How To Deep Clean Your Dishwasher (Easy Step-by-Step)

Lately, I’ve been teasing the launch of my newest project, “Your Home Playbook.” It’s a digital download that will launch on Monday, April 15th with everything you need to maintain your biggest investment – your home.

Inside, there’s a seasonal home maintenance section, giving you tasks to complete each month to keep your home running smoothly.

A woman opening up a dishwasher in a kitchen to give it a deep clean

One of those tasks is deep cleaning your dishwasher and garbage disposal. You’ll find this task on your checklist every other month. I want to give you a thorough step-by-step tutorial to go along with this kitchen maintenance task and today’s blog post is just that!

Why Clean Your Dishwasher?

Removing the bottom dish rack in a dishwasher so you can give your dishwasher a deep clean

Your dishwasher cleans your dishes, but who cleans your dishwasher? Such a good question, right?

In the past, I haven’t been great about cleaning our dishwasher. If dishes started looking dingy, I put some rinse-aid in the little compartment and hoped for the best. But ever since we renovated our kitchen, I’ve stayed on top of this home maintenance task.

Servingware pieces

I run our dishwasher every single night and I’m atrocious at loading it. Honestly, I just toss things in there willy-nilly. Even though I’m bad at loading it, my dishes still come out looking great and that’s because I deep clean it regularly.

If you put off cleaning your dishwasher, grease, grime, soap scum, and limescale can build up in your unit. This will likely lead to poor performance and gross dishwasher smells. Let’s avoid a smelly dishwasher and tackle this simple DIY.

How To Deep Clean Your Dishwasher

The good news is this is a quick and painless DIY project that anyone can do. It won’t take you much time at all and things will be sparkling inside your dishwasher.

Remove The Dishwasher Filter & Spray Arms

Removing the filter in the bottom of a Maytag dishwasher

First, remove the bottom rack so you can easily access the inside of your dishwasher.

I have this Maytag dishwasher and it comes with a self-cleaning filter, which can be found in lots of the newer models. Small pieces of food get caught in this and I remove it just about every morning for a quick rinse.

I would check your user manual to learn how to properly remove and maintain your filter.

Rinsing a filter from the bottom of the dishwasher and scrubbing it with a toothbrush

I take mine out and rinse it thoroughly with dish soap. I also like to use an old toothbrush to scrub any small food particles away.

Cleaning the spray arm with a toothbrush

Now is also a good time to remove the spray arm (located at the bottom of the dishwasher) and give it a good scrub. I just tugged mine and it came out easily. You want to make sure that the holes where the spray comes out are clear of any food debris.

Clean The Door Gaskets

Let's clean the rubber seals on the bottom of your dishwasher

It’s time for the grossest part of the job – cleaning the rubber seals along the door. This is where the real nastiness lives and grows. You may think your dishwasher is perfectly clean, but then you run a paper towel along this breeding ground and it pulls up lots of grossness. At least that’s what happened to me…

Using a steam cleaner to clean the rubber seals on a dishwasher door

I decided to use my favorite steam cleaner for this job. It works so well to loosen up stuck on dirt and grime in the crevices. I put water in it and use the steam and a brush to loosen things up.

Or you can use a brush like this and a mixture of water and vinegar for this step. Run the brush along the seals and use a damp cloth to wipe the grime away. I was shocked by how much build-up I had in this area of my dishwasher.

Run A Wash Cycle With Vinegar

A cup of vinegar on the top rack of a dishwasher to clean it

Now that the nooks and crannies of your dishwasher are much cleaner, it’s time for the easy step. Fill a small dishwasher-safe container with white vinegar and place it in the top rack of your empty dishwasher. Run the dishwasher on the hottest setting without any detergent.

The cup of white vinegar will remove odors and clean up any remaining food, grease, or soap residue.

Side Note: I’ve seen people recommend cleaning the interior of your dishwasher with bleach to get rid of tough stains. This isn’t a great idea, especially if you have stainless steel parts inside the dishwasher. It can lead to issues over time. I would recommend sticking with the vinegar method instead.

