How to Clean a Dishwasher

This is a picture of my dishwasher. It’s an almost four-year-old Frigidaire and has always done a great job of cleaning my dishes…that is until recently.

kitchen sink

As of late, my “clean” glasses have a nasty, gritty film and many plates and bowls have solidified mess all over them. Ew. Nothing has changed in my dishwashing routine—same loading method, same Cascade detergent, same Jet Dry rinse. So what in the world? Well, I did what any modern girl would do in this situation. I consulted with the smartest people I know….YOU! Here were the tips I gleaned from everyone who responded to my cry on Facebook and Twitter.

1. Clean Your Filter

Your filter is located in the bottom of your dishwasher. It’s the thing that chunks up the food residue and sends it into your sink/garbage disposal.

To clean it, you’ll have to pull it out. Mine is pretty easy to remove. You just turn the dark gray handle and pull the whole thing out like this:

Clean off everything and remove any debris that might be caught down there. I had a bunch of dog fur. Lovely. Also make sure that the holes that spray the water out on the blades are clear of grains of rice, gunk, etc. (Amanda shared a link with me that included step by step instructions by The Quick & The Hungry on how to clean the filter .)

2. Clean the Dishwasher on Empty

There were several suggestions as to how to go about this, so I’ll list them all.

  • Put vinegar in a cup on the top rack and run dishwasher.


  • Place a few packets of sugar free lemon koolaide in dispenser, or place the contents of a mostly frozen can of oj in the bottom. The citric acid removes residue build-up.
  • Use a commercial cleaning aid such as Affresh or Lemi Shine and follow instructions on bottle.

3. Change Your Detergent

Apparently due to the removal of all phosphates from dishwasher detergents, the detergents just aren’t cleaning the same. Yay for a healthier environment? Boo for dirtier dishes. Many of you (and Consumer Reports) recommend using Finish Tabs. I’ve always been a Cascade girl myself, but hands down the Finish tabs clean better.

If you want a more natural solution, here is a recipe to make your own dishwasher detergent. Some of you also suggested using white vinegar as a rinse aid.



4. Clean Your Garbage Disposal

This suggestion came from my mommy. She called me after she saw my facebook thread to weigh in. My mom recently had her garbage disposal replaced and now her dishwasher is cleaning like a dream. To clean your garbage disposal, pour ice and vinegar down the disposal while it is running. The ice will dislodge any gunk stuck on there and the vinegar will help clean it out. You could also try creating vinegar ice cubes and pouring those down but this method is easier :).

I’ve also heard that using citrus rinds, parts, pieces, etc. helps but my mom says no. She said that in her experience it smells wonderful but you run the risk of the peels, seeds, parts adding to your problem.

One last suggestion that I haven’t tried yet is to pour baking soda and then vinegar down your disposal (think 3rd grade volcano experiment here) and wait a few minutes. The chemical reaction of the soda and vinegar should dissolve any gunk. Rinse it out with hot water for a few minutes and all should be right with the world.

You all are awesome! Thank you to everyone who helped me solve my dirty dish dilemma. I’m happy to report that my dishwasher is back to its happy cleaning self….and so am I!

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  1. says

    I have used the Lemishine and vinegar for almost a year and it works great. I have a repairman coming soon though…I can’t fix the little wheels that broke that my top rack glides on… lol! :) Glad it’s still under warranty! My repairman says to buy a whirlpool next time…I have a Frigidaire and have had the repairmen here 5 times in two years~ :-/ Not a great record! I might even buy a better one that a Whirlpool….I hate dirty dishes! :)

  2. says

    This couldn’t come at a more perfect time! I am having similar problems with my dishwasher. I will need to try a couple of these home remedies, I have tried the vinegar and the commercial cleaner- dishwasher magic is what I used. I am going to try cleaning our disposal… it was smelling anyway!

    Thanks again!

  3. Carrie says

    Great tips! Here is another tip to clean out the disposal. Used egg shells from your hard boiled eggs in the disposal to clean out the gunk.

