How to Clean a Dishwasher: 5 Eco-Conscious Tips

6 minute read

Father and son loading dishwasher together

Our dishwashers do a lot for us. They can make our plates squeaky clean in a flash, give the baby’s teethers a much-needed shine, and most importantly, save our hands from a lot of scrubbing when all we want to do is sink into the couch and relax

If you’re lucky enough to have a dishwasher in your kitchen, you might be faced with a conundrum that occurs to many—how do you clean the thing that does all the cleaning? 

It’s a good question—and while we can hope that one day dishwashers will be able to give themselves a self-care cleaning day alongside your silverware, we can tell you how to clean a dishwasher with sustainable cleaners.

#1 Use the Right Dishwashing Detergent (And Skip the Pre-Wash)

When it comes to giving your dishwasher a pristine power-up, one of the first questions to ask is, what are you putting in that thing?

No, we’re not talking about the unrinsed alfredo sauce or broccoli food particles on your plates. Believe it or not, small amounts of food residue aren’t as much of a problem as you may think. Most dishwashers can handle some debris as long as you scrape off the big stuff.

In fact, Consumer Reports suggests that not rinsing even allows your dishwasher’s sensors to work better.

Skipping that extra rinse before you pop in the plates is good for the planet. Why? For every minute you spend pre-washing dishes, you use between 1.7–6 gallons of water, plus any energy required to run the hot water. 

Instead, the most important thing to consider when loading your dishwasher is what detergent you’re using. For best results, use a dishwasher detergent that has a readily biodegradable formula, is effective on grease, avoids harsh chemicals, and won’t leave harmful residues on your plates or the dishwasher, such as our ECOS Wave Dishwasher Gel.

An open dish washer with clean dishes

#2 Don’t Skip the Rinse Aid

Nothing puts a damper on a night of toasts and celebrations than taking those crystal-clear glasses out of the dishwasher to find them practically opaque with water spots.

Tap water that contains higher levels of minerals like calcium and magnesium can react with your soap and cause residue that leaves dishes looking less-than-fresh. 

It can also result in multiple problems for you and your dishwasher, including:

  • Soap scum on plates and utensils
  • Water spots and cloudiness in glasses
  • Buildup of minerals inside your dishwasher

All of this can make it more difficult to keep both your dishes and your dishwasher sparkling. 

Using a rinse aid can be a big help in keeping your tableware spotless and the inside of your dishwasher equally shining, especially when you’re skeptical about your water quality. Try an eco-conscious option like the ECOS Rinse Aid, which uses natural lemon oil to dissolve buildup and prevent spots. Plus, it uses a 100% biodegradable formula.

#3 Care For Your Dishwasher After Each Wash

It can be oh-so-satisfying to unload your perfectly clean plates when they’re warm, dry, and sparkling clean. 

However, you might miss an important step in keeping a clean dishwasher—checking the inside after each wash.

Much of the debris that comes off your dishes will be caught by the filter. But if there are any bits of food it doesn’t catch or that are too big for the filter, those bits of food debris can cause buildup as they dry. The result? A less-than-refreshing odor.

To save yourself from having to clean this later on, we suggest giving your dishwasher a visual check after you’ve unloaded everything and using a damp cloth to wipe up any leftovers before yesterday’s meal becomes tomorrow’s smell. 

#4 Clean the Outside of the Dishwasher Each Week

Much like the fridge, stove, and microwave, the outsides of our dishwashers see a lot of traffic when it comes to fingerprints and smudges. To keep your dishwasher as spotless on the outside as it is on the inside, we recommend these steps on a weekly basis or as often as needed:

  • To remove any buildup and grime, wipe the outside of the dishwasher door with a soft cloth and an all-purpose cleaner
  • If you have a stainless steel dishwasher, you can also use a special spray, like ECOS Stainless Steel Cleaner + Polish, to remove any stubborn streaks and fingerprints from the inside and outside of the dishwasher door.
  • Use a disinfectant spray made with hydrogen peroxide to finish off any germs.

