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Your Dishwasher is Gross. Here's How to Clean It

It's not hard to clean your dishwasher and prevent your dishes from getting smelly. Here's how.

A dishwasher with its door open
Cleaning your dishwasher regularly is just as important as cleaning your dishes.
Tyler Lizenby/CNET

This story is part of Home Tips, CNET's collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

We know: Your dishwasher is supposed to be the thing that does the cleaning. But the doesn't mean the dishwasher itself is immune from getting grimy -- it also needs to be cleaned every once in a while to make sure your dishes are sparkling after it runs. It'll also help avoid that gross wet dog smell that can linger on your cups, plates and bowls. 

Luckily, cleaning your dishwasher doesn't take too much time or effort. Here's how to do it, and how often, to make it wash better, smell better and prevent overflows. 

For more on dishwashers, check out the right way to load a dishwasher. And for more kitchen cleaning tips, learn how to clean a stand mixerhow to clean a blender and how to clean a cast-iron skillet.

How to clean a dishwasher

Step 1: Clean the dishwasher filter

The filter is the place where food particles get caught. A stopped-up filter can cause overflows, so it's important to give it a cleanup every week or so. It can be found on the floor of the inside of the dishwasher. Simply unscrew the knob and lift the filter out (the location and removal will vary depending on the brand, so check your owner's manual).

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Wash the filter by rinsing it with warm water and dishwashing soap, then give it a good scrub with an old toothbrush. Rinse with clean water and let the filter air dry before popping it back into place.

Step 2: Clean the dishwasher seal

The seal is what keeps the water inside your dishwasher and not on your floor. To keep it clean, once a month scrub the seal with warm water and wipe it down with a clean, dry cloth.

Step 3: De-clog the water sprayers

The spraying arms in your dishwasher need a little love every six months or so. Use a toothpick to pry any food particles from the sprayer holes. This will increase the amount of water that comes out, increasing cleaning power.

Step 4: Get the gunk out of the silverware basket

The silverware basket can become unsanitary pretty quickly. Once a week, remove it and wash it with warm water, a bottle brush and dish soap. Be sure to get out any food particles that may be stuck inside the cups to prevent mold.

inside of dishwasher

Keep every part of your dishwasher clean and smelling fresh with our tips.

Chris Monroe/CNET

What to do if your dishwasher smells

If your dishwasher is starting to smell a little rank, there is an easy way to deodorize it. Some people say to put one cup of white vinegar into the bottom of your empty dishwasher and run the deep cleaning cycle -- however, vinegar can damage the plastic in your dishwasher, so you might want to try this method instead. Sprinkle baking soda on the bottom of the washer, let it sit overnight, and then run a normal load while the dishwasher is empty. That should get rid of that gross wet dog smell.

One more tip: Remove rust from the latch

After a few years of diligent use, your dishwasher door latch may start to get a little rusty. To fix this, rub it down with stainless steel cleanser and steel wool. Rinse the latch and buff it dry with a cotton cloth. To finish, coat it with clear fingernail polish to waterproof the metal and prevent further rust growth.

For more, check out how to machine wash your sheets and bedding the right way, and how to wash your pillow without making it lumpy.

More kitchen advice