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How to Clean and Disinfect Your Dishwasher

How to Clean and Disinfect Your Dishwasher

Did you know that you actually have to clean your dishwasher? Even though it uses hot water and detergent to wash dishes, stuff like food scraps, soap residue, hard water, and grease can build up on the interior walls and racks. A dirty dishwasher prevents the water from getting hot enough to kill germs, remove food debris, and dispense the detergent.

Left unmanaged, your dishwasher can’t clean your dishes effectively, leaving bacteria to grow and potentially cause sickness. It’s recommended that you sanitize your dishwasher at least once a month in order to deter bacteria growth and funky smells.

Fortunately, keeping your dishwasher clean is a simple job that you can complete in less time than it takes to finish an episode of your favorite TV show.

How to clean a dishwasher

First, unload the dishwasher and remove the bottom rack and utensil baskets. Make sure that the dishwasher has completely cooled before you touch any of the filter parts. While wearing rubber gloves, clear out any leftover pieces of food that may have accumulated on the bottom.

When you don’t rinse out your bowl of mac and cheese or scrape off that cookie sheet well enough, those small bits of food scraps collect. Remove the drainer and scrub away any of the food particles and dirt buildup. A dish scrubber, hot water, and dish soap will easily cut through grime.

How to disinfect a dishwasher

Simply clearing the dishwasher of its stuck-on food still leaves the dishwasher full of icky bacteria. Disinfecting the dishwasher will remove germs so that you don’t get sick from food-borne illnesses that could be hiding and multiplying in hard-to-reach places. Cleaning and disinfecting your dishwasher at the same time will leave you with sparkling clean dishes that are also safe to use with food.  

To disinfect your dishwasher:

  1. Remove the bottom rack and utensil baskets and wash with hot, soapy water.
  2. Pour 2 cups of white vinegar into a dishwasher-safe bowl.
  3. Place the bowl of vinegar on the top rack of your dishwasher and run a hot water cycle without any detergent. The vinegar will act as a mild disinfectant.

If your dishwasher needs a more powerful disinfectant to cut through grease and food scraps, fill the detergent compartment with a powdered laundry bleach and run the dishwasher on a normal hot-water cycle.

Want to make sure you kill 99.9% of germs* in your dishwasher? Use the SurfaceSoap UV wand. Swipe the UV sanitizing wand over and around every surface, rack, nook, and cranny of your dishwasher to tackle sneaky freeloading pathogens.

Cleaning your dishwasher filter

If your dishes still have food stuck on them or are greasy after a full cycle, it’s probably time to clean your filter. All dishwashers have at least one filter, sometimes more. They're usually self-cleaning but can become clogged.

It’s important to keep your filter clean and unclogged since it clears dishwater, protects your dishwasher’s pump, and keeps food particles from sticking to your dishes.

Run your filter under water, then scrub with dish soap to remove any remaining grime or debris. Avoid using any rough tools like a scouring pad to scrub as they can damage your filter. When putting your filter back into the appliance, make sure it is properly fitted and locked into place. If you don’t do this, you could damage your dishwasher.

Alternatives to using vinegar

If you don’t have any vinegar on hand, you can use baking soda to deodorize and freshen up any smells. Sprinkling a cup into your dishwasher before running an empty cycle will do the trick! If you prefer to use a stronger cleaning alternative to vinegar or baking soda, you can always use a store-bought dishwasher cleaner. You can find dishwasher cleaner brands like Cascade and Arm & Hammer at most grocery stores.

What to do with a clogged dishwasher

If your dishes are consistently coming out of the “clean” dishwasher covered in food bits and grease, chances are there’s a clog somewhere in your appliance.

When dirty dishwater can’t properly drain, stagnant water could collect at the bottom and breed bacteria and smells. Often your drain filter and drain hose are the clogging culprits. Both need to be removed and cleaned.

Treat the hose like any other drain and use a commercial de-clogger or snake. If you don’t want to run to your nearest Home Depot, or you simply want to put your DIY skills to the test, a refashioned wire coat hanger should effectively clear out any gunk and debris.

The dishwasher drain is the basket-shaped thing at the bottom of your dishwasher. To remove this, you’ll need a screwdriver. The process of unclogging is similar to the drain hose. Once you’ve removed the clog, make sure to thoroughly clean your hose or filter using warm, soapy water.

Getting rid of smells in a dishwasher

The buildup of food particles and stagnant water (if there are clogging problems) can make your dishwasher smell musty. How do you get your dishwasher smelling fresh again?

  1. Remove any food that may have fallen into crevices or to the bottom of your dishwasher.
  2. Clean your filter. Your filter may be trapping old food and grease.
  3. Clean your dishwasher using the guidelines above.
  4. If the above steps didn’t work, add 7–10 drops of lemon essential oil to the bowl of vinegar. The lemon oil should freshen the mustiness smell.
  5. Let your dishwasher air dry by leaving the door open for a few hours. Give it a nice breather so it’s not trapping any lingering smells.

It’s important to take care of our cleaning appliances. If neglected, they simply won’t be able to clean as effectively or for as long. It may be one extra thing on your already full to-do list, but it’s worth it to make sure your meals are served on safe and disinfected dishes.  


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*SurfaceSoap UV was tested by BIOSCIENCE LABORATORIES, LLC against Salmonella enterica (ATCC # 10708), Staphylococcus aureus (ATCC # 6538), and HCoV-OC43 (Zeptometrix #0810024CF). SurfaceSoap UV was tested by scanning glass slides containing these microbes and shown to kill up to 99.99% of the previously specified bacteria, and 99.9% of the specified virus strain. Tests were performed with the SurfaceSoap UV moving at 3 inches per second and held 1 inch from the exposed surface.

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