How Often Should You Be Cleaning Your Dishwasher?

Dishwashers can be amazing timesavers. Not only do they allow you to shorten your time spent at the sink, they also save water. "Cascade found the average person uses four gallons of water every two minutes washing dishes at the sink, whereas Energy Star certified dishwashers use less than four gallons of water per cycle," Morgan Brashear, P&G Home Care Senior Scientist, told Apartment Therapy. "You could save up to 100 gallons of water a week by running your dishwasher nightly instead of washing dishes by hand." This is great news for eco-minded people who also want to save time for other tasks, like catching up on their favorite shows.

However, there is a caveat. In order to work their cleaning magic, dishwashers need a little TLC. They may clean your dishes, but unfortunately, they don't clean themselves. Dishwashers that aren't maintained can lose some of their dish-cleaning prowess and become a home to bacteria. A 2019 study of 30 dishwashers by BMC Microbiology discovered 632 bacterial samples from 74 different species on the appliances' rubber seals. This definitely ups the ick factor and makes a case for dishwasher cleaning.

Cinch Home Services surveyed 1,007 Americans and discovered approximately 20% have never cleaned their dishwasher. About 26% of the respondents rarely cleaned this major appliance, while just over 33% were occasional cleaners. So in the interest of your health and cleaner dishes, how often does a dishwasher need to be cleaned?

Make dishwasher cleaning a monthly priority

When your dishwasher is empty, Good Housekeeping and The Washington Post both recommend deep cleaning it once a month, either with a dedicated dishwasher cleaning product or with vinegar.

If a ready-to-go product is your method of choice, Affresh Dishwasher Cleaner is The Spruce's top pick. The outlet noted the product is recognized by the EPA Safer Choice program and excels at cleaning and removing buildup and limescale. Good Housekeeping recommends Cascade Platinum Dishwasher Cleaner, citing its ability to remove odors along with grease and mineral buildup. Whatever your product of choice happens to be, follow the package's instructions for cleaning.

For people who prefer a natural cleaning product, vinegar can be an easy-to-find choice. According to Bob Vila, place a cup of white vinegar on the dishwasher's top rack. Next, turn the dishwasher on a hot-water cleaning cycle. Once the vinegar has degreased and deodorized, Vila suggests a gentle scrubbing by running a second shorter hot-water rinse with baking soda scattered on the machine's floor. If a lemony fresh scent is more to your liking, Vila recommends using a cup of lemon juice instead of vinegar.

For dishwasher owners with hard water who want to use natural products, Apartment Therapy has an added cleaning tip. Using two cups of vinegar, pause the appliance halfway through an energy-saving wash cycle. After soaking for 20 minutes, resume the cycle.

Do these smaller tasks more frequently for cleaner dishes

In between those monthly deep-cleans, there's a few smaller ways to care for your dishwasher and ensure optimally clean dishes. Once a week, Good Housekeeping recommends cleaning the dishwasher filter. To access the filter, move the bottom rack out so you can reach the floor of the machine. Twist to unlock the filter, then clean it in the sink. Once all the food particles and buildup are removed, twist to lock the filter securely back in the dishwasher.

As far as daily routine tasks go, there's good news for people who don't like rinsing dishes before loading them in the dishwasher. Wirecutter advises users avoid this practice. Besides cutting back on water and energy usage, their study of 17 machines showed that dishes didn't need a pre-rinse to get clean. Apartment Therapy also agrees that rinsing is unnecessary. Instead, they suggest scraping food particles off the dishes prior to using the dishwasher. Scraping dishes can also prevent the dishwasher from getting clogged or causing internal damage in the machine.

According to Consumer Reports, manufacturers claim a dishwasher should have a lifespan of approximately 10 years. However, a quarter of people surveyed by the outlet said their machines broke or required repairs after five years. Besides boosting your dishwasher's performance, these daily and monthly cleanings could extend the life of your machine and help you achieve that 10-year goal.