Dishwasher Cleaning Tips
Washing your dishwasher? Doesn't that sound kind of like overkill? After all, doesn't the dishwasher wash itself every time you run a load of dirty dishes?
As the old song says, "It ain't necessarily so!" Dishwashers need regular routine cleaning just like every large, frequently used appliance in your home.
We don't always take the time to scrape and rinse food from plates and bowls before putting them into the dishwasher. Tiny bits of food, grease and soap scum cling together and are deposited in corners of the dishwasher and in crevices around the door.
After a time, they can accumulate significantly and become a problem with appearance and odor - really it's quite logical when you stop and think about it.
Notwithstanding the fact that dishwasher soaps have some germ killing properties along with degreasers, any environment which is frequently warm, moist and dark is a breeding ground for many forms of bacteria.
A routine dishwasher cleaning is a good habit and should be included with the routine deep cleaning of your home. After you get the hang of it, you can clean your dishwasher quickly and easily.
How to Clean Your Dishwasher and Remove Odor
- Using a small brush (old toothbrushes work well) dipped in hot soapy water, go around the door of the dishwasher taking care to get into the grooves and crevices of the rubber seal. Most likely, you'll be surprised at the debris that has built up, especially at the bottom of the door and around the hinges on the side.
- Scrub well. You may need to use a soft abrasive cleanser, such as Soft Scrub® to remove the dried and baked on grime.
- Using a household sponge dipped in hot soapy water, wipe off the dirt and grime that you stirred up with the brush. Go over the inside of the door and scrub any obvious areas inside the dishwasher that may have stuck-on food, such as out of reach corners.
- Pull the bottom rack out and examine the drain area. Wipe around it to be sure there are no hard chunks that can plug the drain, cause damage to the pump or scratch dishes. You'd be surprised at what dishwasher repairmen find - bones, crab shells, chips of glass, and even small pieces of gravel!
- Using a clean wet sponge or dishrag, wipe the cleaning solution from the gasket and the door.
- Then place a dishwasher-safe cup filled with plain white vinegar on the top rack of the dishwasher. Using the hottest water available, run the dishwasher through a cycle - except for the cup of vinegar, the dishwasher needs to be empty.
- The vinegar will help to wash away the loose, greasy grime, sanitizes, and helps remove the musty odor.
- If you don't have any white vinegar, you can substitute a packet of unsweetened lemonade mix in the soap cup. Don't experiment with other flavors as they could stain the inside of your dishwasher.
- Baking soda is also effective at freshening and brightening your dishwasher. Just sprinkle a cupful around the bottom of the tub and run it through a short but complete cycle using the hottest water. Baking soda is also helpful in removing stains.
Removing Hard Water, Rust, Iron and Mineral Stains in your Dishwasher
Imagine my disappointment when, after moving into a brand new home with brand new appliances, I noticed a gradual dulling of the inside of my dishwasher (and clothes washer) that looked suspiciously like rust.
It was rust! The water from our private well contained minerals, including iron, which were not removed by a filtration system - we didn't have one. I tried several commercial preparations from home department stores that claimed to effectively remove mineral deposits and stains but they can be pretty toxic and great care must be taken when using and storing such products.
Although it was a rather expensive fix, I finally invested in a water purification and filtration system for my home. Good move on my part and I have never regretted the expenditure. My tap water is fresh, clean and odor free; the insides of my dishwasher and clothes washer are sparkling again. My white clothing, sheets, wash cloths and bath towels do not have the tell-tale stains, and there are no reddish-brown drips on my sinks!
If you can't stop the mineral or rust stains at the source (replacing rusty pipes, while advisable, may be out of your control), check the laundry detergent section of your large grocery store or home improvement store for products that remove rust stains from clothing or appliances.
Place the product into the soap dispenser cup on your dishwasher and also sprinkle some freely on the bottom of the dishwasher. Make sure your dishwasher does not have any dishes in it when you run it through this complete cleaning cycle.
- It is probably not necessary to pre-wash your dishes like some people do, but it is important to scrape off leftover food from plates and bowls. Rinse and then load into the dishwasher.
- Use common sense when loading your dishes. Put table ware in the appropriate compartment; placing sharp knives with their tips down.
- Don't jam dishes in - give adequate space between plates and bowls to allow the water to circulate freely; likewise, be careful that a large bowl or lid does not block the water spray from reaching the inside of other dishes and drink ware.
- Use the hottest water available for washing your dishes in the dish washer. This is necessary for dried-on food removal, for properly dissolving the dishwashing detergent you use, and for sterilizing germs.
- Major detergent and dishwasher manufacturers recommend a water temperature of at least 130° to work effectively.
- Many areas have fairly hard water which affects the cleaning properties of detergents. Fill both detergent cups and use a rinsing agent if you need to.
Gel vs. Powder Dishwashing Detergents
I don't recommend using gel dishwasher detergents. There are several reasons why.
- Gels typically contain bleach - primarily chlorine bleach - which causes rubber seals to break down and leak.
- Gels often leave a whitish or cloudy film on glassware.
- Gels tend to stick to the inside surface of the dishwasher, never really being rinsed off.
- Gels are intentionally thick so that they stick inside the soap cup and don't run immediately into the bottom of the dishwasher. Therefore, they leave a sticky residue inside the soap dispenser, actually cause it to clog and not open during the timed sequence.
- Gels are not effective in hard water - and almost always leave spots.
Dishwasher Problems and How To Avoid Them
If your glassware has a cloudy appearance, soak it in white vinegar for five minutes. If this causes the cloudiness to disappear, most likely it is caused by a hard water deposit and you may need to use more detergent. If, however, the cloudiness remains, it may indicate "etching" - which is a permanent condition. You can avoid further damage to the glassware by using less detergent and not using a pre-washing cycle.
If you are inclined to pre-wash your dishes before you put them in the dishwasher, consider this. Dishwasher detergent NEEDS a certain amount of grease and dirt in order to do its job. Otherwise, it actually foams up during the cycle which is not good for your dishwasher.
Dishwashers operate with a minimal amount of water. All that is really needed is enough to barely reach and cover the heating element to maintain proper water temperature. You should check the water level periodically to be sure it reaches the requirement.
Let the unit fill, wait until the wash cycle begins, then open the door and look to be sure the water is covering the element.
Perform a thorough, routine cleaning of your dishwasher, such as described above in "How To Clean Your Dishwasher and Remove Odor".
If you do not have a water softener and want to avoid spotting on your glassware, use a rinse aid such as Jet-Dry®. I like the solid type rather than liquid because it's easier to see when you need to add more. The liquid dispenser is hidden from view and may be empty for several cycles before you realize it.
Solid rinse aids are visible because they are contained in a little basket on the rack. They work during the entire wash and rinse cycle. They work best when placed in the front left corner, upper rack. If you have a water softener, you should not need to use a rinse aid.
Image courtesy of meddygarnet, CC BY.