Inside Of Your Dishwasher A Bit Funky? Here’s A Quick Fix!

We use this appliance every day to wash the household dishes, but maintaining the inside of dishwashers isn’t high on our To-Do lists. Who would think to do so? We assume they’ll do a great job cleaning themselves everytime they run a load.

After some time passes with regular use, we notice a few rust stains developing or maybe a soap & mineral buildup along the inside of the walls…even off-smells can pop up from who knows where. Opening the door to take a look around the sides of the seal, chances are we’ll see some funk building up there too.

Time to scrub it all down and freshen things up! Here’s how to get rid of all those stains and nasty buildup.

Remember: Unplug appliances before removing or handling parts.

Cleaning How-To

Using citric acid is a popular trick because it’s so effective. Here’s what you do:

  • Fill the detergent cup with 2 tablespoons of powdered citric acid (some even recommend just filling the soap dispenser with Orange Tang juice crystals since it contains citric acid) and run through a full cycle.
  • This is especially good for eliminating rust spots (you may have to do more than one treatment).

To remove buildup of detergent, minerals or stains, start a full cycle with vinegar. Here’s how:

  • Start the appliance and once it fills up with hot water, pour in a cup or two of regular household vinegar. Turn it back on and let it finish its cycle.
  • Another method is to set a bowl filled with 3 cups of vinegar on the bottom rack when the machine is empty. Let it go for a full cycle.

Are things smelling off? Try this trick with Borax or Baking Soda:

  • After dishes are done for the night and the appliance is dry, take out the racks (if possible) and sprinkle a layer of Borax or baking soda on the floor of the dishwasher.
  • Close up the machine and allow it to sit overnight.
  • The next day take a damp sponge and scrub the powder into the inside walls and door.
  • Wipe out most of the powder then run a full cycle on empty to remove all traces of it.

Another method to freshen things up is to toss in a cup of baking soda when the machine is empty then run it on the rinse setting.

If the appliance still smells, you could have food trapped in the bottom filter…

After running a load, take out the bottom rack and look for any crud trapped in the filter. If there’s gunk trapped in the holes, you’ll need to remove the filter and clean it (an old toothbrush will help). After getting rid of all the food bits and cleaning the filter out, return it to its place and run the dishwasher with a couple cups of vinegar tossed in.

Rubber Seal/Gasket: Also examine the gasket around the sides of the door, you could have an accumulation of gunk in there that needs to be wiped out. If things are really bad, use an old toothbrush to get at the tight creases. Regularly spray and wipe the rubber seal with a mixture of 1 part bleach and 9 parts water. This will help clear up mold/mildew problems and kill bacteria.

General Sanitizing

If the dishwasher hasn’t been used for quite awhile and needs an all-over boost…simply put a big bowl of household vinegar (say 2 cups) in the top rack (bottom is fine too) and start it up. After this run another load with a full cup of detergent (powder or pod) in the dispenser and run another empty load. The combination of the very hot water, vinegar and then detergent should do the trick and bring things back to near-new and usable condition.

If Mold Is Present: This can happen if the appliance was shut tight and unused for some time. Do the steps listed in the above paragraph but instead of vinegar, fill a bowl with household bleach. After running a full cycle, do another with detergent (don’t do both at the same time, there may be a nasty chemical reaction). Do not use bleach if the interior is stainless steel, instead do a second vinegar treatment.

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What Readers Are Saying: 16 Comments
  1. Laura Sverha says:

    All my glasses are getting a cloudy look to them from being washed in the dishwasher. What is it from and how can I get rid of it? Hand washing or scrubbing doesn’t remove it.

    • nancy phillips says:

      Make sure milk is rinsed out of your glassware before putting in the dishwasher. Milk is notorious for etching glasses. To remedy this, place your glasses in hot water with a cup of white vinegar, use a dish rag to wipe clean.

    • phurnie says:

      Hi Laura, I was told this cloudiness was etching and cannot be removed. It’s in the glass and permanent. I believe it was caused by the “scratchy” detergent over time.

    • Emily says:

      I had the same problem. Hard water buildup caused my glasses to look terrible. Soak your glasses in a sink full of water and 2 tablespoons citric acid and 1 tablespoon of baking soda. Let them soak for about 30 Minutes. See if that does the trick.

  2. Ashey says:

    Laura, It could be from using to MUCH detergent. Try using vinegar in your rinse cup as the rinse-aid instead of jet-dry or anything like that. Also cut back on your detergent amount. I hope that helps.

  3. Barb Big Red says:

    Dishes are not washing nicely any longer due to changes in the detergent and elimination of a critical element earlier this year. I am having the best luck using Cascade in the large cycle and a lemon based/citric product in the smaller cycle. This is the only combination working for me in Omaha, NE.

  4. Adele Hendry says:

    How do i get rid of smells in my washing machine?-anybody-please>

  5. Dianne says:

    Tip a bottle of white vinegar in machine and wash on a hot wash.

  6. nancy phillips says:

    I was having trouble with Cascade making my dishwasher all clogged up with soap scum. The scum was on everything and it turned pepto bismal pink, yuck!
    I switched to Finish and no more problems, it even has cleaned the dishwasher. I am using the rectangular tabs with the red ball in the center.

    • Chanda says:

      How long did you use Finish before seeing results? Our dishwasher is doing the same thing (although not pink…yet). I have tried soaking it in vinegar, but it’s not doing much good.

      • Wendy says:

        The results with Finish are Immediate.

        I find that with my dishwasher(s), If I use anything that is Cascade, my dishes end up with stuff stuck to them, spots every where, the powder is stuck to everything, and the washer is covered in gunk. I tried cutting it down by half and 3/4 but the dishes were always dirty. I tried using jetdry but it didn’t help. I had to rinse them, wash them, and then rinse them again another 2 times for them to come out without food on them, and they were still covered in spots.

        I have soft water. I broke down and finally bought Finish. Now I cannot use anything other than the Finish all-n-1 Gelpacs. A plus is, the Orange packs make my kitchen smell delightful, it cleaned all the gunk off the inside of my dishwasher that the cascade left behind, and the results were immediate.

        However I did find that I need to clean out the dishwasher at least once a month now. But considering I had to clean it out at least every week, sometimes twice when I used cascade, I like the trade off.

  7. will moots says:

    my dishwasher has a buildup of grey rubbery substance in the water impeller and the water spray arms.What causes this and what can I do to clean it out of the places I cant reach?

  8. Karen McAuliffe says:

    The government has restricted the use of trisodium phosphate (TSP) in dishwashing detergent. This ingredient produces algae in the watershed and impacts aquatic life. I live in Pennsylvania, in the Chesapeake watershed. There are dead areas in the bay. This ingredient is what made everything sparkling clean.

    Also, flatware manufactures say not to use citric acid on flatware. Just saying.

  9. Sally says:

    Laura use lime away on your glasses it works.

  10. Rebecca E Case says:

    When doing the citric acid technique, do you have an empty dishwasher? Or can you wash dishes while you do it?

    • Susan says:

      Empty. Another person commented that flatware manufacturers say not to use citric acid on flatware. I’m not sure if you saw that post or not, but I’m going to do mine on empty because of her advice. I’d hate for my flatware to get pitted or dulled, it’s from my wedding gifts – 22 years on!


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