How to clean a dishwasher with vinegar – expert ways to disinfect safely


Keeping your dishwasher clean is critical for getting spotless dishes every time you run it. Over time, grease, food particles, hard water deposits, and soap scum can build up inside, leaving dishes dirty even after a full cycle. Vinegar is an effective and economical cleaner that can dissolve built-up grime and sanitize the interior.

As a cleaning and disinfecting expert, I recommend cleaning your dishwasher with vinegar on a regular basis. In this comprehensive guide, I will share my professional tips on how to deep clean your dishwasher safely and efficiently using vinegar.

Why Vinegar is an Excellent Dishwasher Cleaner

Before we dive into the step-by-step cleaning process, let’s look at why vinegar is such a great choice for cleaning a grungy dishwasher:

  • Removes grease and food residue: The acidic properties of vinegar break down grease and food particles, loosening burnt-on grime and buildup. A vinegar-based cleaner can penetrate and dissolve caked-on messes that soap alone often misses.
  • Eliminates odors: Vinegar effectively neutralizes unpleasant dishwasher odors leaving a light, clean scent behind after cleaning.
  • Descale and disinfect: The acetic acid in vinegar descales by removing lime and mineral deposits. It also kills bacteria, disinfecting the dishwasher tub and filter.
  • Environmentally-friendly: Vinegar is a green, non-toxic cleaner made from fermented plants. When you make your own solution, there is no need for harsh chemicals or pre-mixed cleaners.
  • Budget-friendly: Plain distilled white vinegar is very affordable at under $2 a bottle. A bit of vinegar goes a long way for cleaning.

With the cleaning power of vinegar, a few basic supplies, and these step-by-step instructions, you can have a like-new dishwasher again in no time!

Supplies Needed

Before starting the cleaning process, gather these supplies:

  • White distilled vinegar – 1 cup
  • Baking soda – 1/4 cup
  • Dish soap
  • Large bowl or container
  • Soft sponge or dishcloth
  • Toothbrush and toothpicks (for scrubbing small areas)
  • Rubber gloves

Step-by-Step Directions

Follow these steps to thoroughly clean, deodorize and sanitize your dishwasher using vinegar:

1. Remove Dishwasher Filter and Spray Arms

The first step is to remove the filter and spray arms so you can access the inside surfaces.

  • Look for the filter in the bottom of the tub. It may twist off or have a tab to release it.
  • The upper spray arm simply lifts off its mount. The bottom arm has a nut holding it in place that you can loosen by hand or with pliers.

Set these parts aside for cleaning later.

2. Add Vinegar to the Dishwasher Tub

Pour 1 cup of distilled white vinegar directly into the bottom of the empty dishwasher tub.

If there are caked-on spots, coat them with vinegar and let it soak for 15-20 minutes before scrubbing to loosen debris.

3. Run Dishwasher Cycle

Run the dishwasher through its hottest, longest cycle. The vinegar will disinfect and break down mineral deposits as the cycle runs.

Be sure to turn off your dishwasher’s drying cycle so the vinegar can air dry and maximize sanitize the interior.

4. Scrub Interior with Baking Soda Paste

Make a paste with 1/4 cup of baking soda and a little water. Use a soft cloth or sponge to scrub the interior, paying close attention to the door gasket and along the bottom rim where grime loves to hide.

Baking soda has mild abrasive properties to scour away stubborn gunk so your dishwasher surfaces shine.

5. Hand Wash Filter and Arms

While the dishwasher runs, wash the filter, upper and lower spray arms in hot, soapy water to remove trapped particles. Use a toothbrush or toothpick to clear the small jets on the spray arms.

Rinse these parts well after cleaning. Vinegar residue left behind can affect your dishes.

6. Clean Door Seal with Dish Soap

Mix a few drops of dish soap with warm water. Use a small scrub brush or toothbrush dipped in the soapy water to thoroughly clean the door gasket.

Pay special attention to the inner pleats where grease and food particles collect over time.

