Before we get started, I will have you know that cleaning your dishwasher isn’t something that only germaphobes with a free hour get into. It’s actually a really good idea. Seriously. I’m not crazy.
Regularly cleaning your dishwasher (say, every six months or so) can make for a more efficient dishwasher, cleaner dishes, a nicer-smelling kitchen, and money saved on repair costs. You may think that cleaning something that constantly runs soapy water through itself seems strange, but all that food residue it takes off your cutlery and plates has to go somewhere, and it doesn’t all make it down the drain. Which, when I took the time to clean my own dishwasher, I found out, to my continuing disgust.
Many websites offering how-to tips on cleaning your dishwasher advise against using gel detergents in your machine, as many contain bleach, which can break down your rubber seals over time and damage stainless steel interiors. While using a powdered detergent works, keep in mind that the powders don’t always dissolve completely in the wash, which can block your drains and such. We use a gel detergent that is made up of natural ingredients, and which contains no parabens, petroleum products, or bleach. They’re easy to find. Even Martha Stewart makes a decent version.
Another important thing to remember when using your dishwasher is to use the hottest water possible. The manual on my dishwasher recommends a temperature of around 120°F (about 49°C). Unlike clothes washing machines, most dishwashers are not designed for cold-water washing. If you want to save energy, select the air dry setting at the end, if you have one, instead of the heated dry setting.
Now while I say it’s a good idea to clean your dishwasher every six months, I have had this dishwasher since August 2008 (it was the Pie and my “negative-first” anniversary present to each other, how romantic) and I have never cleaned it. Until now. We did buy the cheapest model available, so we never expected magic performance, but lately (probably the past year or two, if I’m honest), we’ve been pulling more and more “casualties” out of the dishwasher. These casualties are the Pie’s name for any dishes with food stuck to them. Which he then leaves on the counter for someone (usually me) to wash by hand. Personally, I don’t really care. I figure if the food has been in water that hot for that long, it’s probably sterilized and will only add flavour to whatever I am eating next. But sometimes you have to take one for the team. Plus it would be nice to have all the glasses sparkling again.
So. Cleaning the dishwasher. Let’s get down to it. Using a gentle cleaner, such as dish soap, and a soft cloth (don’t use abrasives in your dishwasher), get to cleaning the outside and all the goo left on the sides of the dishwasher doors.
These are the parts that you don’t see when the dishwasher door is closed, but which don’t get exposed to the inside of the washer when it is in operation. Make sure to thoroughly wipe down any gaskets and seals as well. Crusty food on seals makes for crusty seals that don’t seal properly.
If you have a dishwasher with a stainless steel interior/exterior, you should use a mild steel cleaner. Method makes a good one. I used this one by Seventh Generation on my plastic interior. It’s a good grease cutter.
Give the interior of the dishwasher a light scrub as well. Make sure you get the spot under the dishwasher door. It can get pretty gross down there too.
Pull out your dish racks and clean them too.
Pay close attention to the cutlery baskets, as they can trap food.
Your bottom rack will come out easily, but the top one may have some stoppers in place that you will have to remove first.
Now, that nifty propeller thing is the part that sprays hot water all over your dishes. It also gets clogged with food.
Using a pair of needle-nosed pliers, a piece of bent wire, or a toothpick, carefully remove any debris from the holes on top without scratching the apparatus.
I actually removed a small stick from one of the holes. And quite a lot of my own hair. Ew.
Now for the drain. Depending on your dishwasher, this could be under your washing arm or at the back of the machine. First, remove any food that is stuck on top of the drain.
Now pop that sucker out. There might be screws holding it in place. I wasn’t sure with mine (and didn’t want to break it by manhandling it out), so I looked up the model number (I have a Kenmore 665.17702K600 Portable Dishwasher) on the internet and found that you can just pop up the long side of it.
Then I just gave it a bit of a counter-clockwise twist and it popped right off.
And then I had this to contend with. Feel free to gag and shudder. I definitely did.
There was probably a litre of stagnant water lying in there. I have never wanted a shop-vac as much as I did at that moment. I tried scooping out the water in a shot glass but the glass was too wide for the wee hole.
In the end I took the lid from a laundry-detergent bottle in the recycling.
With a hefty knife and some swearing, I cut off the sticky-outy bit so it was narrow enough to fit through the hole.
Tada. Gross water drained.
I don’t want to know what this black stuff is, so please don’t tell me. But I scrubbed at it with a dish brush.
And a tooth brush. And wiped up the majority of its slimy substance. Good thing I didn’t bother to shower before doing this.
Now you can take a deep breath because all the gross stuff is at an end.
Gren is notably relieved. Or confused. It’s hard to tell with him.
Now you have to put your racks back in and run the dishwasher on two empty cycles.
For the first, put two cups white vinegar upright in the top rack of your dishwasher. Run the machine on the shortest setting at the hottest temperature. When that cycle is complete, remove the cups of water and sprinkle the bottom of the dishwasher (just sprinkle, mind you, we don’t want to clog our newly cleaned drain) with baking soda, and run it again. Now you are officially done.
Also I bet you are thinking more about what you put in your dishwasher than you were before, right?
To see where I got my know-how, check these places out: