What are your options when you need to clean a dishwasher? How should you alter your methods when cleaning a dishwasher based on the problem?
Dirty Water and Dishes that Get Clean
A dishwasher that seems to leave dishes as dirty as when they come in may have a clogged drain. The dirty water and food residue caught up in it never goes down the drain, resulting in dishes that never really get clean. The first step in fixing this is cleaning the cover over the dishwasher drain, if it has one, of any large pieces of food debris or chunks of mashed potatoes and gravy that have clogged it. The second step is checking the drain itself for similar clogging, though this can also take the form of grease build up over months. Adding far too much dishwasher soap can even cause this problem, though that will be evidenced by the heavy residue of dish soap along with the food residue.
If the drain cover or strainer is clean and the drain at the bottom of the dishwasher is clear, another culprit is the connection to the garbage disposal if your dishwasher has one. The dirty water and food debris in these units gets sent to the garbage disposal for shredding and flushing down the sink drain. One way the flow is disrupted is when a single item gets stuck in the air gap that controls the flow of dirty water from the dishwasher and prevents debris from the garbage disposal getting into the dishwasher. Whether it is a single almond or piece of hard vegetable matter is to be determined – but your dishwasher won’t be able to clean the dirty dishes until it can get rid of the dirty water.
Suppose you find the clog and clear it. The next step is sterilizing the dishwasher to make sure it can clean the next load of dishes correctly. Run it empty at least once without dish soap to clean the interior. You can then run it with a baking soda in the dish soap dispenser to scrub and sterilize the interior of the dishwasher, knowing that the food residue and debris will have been rinsed away.
Sometimes running the dishwasher with too much dish soap leads to a dirty dishwasher. The soap can clog the drain and need to be removed like a wad of caked on baked potatoes. It can build up on the dishes, clog the jets and glue the soap dispenser shut.
The first solution to cleaning a dishwasher dirty with too much soap residue is to remove the worst of it, such as clearing the goopy mess of half-solid dish soap from the dispenser. Clear it from the drain cover and drain hose. Then run the dishwasher without any dishes on a cycle with hot water to clear the rest of the soap.
This should clear out the excess dish soap residue. You can reduce the risk of this happening again by only using the right amount of dish soap instead of filling up the dispenser (which may be twice what the machine needs). You may need to use rinse agent in addition to dish soap to get glasses and ceramic dish ware clean, especially if you have hard water.
Moldy Smells or Mildew
Mold and mildew smells inside a dishwasher can occur when water collects in nooks and crannies, especially if food debris is also collecting inside the dishwasher.
The first step is cleaning the dishwasher of food debris. Then run a load of dishes with baking soda in place of dish soap. If that isn’t enough, use one cup of vinegar with the cup of baking soda.
Check that the dishwasher is draining well, and clean the drain if that seems necessary. If the smell is worst around the door, clean the seal with bleach water while checking it for gaps where water might have seeped in and started to let mold grow.
If the dishwasher is sparkling clean and the mold and mildew smell remains, pull the dishwasher out of the cabinet and see if there’s a mold colony growing under it because of a leak in the dishwasher shell. Leaking water hoses and drain pipes can cause mold to grow that seems to come from the dishwasher but is actually in the surrounding walls. In these cases, clean the mold up with bleach water before letting the area dry before working to fix whatever caused the leak in the first place.