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Neat Know-How: Dishwasher

Category: Cleaning Tips

Because their function is to clean things, dishwashers (and washing machines) tend to suffer from cleaning neglect. If you’re not in a habit of cleaning your dishwasher at least once a month, go take a look inside right now! A close inspection might find:

  • Greasy gunk buildup around dishwasher door edges and inside where the door seals.
  • Scale deposits—calcium, magnesium, and other water minerals that have become chemically bonded with detergent residues (these will appear white on stainless-steel interiors, a yucky brown on non-stainless).
  • Clumps of undissolved detergent clogging water entry, distribution, and drain mechanisms.
  • Bits of food, plastic, or broken glass in the bottom interior of the machine.
  • Unpleasant odors emanating from either greasy gunk buildup; or yeasts, molds, and mildews growing in dishwasher plumbing.

The good news is that cleaning a dishwasher requires very little effort, and doing so regularly maintains and improves the machine’s cleaning efficiency and effectiveness. Here are some common issues with dishwasher’s that haven’t been cleaned regularly:

Gunky buildup. A small amount of a de-greasing dishwashing liquid (such as Dawn) on a damp sponge or microfiber cloth will easily lift away the greasy gunk buildup.

Calcifying. Run the machine—empty—on a high-heat setting with a de-scaling agent, skipping the heat-dry cycle. If you have high mineral content (hard) water or haven’t been de-scaling regularly, you will probably want to use a commercial de-scaler (at least on the first go). Where water is less high in minerals (soft) or you have been de-scaling regularly, a dishwasher-safe container with a cup or two of white vinegar in the top rack should do the trick.

Bad odors. Try sprinkling baking soda in the machine’s interior and run again empty, skipping the heat-dry cycle. If an odor issue stems from yeasts, mold, or mildew growing in dishwasher plumbing, you will likely need a commercially formulated disinfectant; although, for non-stainless-steel dishwasher interiors, bleach can be used as described above.

Cluttered bottom. Clean the bottom of the dishwasher interior by removing the lower rack, filter (if there is one), and water-spraying/spinning mechanism (many lift out easily). Inspect holes in the spinner and gently clear clogs with a toothpick, sturdy wooden skewer, or an opened paperclip. A small nylon-bristled brush (such as a toothbrush) with a bit of de-greasing dishwasher liquid works well for getting into nooks and crannies in the bottom of the machine. Be especially careful when cleaning this section as you might encounter sharp bits of broken plastic or glass, which can be difficult to see. If the dishwasher has a removable filter, wash and rinse thoroughly then return all parts to the machine, being especially careful to re-seat the bottom rack correctly.

Now that your machine is squeaky clean, here are some tips for getting the best clean for your dishes from every wash cycle:

  • Rinse before loading! Dishwasher and detergent manufacturers might claim that you don’t need to rinse, but food particles need to go somewhere. The dishwasher’s internal chopping mechanism for food is a moving mechanical part, meaning it wears with use and is susceptible to breaking. If dishes aren’t coming out 100% squeaky clean, a clogged or broken chopper is often the culprit. But unless you have a handy person living in your home who is comfortable taking apart the machine, it will cost you a repairman or plumber’s visit to find this out. A quick rinse to remove at least large food particles cuts down on chopper wear and tear and also minimizes the extent to which finer, mold-growing food sediments will accumulate in pipes.
  • Avoid overfilling, especially the bottom rack. It might feel like an art form to pack as much as possible into each dishwasher load, but water needs to flow freely for dishes – especially those in upper racks – to come out clean and free of detergent residues.
  • Run hot-water tap for a minute or two before starting the dishwasher. This flushes any cold or stagnant water out of pipes, ensuring the machine fills only with fresh, sanitizing hot water.
  • Place utensils with eating surfaces facing up both to ensure the best clean and to avoid damage to plastic utensil baskets, which become increasingly brittle over time in your dishwasher’s high-heat environment. Group like utensils (for ease in emptying) but not to a point where they nest. And, when emptying, use clean hands and grasp utensils by their necks to avoid contaminating eating surfaces.