How to Properly Clean a Dishwasher Drain

Keeping your dishwasher drain clean is an essential part of dishwasher maintenance. A clogged drain can lead to dirty dishes, bad odors, and water pooling at the bottom of your dishwasher. With some simple steps, you can keep your dishwasher drain clear and running smoothly.

Why Regular Drain Cleaning is Important

Food particles, grease, soap scum, and hard water minerals can build up over time and clog your dishwasher drain. This prevents water from properly draining out during the wash and rinse cycles. Some signs your drain needs cleaning include:

  • Dirty dishes that don’t seem fully cleaned
  • Water pooling in the bottom of the dishwasher
  • Foul odors coming from the dishwasher
  • Gurgling noises as the dishwasher tries to drain
  • Cycle takes longer than usual to complete

By giving your drain a thorough cleaning every few months, you can avoid these issues and keep your dishwasher running at peak performance.

Supplies Needed

Cleaning the dishwasher drain is a fairly straightforward process. You’ll need just a few simple supplies:

  • Rubber gloves
  • Old toothbrush or other small brush
  • Vinegar or citrus-based cleaner
  • Baking soda
  • Flashlight
  • Shallow pan or bowl
  • Towels

Step-by-Step Drain Cleaning Process

Follow these steps for how to properly clean your dishwasher drain:

1. Remove the Lower Rack

Pull out the lower rack and set it aside. This will give you access to the bottom of the dishwasher.

2. Locate the Drain Cover

At the bottom of the tub, find the drain cover. This is usually a cylindrical plastic piece in the middle. Some dishwashers have a grate-style cover instead.

3. Twist or Unscrew the Drain Cover

Depending on your model, the drain cover may lift out, twist off, or unscrew. Place a shallow pan or bowl beneath it to catch any water.

4. Remove Debris

Use a flashlight to peek down the drain opening. Use the toothbrush or brush to loosen and remove any food particles, grease, or debris buildup.

5. Clean With Baking Soda and Vinegar

For a more thorough cleaning, mix 1 cup baking soda with 1 cup white vinegar. Pour the fizzy mixture down the drain opening. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes then rinse with hot water. This will break up grease and dissolve mineral deposits.

6. Clean and Replace Drain Cover

Rinse the drain cover and clean off any grime before replacing it. Make sure it is securely attached.

7. Run a Test Cycle

With the drain cover back in place, run a short cycle to confirm water is draining properly. If needed, repeat steps 4-6.

Tips for Prevention

Regular cleaning keeps the drain clear, but you can also take steps to prevent clogs in the first place:

  • Scrape off food scraps before loading dishes
  • Use a dishwasher cleaner monthly to dissolve grease
  • Allow detergent to fully dissolve before starting cycle
  • Run hot water in sink before starting to soften grease
  • Grind up eggshells before washing to prevent clogging

Staying on top of a simple drain cleaning routine is the best way to avoid major clogging issues. With a little effort, you can keep your dishwasher running like new.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cleaning a Dishwasher Drain

How often should I clean the dishwasher drain?

It’s recommended to clean the drain thoroughly every 2-3 months. Do a quick inspection whenever dishes aren’t getting fully clean or water pools in the bottom.

What is the best way to clean a smelly drain?

A baking soda and vinegar treatment helps eliminate odors by breaking up grease and food buildup. Citrus cleaner can also help freshen a smelly drain. Run an empty wash cycle with detergent after cleaning.

Why does water sometimes back up into my dishwasher?

If water is coming back into the dishwasher, the drain line may be clogged. Try using a drain snake to remove debris blocking the drain hose where it connects under the sink.

What should I do if the drain cover is hard to remove?

Try running hot water in the sink to loosen grease around the drain cover. Use a wrench if needed to loosen a stubborn drain cover. Replace it if the plastic is warped or cracked.

Why is there a bad smell when I open my dishwasher?

Odors are usually caused by bits of stuck food and grease accumulations inside the drain. Clean the drain thoroughly and run a vinegar rinse cycle to eliminate dishwasher smells.


Allowing debris, food scraps, grease, and minerals to build up can make your dishwasher’s drain inefficient and lead to problems. Give your drain a good scrubbing every few months using baking soda, vinegar, and a small brush. Check it when you notice issues like foul odors or standing water in your dishwasher. With regular care, your dishwasher drain will stay clog-free and keep your dishes sparkling clean.