  4. Sarah says

    Wow, this couldn’t have appeared at a better time! My dishwasher is driving me crazy & I’ve tried a couple of things (none that you listed) & nothing has worked. I’ll try some of these tonight!

    P.S. I’ve heard those gelpacs (no matter the brand) are the WORST thing to put in your dishwasher. This coming from a friend that works on lots of dishwashers. He said it will kill the life of your dishwasher faster than anything. The plastic from the gelpacs doesn’t break down like it says it should & causes major damage :( Just wanted to share!

    • Beth @A to Z says

      Yikes! Thanks for the heads up! I debated between these and the detergent tabs with the little blue ball thingy in the middle. I’ll try those next time.

      • Megan says

        I think I am in the minority but I HATE Finish Tabs with the ball in the middle. I need to try a few of the suggestions but my dishes always always have water spots and I end up having to rinse and dry them by hand – Really gross when it’s on my son’s sippy cups! I actually just bought a bunch of new dishes and cookware and all of the stuff said not to use the concentrated tabs, that they eat the enamel off of the non-stick and such. Guess I’ll have to try gel as our powder door is broken.

        • Ronit says

          I used have the same problems. But then my son-in-law told me not to open the dishwasher atleast an hour after it finishes its work. since then i do not have any problem with those white spots on the glass.
          I also put a piece of lemon or 2-3 tablespoons of the vinegar. It comes out absolutely spotless.

    • says

      OH man…..same here Thanks so much for this blog…i gave up a few weeks ago, it seemed like a silly question to everyone (dishwasher should clean itself ) is what i got….thank you for trying harder than i did lol

      i will definitely use these suggestions!!

  5. says

    Instead of using Jet Dry in the rinse aid compartment, I use Vinegar…made a difference between night and day…

    thanx for all the tips…

    Donna T.

    • GMT says

      I put regular white vinegar in the RinseAid area of my dishwasher after reading this post 3 days ago. Not really sure it’s making a difference in my dishes, but it sure has made my kitchen smell like vinegar ?!?!?! Hopefully that will pass soon.

  6. Lynn says

    I like cascade as well, but it is pricey, so I’ve been using a mixture of 2 parts cascade, 1 part baking soda, and 1 part borax. It works great, still gives me the clean rinse I like from commercial dishsoaps, but costs a lot less. And I use vinegar in my rinse aid instead of Jet Dry as well, because that costs a lot less and works the same.

  7. says

    Girl, you are the best at tips! I (yes, I) had no idea how to clean the filter at the bottom of my dishwasher. I’m not even sure mine has one. Wait….oh yes, I just removed the spinning spray arm and there it is! Mine is built in but I can clean it if needed now.


  8. says

    I use the vinegar and baking soda to clean out the garbage disposal. It works great and it is fun to watch in a 4th grade science experiment way.

  9. a says

    I have found that the Finish red ball tabs left my dishes dirty and grainy. Even the racks didn’t slide well because of the grit. I have also found that those plastic coverings from the gel pacs sometimes do not dissolve as well. I’m back to pouring the liquid cascade into the dispenser. That seems to be working. So much work for clean dishes!!

  10. michelle says

    i wanna know HOW you got dog fur in your dishwasher!?!?!

    i really isn’t good for the dog to wash them in there!


  11. M says

    I started using Finish about a year ago because they are constantly on bogo at my local store. The packs worked great at first but recently we thought our dishwasher was a piece of scrap because it just wasn’t cleaning our dishes well and was leaving white powder/water spots on the dishes that were still dripping wet after running the heat cycle multiple times. My husband bought a bottle of cascade last week and the dishes were spotless and bone dry on the FIRST wash!

  12. M says

    Just read A’s comment from July 25th… that was EXACTLY our problem! And after one Cascade wash it was like a brand new machine.

  13. ella says

    My dishwasher has been smelling bad. I’ve tried cleaning my disposal but it never occured to me to clean the filter. Trying that as soon as I get home from work today.