Try Dishwasher Cleaner Tablets

Affresh tablets for a clean dishwasher

I also like to keep these dishwasher tablets on hand whenever I want to do a quick cleaning of the dishwasher. These can be used with or without dirty dishes inside the unit, which is convenient because you can run them on a normal cycle.

Just follow the specific instructions on the back and make sure this product is compatible with your particular dishwasher model. These are nice to have on hand when you’re in a pinch and don’t have time for a thorough deep clean.

Clean The Outside Too

Finally, clean the exterior of your unit to make it sparkly new again. I like to use this stainless steel cleaner to keep my kids’ fingerprints at bay. Plus, it smells good too!

Here’s a step-by-step video tutorial of the entire dishwasher cleaning process.

Don’t Forget Your Garbage Disposal

Don't forget to clean your garbage disposal too

Your garbage disposal and dishwasher are connected to the same drain. If that pipe isn’t clear, your dishwasher won’t run as efficiently. I always run the garbage disposal before I start the dishwasher at night, just to make sure it’s clear.

Here are the steps I do to deep clean my garbage disposal. I typically do this whenever I deep clean the dishwasher, so I know they’re both in tip-top shape.

Clean The Rubber Flaps

Remove the rubber flap on your sink and give it a good scrub with a toothbrush

Just like the seal on your dishwasher, this is where the grossness builds. Remove this rubber seal in your sink and give it a good scrub all over. I used a soft toothbrush, hot water, and dishwasher detergent to get the grime away.

Baking Soda & Vinegar

Add half a cup of baking soda to the drain and let it sit for about thirty minutes. Then, add one cup of vinegar to the drain and let it get foamy for a few minutes. You’ll see the foam rise back into the sink. Rinse it all with hot water.

Clean The Blades

Use a few cups of ice and salt to clean the blades of your garbage disposal

Next, let’s clean the blades on the disposal. Pour in two cups of ice and sprinkle a little bit of salt on top of this mixture. Run the water on cold and run your disposal. Let it keep running until all of the ice has been ground up. This will scrub those blades and remove any built-up residue.

Make It Smell Good

Clementine peels on a white quartz countertop

Finally, here’s my trick to get things smelling good down there. Use citrus peels! My kids love clementines and eat them all week long. Whenever they’re snacking on them, I put the peels down the garbage disposal. These peels make the disposal smell orangey and delicious. Plus, they work well to clean the inside of the disposal.

Try Garbage Disposal Cleaning Tablets

CLR garbage disposal tablets to clean your space

If you want a quick fix, I like to keep these cleaning tablets on hand. Just follow the directions and you’ll see foam come into the sink as it works to clean your garbage disposal. It’s a nice cleaning supply to have on hand if you want to quickly get your disposal smelling good again.

How Often Should You Clean Your Dishwasher & Garbage Disposal?

How often should you clean your garbage disposal?

I recommend giving your dishwasher and garbage disposal a deep clean every other month or so. It’s important to regularly clean the things that clean other things!

My best tips to deep clean your dishwasher

If you can’t remember the last time you gave yours a thorough cleaning, put this on your to-do list for the weekend. I promise that giving these areas of your kitchen some regular TLC will prolong the life of your appliances and lead to cleaner dishes every time you unload.

My Go-To Cleaning Supplies

Cleaning supplies to clean your dishwasher and garbage disposal

Scrub Brush // Steam Cleaner // Microfiber Cloths // White Vinegar // Dishwasher Tablets // Stainless Steel Cleaner // Baking Soda // Garbage Disposal Cleaning Pods

Stay Tuned For Your Home Playbook

As mentioned, “Your Home Playbook” launches on Monday, April 15th. I’m so excited to offer this home maintenance tool so you can stay on top of everything in your own home. Stay tuned for that…


The Year of Casey

Hey there!

I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m a Chicago gal teaching you how to design, DIY, and maintain your home…by yourself! Learn more about me right here.

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