by Julia Woodbury
(last updated March 1, 2021)
What happens to all that nasty food that comes off your dishes? Most of it is drained, but some will remain to collect and bake on to the inside of your dishwasher. Also, if your dishwasher has a problem draining, it will develop a perpetual pool of standing water at the end of every wash. This water is prime material for germs to grow in.
You will want to get into the habit of cleaning your dishwasher regularly (probably about as often as you clean your oven, unless you are an unnaturally messy/explosive cook). Cleaning once a month should be good for easy maintenance.
Start by removing the racks from your dishwasher so you have a clear, open working space. Be prepared to get down on your hands and knees in order to really get deep inside the washer. Taking an old tooth brush or small scrubber brush, scrub all the nooks and crannies of your dishwasher. These places include the corners and seams inside the washer, the rubber seal around the door, the hinges and door crack, and under and around the dishwashing blades. If the outside of the washer has knobs or handles, you will also want to clean around them.
For scrubbing soap you can use hot water and dish soap or hot water and a gentle abrasive cleaning powder like Bon Ami or Comet.
Now that you have dealt with the details, wipe out the grime you just scrubbed off and then scrub and wash down the walls and floor of the dishwasher. Remove any foreign objects like small spoons, fish bones, broken glass, or shells that might have found their way into the washer. Use a rag or sponge to rinse everything down. While you are cleaning the dishwasher body, check the water jets and drains to be sure that nothing is clogging them. Use a toothpick, the toothbrush, or a knife to remove anything that could be clogging these areas. If you are feeling really zealous, you can unscrew the attachment over the drain at the bottom of the washer. A large amount of food and grime can build up on the covered lip around the drain.
Your next step is to scrub and inspect the racks and silverware basket. If the racks are metal, check for any signs of rust. Rust on the racks is usually caused by exposed metal. Refinish the rusting area with paint to prevent it from rusting further. When you are finished cleaning and inspecting them, put the racks back in the washer.
If you have tough mineral deposits or bad odors in the dishwasher you can fill up a cup with vinegar, put it on the top rack, and run the machine through its hottest cycle. (It should be empty except for the cup.) A similar solution is to pour one cup of baking soda on the floor of the machine and then run it empty on its hottest cycle.
If you have a problem with mold, run the machine empty on its hottest cycle with 1 tablespoon of bleach. Don't combine bleach with any other material (like vinegar).
Once you have cleaned and deodorized your dishwasher you can work to keep it clean by rinsing your dishes before loading them. Scraping and rinsing off food keeps it out of your dishwasher, off your dishwasher's walls, and stops it from baking harder you're your dishes. It will also prolong the life of your dishwasher, saving you time, money, and trouble in the long run.
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