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How to clean a dishwasher: We share our top tips and review the best cleaners, salts and rinse aids

Keep your dishwasher in tip top condition with our hints, tips and our buyer's guide to the best cleaning products

A poor-performing dishwasher is a useless dishwasher. After all, what’s the point of rinsing and stacking your dirty plates into the machine, only for them to emerge a couple of hours later with areas still caked in food? Plus, anyone with a dishwasher will be aware of the irritation felt when glasses appear cloudy or with lipstick marks still visible once items have apparently been cleaned. Then there’s the potential for grease and grime – and, indeed, limescale – to build up on the inside of the appliance itself. So there are plenty of reasons to ensure you regularly clean your dishwasher. Here’s how to do it.

How to clean a dishwasher: What you need to know

Do I need to do any prep work?

Start by removing any gunk or food that’s settled in the bottom of the appliance, especially in the dishwasher drain. Can’t reach some of the nooks and crannies? Try using an old toothbrush. Also, check that the utensil holder and racks are free of stuck-on food. You want your machine to be free of unwanted debris before you start your deep clean.

What’s the best way to clean my dishwasher?

There are plenty of products on the market to help make cleaning your appliance quick and easy. Dr Beckmann Service-It Deep Clean Dishwasher Cleaner is typical of the types available. You pop it into your soap tray every couple of months, or every 30 wash cycles, and run it on a high temperature programme – ideally 60℃. It tackles nearly all the bacteria and micro-organisms and your dishwasher will be left smelling fresher. This kit even includes a handy cleaner to get the seals and door-front looking pristine too. Finish Dishwasher Cleaner is another example of a cleaner that’s capable of bringing your machine back to its original state by running a single washing cycle, while HG’s virtual Service Engineer made our dishwasher look like a showroom model.

Can I use natural products instead?

Yes. To descale your machine – as well as get rid of grease, grime and nasty smells – place a cup of white wine vinegar on the top rack and run the machine on the hottest cycle. There’s no need to dilute it since the vinegar will mix with the water when the cycle starts. Alternatively, add one cup of baking soda or soda crystals to the detergent tray and run your machine on a short, hot cycle. We found it almost (but not quite) as effective.

Is there anything I can do to help maintain my dishwasher?

  • Make sure your dishwasher always has enough rinse aid and salt. All modern machines have an indicator light to make you aware when they need refilling. Rinse aid, despite the name, helps remove water from crockery and, as such, is actually more a drying aid. Meanwhile, salt is a godsend, particularly in hard water areas, for helping to soften the water so that the detergent can work effectively and to stop the build-up of limescale. All of which will put an end to water marks and annoying streaks on your plates and glasses.
  • Clean your filter weekly to prevent food waste becoming trapped inside and then finding its way back onto your dishes. Check the manual for instructions on how to remove the filter and then simply clean it under the kitchen tap, using a soft brush.
  • Keep the seals clean, wiping round them with a damp cloth around once a week. This is another area where food can become stuck.
  • Don’t stack your forks and spoons too neatly in the same part of the utensil rack as you risk them nestling inside one another and remaining dirty. One way around this is to place some facing upwards and the others facing downwards.
  • Always unload the bottom rack first so that any cups or bowls that wind up sitting in water on the top shelf don’t tip onto all your nice clean dishes in the rack below.

I’ve done all that but my dishwasher still isn’t working well – what now?

There are a few things you can try yourself before calling in the dishwasher repair person:

  • Ensure you’re using the right detergent, loading the dishes correctly and using the right settings.
  • Remove the spray arm and clean out the holes, poking them with a sturdy wire to clear any blockages, and running them under the tap. In some machines, spray arms snap off, whereas in others you unscrew a cap on top to get them off.
  • Check that the dishwasher has enough water entering the appliance by starting a wash cycle and opening the door when you hear that it has stopped filling. If the water doesn’t come close to the heating coil, then it might be that the float is stuck in the raised position. Or, it could be a clogged inlet screen or faulty inlet valve, both of which are relatively simple to fix yourself.

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The best dishwasher cleaning products to buy

Dr Beckmann Service-it Deep Clean Dishwasher Cleaner

Price: £3.40 | Buy now from Amazon

This simple-to-use dishwasher cleaner left our dishwasher spotless, and you even get a wipe to clean the seals and front of door. The latter job should be done weekly, whereas the dishwasher cleaner only needs to be used every couple of months or so. The dishwasher’s “before” and “after” would have been good enough to feature on a TV commercial, and the cleaner even left a fresh smell. Simply pop the product in the soap tray, run a hot wash, and – hey presto! – the job is done. But don’t forget the prep work, as outlined in our guide.

Finish Dishwasher Cleaner

Price: £4.90 | Buy now from Amazon

Just as easy to use as the Dr Beckman product (simply put it in the soap tray and run a hot wash), this cleaner comes from one of the most renowned names in the dishwasher industry. Customers find it gives their dishwashers a new lease of life – some even report that they were considering replacing their appliance until this product brought it back to life. We certainly couldn’t fault its effectiveness – the inside of our dishwasher looked shiny as new and smelt fresh, too. But be warned: the whole 250ml bottle is required for one machine clean. Plus, Finish recommends it’s used once a month, which we think is a bit excessive

HG Service Engineer Dishwasher & Washing Machine Cleaner

Price: £7.30 | Buy now from Lakeland

You can tell this product has been developed with the help of specialist repair companies – it honestly does feel as though the repair engineer has paid a visit once it’s done its job. As with the others, you pour it into the soap tray and run it on a hot wash. It’s recommended to be used every three months, which is reassuringly less than some of the other cleaners. You get two 100ml bottles in this pack, which helps justify the price tag. Note that one treatment requires a whole bottle.

Lakeland Dishwasher Freshener

Price: £3 | Buy now from Lakeland

Here’s a novel idea: a freshener – a bit like the type you use for a car – for your dishwasher. You hang it in the dishwasher while it’s cleaning your dishes. It eradicates any bad smells, with the natural lemon oils leaving a zesty fresh scent once the cycle is complete. We thought it was worth a shot for under three quid – especially as you get a whopping 60 washes out of it (refills are available for when it runs out: two for £4). It certainly did the job, although it does have a habit of opening up in the machine, which can be a little annoying. Still, particularly for an older machine that’s starting to whiff on a more regular basis, it’s a good buy.

Finish Dishwasher Salt: Best dishwasher salt

Price: £5 | Buy now from Ocado

Dishwasher salt, which helps soften water, is essential in hard water areas as dishwasher detergent can only really do its job in soft water. Plus, hard water will usually lead to a build-up of limescale, which is likely to cause all sorts of issues in dishwasher. That’s not to say you don’t need dishwasher salt in soft water areas, too; it helps with the rinsing process to ensure your dishes don’t emerge with streaks or water marks. This pack from a top-name brand has larger particles than table salt, so they dissolve at a slower rate and don’t clog up your machine. In addition, it also lacks impurities such as iron and carbonates that can damage your dishwasher. It’s available in variable pack sizes – this one being one of the largest – and you simply put it into the salt drawer of your dishwasher and refill it when the indicator light tells you it’s running low.

Fairy Rinse Aid: Best rinse aid

Price: £4.50 | Buy now from Ocado

There’s no shortage of rinse aids on the market, but this is the one that most dishwasher manufacturers were happy to recommend. It goes a long way, with one bottle lasting 150 washes. As with the salt, you put it in the rinse aid drawer of your machine and wait for the indicator light to tell you when you need to top it up. You’ll certainly notice the difference if you wash a lot of glasses; they’ll come out sparkling! You may well notice the fragrance is fresher than with other brands too.