In order to get your dishes, glasses, platters and utensils clean, your dishwasher needs to be clean. Over time, the interior of a dishwasher can accumulate food particles, dirt, oils, lime deposits and mold. This not only prevents perfectly clean results on your items but also can create a musty smell and shorten the life of your dishwasher, not to mention the health risks of mold spores.
Here are the top ways to give the inside of your dishwasher the good cleaning it's probably been longing for:
--First, dig out your product manual to read the manufacturer's advice on optimal cleaning methods. Dishwashers may have steel or plastic interiors, each with their own dos and don'ts when it comes to cleaning products and methods. Some manufacturers sell or suggest specialized brands of dishwasher cleaner that you might opt to use.
--Next, check the strainer in the bottom or back of the dishwasher for any debris. The strainer should be removed and cleaned daily to help prevent clogs and prevent bacteria growth. Remove the filter, scrape off solid food, and run the filter under hot water before replacing. Then pour white vinegar over the strainer to break up any deposits and clean the inside of the strainer.
--Remove any visible dirt, food or debris from within your dishwasher, being careful not to damage the heating element or scratch surfaces. A damp paper towel placed on stuck-on food for a few minutes typically can remove it.
--Clean the gasket and door seal, since those areas accumulate debris and decompose into a germy mess. Use an old toothbrush dipped in hot soapy water to scrub the areas clean, and wipe with a clean sponge.
--Assess what you need to clean: Food stains, rust, lime buildup and mold are the most common challenges.
If you have mold in your dishwasher, add one tablespoon of chlorine bleach to your machine. Run a full cycle in an empty dishwasher, and the mold should be eliminated.
If you have discoloration or mineral buildup in your dishwasher, add to an empty dishwasher one half of a container of orange Tang drink mix or citric acid (the latter available from your local pharmacist), and run a full cycle. The citric acid in the Tang helps to loosen hard-water deposits and removes scale from your dishwasher surfaces.
For overall cleaning, add a cup of white vinegar to the top rack of your dishwasher, or a sprinkling of baking soda in your empty dishwasher, and run a full cycle to give your dishwasher a thorough cleaning inside. This removes mineral deposits, which clog small holes in your dishwasher, and it will also give the inside of your dishwasher a clean shine.
For tougher lime deposits, you can use an over-the-counter lime cleaner and a lint-free microfiber cloth to wipe the lime deposits away. After spraying the cleaner, let it sit for a minute or two to work through the deposits, and then scrub the cleaner off. Repeat if necessary, and run your empty dishwasher through a full hot cycle to rinse the cleaner away completely.
Linda Cobb, aka "The Queen of Clean" and author of "Talking Dirty with the Queen of Clean," provides an additional cleaning option: "To keep dishwashers odor-free, use a damp sponge and some borax to wipe out the inside of the dishwasher, door and gaskets. No need to rinse, just do the next load of dishes."
Of course, you can rinse if you wish. Cobb offers her homemade dishwasher spot stopper recipe here: "To make your own dishwasher spot stopper, combine 1 cup of borax and a half-cup of baking soda in a container with a lid. To use: Add 1 teaspoon of the mixture to the dishwasher along with your regular dishwasher detergent."