  14. Jennifer Stanley says

    Thanks so much for the dishwasher tips. I really have been having problems with ours and hope these ideas help! :) Are those your dishes in the main photo? They are so cute! Is it a set or randomness?

  15. Candy says

    I use the lemishine(about every 3rd time) with cascade jel packs and my dishes are 1000% better – I was at the point wear I would take the dishes out of the dishwasher and wash them before putting away – now the glassware and silverware sparkle. I have always taken my dishwasher apart and given it a good cleaning about every 6 mo or so as the hard water causes buildup. My dishwasher is 10 yo and I don’t even remember what kind it is

  16. says

    Hi Beth,
    I need to give you a huge thanks and a hug! My dishwasher has not been working well for a long time. I have tried to clean it, switched cleaners etc and even threatened to get a new one!
    I found my filter and cleaned it plus ran it with vinegar. I then put vinegar in the rinse aid compartment and WOW for the first time my dishes were clean!
    Thanks thanks thanks!!

  17. Sandi says

    Wow! Thanks for the tips. We have identical dishwashers and mine quit cleaning last week. Hopefully, I can fix the problem after seeing this!

  18. Jimisa says

    To clean garage disposal use baking soda and boiling hot water. After that sets for a while follow with purex bleach ~ 1 cup!

  19. Kelly says

    I found this post on Pinterest.. Omg. I think you literally saved my life! I had NO idea that you could remove that bottom part and clean it… I am really surprised and grateful that no one in my family is sick. We live in a rental and the disgusting grime I found in mine.. Well, puke. I have cleaned it thoroughly now, thanks to this post!

    THANK YOU !!! :)


  20. Delane Kempf says

    I don’t remember what magazine it was, but it listed the top dishwasher detergents. The Walmart brand powder was either top of the list or near the top. I can’t say it was a difference of night and day or anything, but I always think the powders works much better than the gels.

  21. Vanessa says

    I found this on Pinterest…and i never knew that you could even clean a dishwasher. Hopefully my dishes come out clean like they udes to. Thanks for this info!

  22. Lori says

    Just saw this on Pinterest. Thanks! I’m going to try the filter and the ice/vinegar. I read somewhere that if your SS dishwasher has a SS inside to never use anything with citrus in it (lemon, orange etc) b/c it will mess up the SS.

  23. ltw says

    sprinkling powders is no substitute for doing what this blog suggest.
    I removed the spray arm and then the filters and was horrified at what was under there.
    no wonder the thing smelled! furthermore, I was thinking that machine was cleaning my dishes.
    more like doing the final rinse down in the garbage disposal. horrifying……..

  24. Paulette says

    I used a turkey baster to suck up the yakky water in the buttom of the dish washer
    after I removed all the parts , a tooth brush also came in handy !

    • Beth says

      Ha! I don’t think it smells quite like puke but it doesn’t smell good. They clean great, but I agree. The smell is not a good one.

  25. Barb says

    Citrus is not good for dishwashers with a stainless steel interior. I clean the filter in ours at the beginning of every month and that works well. Then just fill a large container (I use a 2 cup liquid measuring cup) with vinegar and place it on the top rack of the dishwasher. Wash it at the hottest cycle (sanitize) and it gets off the build up without harsh chemicals.

  26. says

    First off I would like to say awesome blog! I had a quick question which I’d
    like to ask if you do not mind. I was curious to find
    out how you center yourself and clear your head prior to writing.
    I have had difficulty clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out.
    I truly do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are wasted just
    trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or hints?


  27. Bromley says

    The concept of using a dishwasher is still abstaining me somehow. One needs it, because he too lazy to clean dishes by hand or maybe because he doesn’t want his hands to be ruined by the dish soap. Rubber gloves are a great help. Dunno, maybe I’m weird.

  28. says

    Great tips! I have always forget to clean the filter of my dishwasher. I am so glad that I found your blog and you practically remember me. I am going to clean it next weekend and now I put it in my “to do” list. Thank you for sharing.Best regards!


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