Long-term neglect of your dishwasher can let things build up to the point that it damages the machine’s filter and pump. Credit: Stock image | Pexels

An obvious perk of owning a home or renting an apartment with an automatic dishwasher is never facing the chore of washing dishes again. But it’s also a tradeoff because, counterintuitive as it may seem, dishwashers do not clean themselves.

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The average dishwasher produces and sprays jets of 140-degree water anywhere from an hour to four hours, depending on the age of the machine and the cycle setting. That’s enough water, heat and power to clean your dishes, but in time, small pieces of food, grease, detergent and minerals in the water can build up in the dishwasher’s filter and against its inside walls.

Not only will this detritus create nasty odors, it can also leave spots on glassware, flatware and dishes. Long-term neglect of your dishwasher can let things build up to the point that it damages the machine’s filter and pump.

To avoid smells, spots and an expensive house call from an appliance repair person, here are steps you can take to keep your dishwasher running as recommended by the Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab.

Remove bits of food

When unloading your dishwasher, check beneath the lower rack for any small bits of food that fell off the dirty dishes and got stuck in the well at the bottom of the appliance. Using a cloth, paper towel or your fingers to remove those pieces of food. This will go a long way in stopping odors in the machine.

Clean the filter

Like your dryer, your dishwasher has a filter and, like the one on your dryer, it should be cleansed on a regular basis. First, check the owner’s manual or the manufacturer’s online website to see where the filter is located and how to properly remove it. Most filters are located beneath the bottom spray arm of the dishwasher. Once a week, remove that filter and rinse it under hot running water in the sink. Then use a soft brush — a toothbrush works well — to scrub the filter’s screen and frame.

Thoroughly clean the inside

There are two routes you can take to give the inside of your dishwasher a good cleaning. The simplest is using commercial cleaning tablets or cleaners designed specifically for the job and available in the laundry detergent aisle at the grocery store. Some tablets can even be used during a regular load of dishes. Depending on how dirty the inside of the appliance is, you may need more than one tablet to do the job. Be sure to carefully read the instructions on the product label and follow the directions exactly.

If you don’t want to use a chemical tablet inside your machine, you can use distilled white vinegar. Pour two cups of the vinegar in a glass measuring cup and place the cup on the top rack of your dishwasher. Run the appliance on a normal cycle without any dishes or detergent in it.

Daily TLC

To prevent filter or odor problems in the first place, wipe your dishes off and remove any leftover food or grease from them before loading them into the dishwasher. If you notice a musty smell in your dishwasher, run it on the rinse cycle, leaving the door slightly open to circulate the air.

To keep the outside clean, use a damp sponge or cloth to wipe down the door handle, the door’s edges and the control panel. And remember, the more care you give to your dishwasher over the years, the longer you won’t be faced with the dishwashing chore.

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.