African Young Woman Fixing Dishwasher In Kitchen

#5 Do a Dishwasher Deep Clean Every Month

Every so often, it’s important to give your whole house a deep clean. An essential item that should be on your deep cleaning checklist is the dishwasher. If you haven’t deep-cleaned your dishwasher in a while, the first time might be a bit more time-consuming. With regular upkeep and attention to a few specific areas, however, it’ll be much easier over time.

Follow these steps to give your dishwasher the inside-out deep clean of its dreams:

  • Pull out the removable parts – That means the top and bottom rack, the utensil basket, and the dishwasher’s spray arms if they are removable. You can wipe these down with some warm water, eco-conscious dish soap, and a cloth, using an old toothbrush to get into any hard-to-reach areas. Let them air dry while you do the rest.
  • Wash the filter – Most dishwashers are fitted with a removable filter at the bottom, below the arm that spins and sprays the dishes. It’s designed to trap all the food particles. If you don’t clean it, your dishwasher might not work as well—not to mention the foul smells that can emerge from a full filter. Empty any loose particles into the trash can, then give the filter a good long soak in a bowl of dish soap and warm water. Once any buildup has loosened, gently wipe it out with a sponge and set the filter to dry.
  • Wipe down the inside – Fill a bowl with a squeeze of grease-fighting dish detergent, such as ECOS Hypoallergenic Dishsoap, and warm water. Using a sponge or dishrag, wipe down every area of the dishwasher you can reach. You may want to use an old toothbrush to remove particles in certain areas, such as around the filter and in the corners.
  • Run the dishwasher After you replace the dishwasher’s removable parts, you can give it an extra clean by running a wash cycle without any dishes inside. Some dishwashers even have a special wash cycle designed for this purpose. To help break down any remaining buildup, use a detergent with enzymes. You can also add in your ECOS Rinse Aid if you notice any mineral buildup from hard water.
  • Let it dry – Once you have a fully clean dishwasher, leave the door open and let it air out, allowing any leftover moisture to evaporate.

Keep Your Dishwasher Safe, Clean, and Green

When you’re cleaning an appliance, it may be tempting to reach for the most powerful cleaners. You know, the ones that use harsh chemicals or strong fragrances to cover up unwelcome odors. However, before you reach for these solutions, you should know that not all of them are worth the results.

Some of the chemicals in common household cleaning solutions can be harmful to your dishwasher, your plates, yourself, and the planet. These include:

  • Ethanolamines – This is a common surfactant and emulsifier used to give soaps and detergents their foamy consistency. When it breaks down, it can produce cancer-causing toxins called nitrosamines. On labels, you’ll often find this listed as TEA, DEA, or MEA.
  • Phosphates – These chemicals are often used to counteract hard water buildup. Their downfall is that they’re highly toxic to the environment, especially aquatic ecosystems.
  • Chlorine bleach – Aside from potential stains and damage to your stainless steel dishwasher and other appliances, bleach can produce toxic fumes, burn your skin, and react dangerously with other chemicals. Its by-products are also highly harmful to the planet.

Instead of reaching for harsh cleaning solutions, look for soaps and cleaners that have a Safer Choice label, like those from ECOS. This label means the product has met standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and contains safer ingredients for your health and the environment. 

ECOS: Cleaning Solutions for a Cleaner Planet

Given how much they take off our plates, dishwashers can be a lifesaver in our deep cleaning routines. Before you feel guilty loading up those spaghetti-splattered bowls instead of washing them yourself, you might be surprised to learn that dishwashers can also help reduce our impact on the planet. 

Compared to washing your dirty dishes by hand, studies show that our modern dishwashing machine can reduce our water usage by half and reduce the energy output you need for hot water.

If our dishwashers are making such efforts to help the environment, it only makes sense for us to do the same. To expand your efficient cleaning habits with tips on how to clean a shower and how to clean a sink, ECOS is here to help. Keep your home and our planet safer from harsh chemicals by opting for eco-conscious cleaners formulated with plant-powered ingredients and 100% biodegradable formulas, like those from ECOS. 

Consumer Reports. Pre-Rinsing Your Dishes Before Putting Them in the Dishwasher.  
US Geological Survey. Hardness of Water. 
ECOS. The Nasties. 
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Learn About the Safer Choice Label.