7. Remove Excess Vinegar and Do Final Rinse

After the cycle finishes, wipe the interior down with a clean wet cloth to remove any lingering vinegar.

Run the dishwasher one more time on the hottest setting to rinse away any residue. No soap is needed for this final rinse.

That’s it! After these thorough cleaning steps, your dishwasher should be free of nasty odors, grease buildup, lime deposits and grime.

Monthly Maintenance

  • To keep your dishwasher clean long-term, I recommend repeating this vinegar cleaning method every 1-2 months.
  • For regular upkeep between deep cleans, pour 2 cups of vinegar into the bottom of your empty dishwasher and run a normal cycle 1-2 times per month.
  • Always check/clean the filter, arms and door seal regularly for any food particles or buildup.

Vinegar Cleaning Solutions Comparison

There are a few options when it comes to using vinegar to clean your dishwasher:

  • Plain vinegar – My preferred method is to use undiluted plain white vinegar. It has the highest acidity for cutting through grim and disinfecting.
  • Vinegar-dish soap mix – For tough grease stains, you can add a squirt of dish soap to a cup of vinegar and scrub with this solution.
  • Vinegar-baking soda mix – The chemical reaction of baking soda and vinegar can help dissolve scum. But test first, as it may bubble over.

I find plain vinegar to be the easiest, safest and most effective approach. But you can experiment to see which method works best for your needs.

Alternative Cleaners Comparison

While vinegar is my top recommendation for cleaning a dishwasher, here are some common alternative options:

  • Citrus cleaner – Citric acid removes some mineral deposits but may not sanitize as well. Can leave lingering citrus scent.
  • Bleach – Good disinfectant but doesn’t descale well. Must rinse thoroughly as bleach residue is harmful.
  • Detergent – Good for regular maintenance but not deep cleans. Some contain rinse agents.
  • Commercial dishwasher cleaners – Often contain bleach, acids and/or enzymes to attack multiple types of grime.

Vinegar is just as effective as most commercial cleaners without the high cost, harsh fumes or chemical residue. When in doubt, start with the power of vinegar first!


Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about cleaning a dishwasher with vinegar:

Is it safe to use vinegar to clean a dishwasher?

Yes, vinegar is completely safe for cleaning the interior of your dishwasher. The vinegar smell may be strong as you clean but it will dissipate. Always run an extra rinse cycle afterwards.

How much vinegar should I use?

For a deep clean, pour 1 cup of vinegar into the bottom of your empty dishwasher before starting the hottest, longest cycle. Repeat monthly as needed.

What kind of vinegar works best?

Use plain distilled white vinegar for the best cleaning and descaling results. Apple cider vinegar may stain plastic dishwasher tubs over time.

Can I mix vinegar with dish soap or baking soda?

Yes, you can make a paste with baking soda and vinegar to scrub away stuck-on gunk. Or add a small squirt of soap to vinegar for extra grease-cutting power.

How does vinegar disinfect the dishwasher?

Vinegar is a mild acid that kills bacteria, fungi and germs living inside the dishwasher. It sanitizes as it cleans, leaving the interior fresh.

How do I know if vinegar damaged my dishwasher?

Vinegar is safe for cleaning but be sure to rinse thoroughly after so residue doesn’t affect your dishes. Damage is unlikely if you use the recommend amount.

What should I do if vinegar doesn’t clean well enough?

For neglected dishwashers, repeat the vinegar or vinegar-baking soda cleaning process. You may need to scrub more or use a dishwasher cleaner for extremely dirty interiors.


I hope these vinegar cleaning tips help you learn how to clean a dishwasher safely and naturally. Vinegar is an economical, effective and eco-friendly way to dissolve grease, eliminate odors, remove lime deposits and sanitize inside your dishwasher.

Be sure to clean the filter, spray arms and door seal thoroughly. And run an extra hot rinse cycle after cleaning to remove any lingering vinegar smell or residue. Repeat this vinegar deep cleaning method every 1-2 months for sparkling dishes!