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How To Clean A Dishwasher Naturally, Using 1 Pantry Staple

Image by Trinette Reed / Stocksy
March 19, 2019

Spring cleaning season is upon us! In the coming weeks, mbg will be sharing some of the easiest, most effective tips and tricks we've heard for nixing germs at home. (Check out what we've run so far here.) Today, we're tackling the dishwasher.

If you’re lucky enough to have a dishwasher, chances are you put it through the wringer. But cycle after cycle of dirty dishes can take its toll on everyone's favorite kitchen appliance (OK, fridge, it's a tie).

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Luckily, dishwashers can basically clean themselves. Becky Rapinchuk, a cleaning expert and author of Clean Mama's Guide to a Healthy Home: The Simple, Room-by-Room Plan for a Natural Home, has a quick, easy routine for keeping yours humming along and smelling great in the process. Here's her strategy:

How to clean your dishwasher using nothing but white vinegar.

"The first thing to do is open the dishwasher when it's empty and inspect for any blockages in the spray arms," Rapinchuk says. This step is important since food can oftentimes get stuck in the blades at the bottom and top of the machine.

Then, if your machine has a filter (it would be on the bottom of the dishwasher, screwed beneath the arms), you should take that out and rinse it with water. "If it's really blocked and hasn't been cleaned in a while, you can dip an old toothbrush in hot soapy water and use that to scrub it," Rapinchuk adds.

Next, place one cup of white vinegar in a bowl on the bottom rack of the empty dishwasher and run it.

Wait, why is vinegar the best thing to use?

Rapinchuk likes using vinegar because it cuts through a lot of dirt and grime and is safe and nontoxic. A combination of 5 to 10 percent of acetic acid and water, white vinegar is more acidic than other popular vinegars like apple cider and rice vinegar, making it the best cleaning agent (and quick-pickling companion). The high acid content makes white vinegar extra pungent, though, which can be off-putting to some.

"I used to hate it because of the smell; I didn't want my house to smell like a pickle," Rapinchuk admits. Thankfully, the odor won't stay in your dishwasher for long. And while some people opt to throw a few drops of essential oils into vinegar-based cleaners to neutralize the smell, she says it's not necessary here. "Once the dishwasher gets going, you don't smell anything anyway, so you don't want to waste that essential oil!"

Rapinchuk recommends running your vinegar-filled dishwasher without a dry cycle because opening up the machine when it's still kind of damp can spread steam around and loosen up any lingering gunk. It makes it easy to take a cloth and wipe down the nooks and crannies. If there's any stubborn debris stuck in any crevices, you can use a toothpick to dislodge it.

And with that, you have deep cleaned your dishwasher in record time and can officially feel extremely productive. Now onto the rest of the house?

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Emma Loewe
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.