or two to limit bacteria buildup and ensure the optimal functioning of your machine.

You can use a damp towel with a little vinegar water here to wipe down the spray arm and any other detail spots that look gunked up. The soft-bristled toothbrush will be your friend here for unclogging spray jets.

If the vinegar water isn’t cutting it, try a sudsy water mixture of one teaspoon liquid dish soap and two cups of warm water. Removable parts, of course, may be washed in the sink if that’s easiest.

Image of dirty dishwasher filter

Step Three

Take out the drain filter to manually clean it separately. Knock loose debris into the trash can, then spray off in the sink. Use a toothbrush (nothing too abrasive here!) to gently clean the mesh filter.

Let the filter soak in hot, soapy water for about 10 minutes, spray it out, and return it to the machine. This is also a good time to take out the silverware tray for a quick sponge and rinse.

Step Four

Fill up your dishwasher-safe bowl or mug with around one cup of white vinegar and place it securely on the top rack. (Apple cider vinegar also works!) With no other dishes in the machine, run one short cycle on the hottest available setting.

Step Five

Crack open the door of the dishwasher to let it air out. Once the vinegar smell has vanished (after about an hour), you’re all set! Wipe down the door seals and around the handle with a soft cloth for a final touch of cleanliness.

Deep Cleaning a Dishwasher With Baking Soda

Looking for an even deeper clean? While white vinegar strips away grease and helps cut back odors, baking soda brings an extra level of deodorization, like mouthwash after brushing your teeth.

For best results, start by following the steps above for how to clean a dishwasher with vinegar—don’t forget to wipe the drain area and filter, as well! Then, sprinkle half a cup to one cup of baking soda over the dishwasher floor and run the hottest cycle. Leave the door open for about an hour once completed to ensure proper ventilation and voilà: a fresh and happy dishwasher ready to take on the world!

A word to the wise—don’t mix white vinegar and baking soda in the same cycle! This makes for a foamy, albeit deodorizing mess. Keep your vinegar and baking soda rinse cycles separate, and there’s no need to worry.

Cleaning the Exterior of Your Dishwasher

The inside of the dishwasher isn’t the only place prone to bacteria growth and food residue buildup. Wipe down the exterior of the door, handle, seal, and button panel with an all-purpose cleaner and a soft cloth (or paper towels) a few times each week or whenever you notice it getting visibly dirty.

You can also make your own impromptu dishwasher cleaner homemade if needed. Simply mix together a few drops of liquid dish soap and white vinegar in a small bucket of warm water and rub onto surfaces with a soft towel. Go back over crusted spills and stains as needed, finishing off with a damp, then dry microfiber cloth to add polish.

In either case, check whichever cleaner you’ve chosen will be safe on surface materials, such as stainless steel, and won’t damage the button pad. Vinegar and some all-purpose cleaners may cause streaking or corrosion of stainless steel and other metals.

And as with the interior of the appliance, avoid using anything too abrasive or sharp that could cause damage when scrubbing the exterior door. Now that you know how to clean a dishwasher with vinegar (and baking soda), you should be ready to tackle the leftovers of even the biggest holiday feasts.

Sustainability at Public Goods

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