Stop Dingy Dishes By Cleaning Your Dishwasher

Dear Home Ec 101:
My dishwasher just isn’t doing as great a job anymore. I haven’t changed anything: same soap, I scrape the plates, I still use a rinsing agent. What could be going on?
My Dishwasher is a Dud

stop dingy dishes

Heather says:

Did you know your dishwasher requires regular maintenance to provide consistently clean dishes?

1. Check the trap for food particles. If food scraps have crusted onto the trap, remove it, soak it, and scrub it. Make it a point to regularly check and clean the trap.

2. Examine the spray arm. Are the holes clogged with mineral deposits? Soak the arm in diluted vinegar and use a pipe cleaner aka chenille stem to clean out any gunk.

3. Take a good look at the racks, are they clean or has the paint worn off in places? You can purchase a dishwasher repair kit that contain vinyl paint and those tips that always seem to pop off the prongs.

4. Occasionally, once a month or so, run the dishwasher through a full cycle with 2 cups of vinegar. Start the dishwasher, wait until it has filled, and add the vinegar.

how to clean appliances

Click the picture for more tips!

Alternately you can run a cycle with citric acid or lemonade kool-aid packets, the kind that do not already contain sugar.

5. Finally be sure your hot water heater is set to the temperature recommended by the dishwasher manufacturer. If you have lost your manual try Googling the model; many manufacturers now have manuals available online.

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  1. HeatherSolos on December 11, 2010 at 11:13 am

    The effects of that ban should have become apparent several months ago, any further drop in performance will likely be caused by the machine itself.
    I wrote about the voluntary phosphorous ban in another article on this site:

    Thank you for commenting 🙂

  2. Cathy on December 11, 2010 at 11:08 am

    My dishwasher repairman told me that the reason many people are seeing a drop in performance on their machines is because of the recent removal of all phosphates from dishwasher detergents. He said they just don't clean as well.

  3. Rod on March 2, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    It's also a good idea to leave the dishwasher door slightly open when not in use.

  4. marcozi on November 11, 2009 at 5:19 am

    "Examine the spray arm. Are the holes clogged with mineral deposits? Soak the arm in diluted vinegar and use a pipe cleaner aka chenille stem to clean out any gunk." Try this first , mostly be the main problem of it.

  5. MichaelB on July 23, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    Great post, Heather. As an ex appliance tech I wanted to point out a couple of things. 1. Two cups of vinegar is probably not enough. You may want to use a gallon instead. 2. And, it’s not a good idea to add any more liquid once the dishwasher has filled with water. Dishwasher has a float that controls the amount of water it takes in, so it would be better to dump the vinegar in the tub first, then let the dishwasher fill with water. It might get a little tricky because some dishwashers go through a short drain cycle first, then fill, then wash, etc. In this case, let the dishwasher go through drain first (very distinct sound), then right when it started to fill (more of a hissing sound) open the door slowly and dump a gallon of vinegar in the tub. Close the door, hit the start button to continue with the rest of the cycle.

    A good alternative to vinegar is Dishwasher Magic. It’s a little more expensive than vinegar, but does a better job, including leaving a better smelling dishwasher. It’s also much better than citric acid because it comes in a liquid form.

    Use and car manuals – this link might help

    • casey on July 11, 2013 at 12:20 pm

      You can also fill two mugs with vinegar – one on the top rack and one on the bottom. Run the dishwasher as normal. The water flowing into the dishwasher will cause the mugs to overflow releasing the vinegar – but you aren’t adding a huge amount of liquid into an already full dishwasher. This is what my dishwasher repairguy recommended years ago and I’ve never had problems with this method.

  6. Ghillie Suits Guy on February 2, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    Heather, can you do a write up on how to properly fill up a dishwasher? I always have trouble decided how to put the dishes and bowls. Can you use up every single slot? I always think that the water won’t get inbetween the dishes if I set the plates next to each other.

  7. Heather on October 24, 2007 at 12:55 pm

    To add the vinegar, just start the dishwasher and listen. There should be two noises, one is the filling noise which precedes the noisier wash cycle. When it just begins the wash, carefully open the door and add the vinegar.

    They do sell citric acid, but I can’t remember where to buy it off hand. I have heard of using kool-aid, but I have never tried it.

  8. Teresa on October 24, 2007 at 7:34 am

    I just use a packet of unsweetened lemonade Kool-aid powder (almost pure citric acid) in each of the detergent compartments and run a cycle through. That way I can start it and walk away.

  9. Matthew Anton on October 23, 2007 at 4:18 pm

    This sounds so basic but I never even thought about it! I thought the dishwasher was magical and didn’t need maintenance..hence I’m a guy with dirty glasses 😉

  10. Tammy on October 23, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    How do you add something once the dishwasher has filled up?

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