Keep Dishes Sparkling by Learning How to Clean the Dishwasher Filter

A dishwasher makes life easy: Put in the dirty dishes, push a button and then later take out the clean dishes. But what if they’re not clean? There’s nothing more annoying than finding food stuck to dishes after they’ve gone through a wash. Before you head to the appliance store to check out a new dishwasher, there’s a quick fix that might have yours back to working as good as new: Cleaning the dishwasher filter.

how to clean dishwasher filter

First, you might not even know that there is a filter, much less that it needs to be cleaned regularly. Don’t panic, because it’s never too late to start and we’re going to tell you exactly how to clean your dishwasher filter.

Where is the filter and what does it do?

The dishwasher filter’s job is to trap all the bits of food and debris that are swept from your dishes during the wash cycle. Even if you scrape them first, food particles will remain and be rinsed from the dishes. Those particles clog up the filter and have to be removed regularly. In fact, a seriously clogged filter can prevent the dishwasher from draining properly.

Old or new, your dishwasher has a filter that need to be regularly cleaned. It is located in the floor of the unit, underneath the arm that spins around to spray water. Older models — mainly those that were manufactured before 2010 — might have a self-cleaning filter that functions a lot like a garbage disposal, but that type fell out of favor because it was so noisy. Newer dishwashers have a filter that needs to be cleaned. If you have trouble locating it or aren’t sure which type you have, check the manual or the manufacturer’s website.

Where is the filter and what does it do

How often do I need to clean the dishwasher filter?

If you have an older model with a self-cleaning filter, it is not removable and cannot be separately cleaned. Keeping your dishwasher clean is the best way to make sure it works as it should. It’s not hard to do and the easiest tactic is to give it a good cleaning once a month. You can use plain household vinegar or a commercial dishwasher cleaner, whichever you prefer. If there’s still an issue with funky smells or stuck-on food, the dishwasher needs to be cleaned more often.

If you have a newer model with a removable filter, it’s easy to care for if you know how to clean the dishwasher filter.

How often do I need to clean the dishwasher filter?

How to clean the dishwasher filter

There are a few things you will need to properly clean the dishwasher filter:

  • Dishcloth or sponge
  • Old toothbrush
  • Soft-bristled nylon brush
  • Dishwashing liquid containing a degreaser
  • Distilled white vinegar (optional)

Find the Filter

Find the Filter

If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to find the filter. As we already mentioned, it’ll be located in the floor of the dishwasher. For easier access, remove the bottom rack. Typically, the dishwasher filter is round and is easily twisted and removed. Once you look at it, you may see some arrows indicating which way to turn it. In many cases, the filter is permanently attached to flat panel that sits above or below it. The best thing is that you don’t need any tools for this!

Take out the filter

Note any arrows around the filter and twist it to unlock it. Then, lift it up and take it out. If there is a secondary filter attached, it’ll come out too.

Mix up the cleaning solution

Plug the sink and add a few inches of hot water and some dishwashing liquid. Use one that includes a degreaser to get the filter clean more easily.

Time for a Soak

Submerge the filter in the soapy water and let it soak for a few minutes. This loosens up anything that’s stuck to the filter. Next, take an old toothbrush, soft nylon brush or sponge to gently scrub anything that’s in the filter. Never use a wire brush or a scrubby pad because it can damage the filter and prevent it from working properly. Rinse everything well in hot water.

Time for a Soak

Spruce up the filter housing

The part of the dishwasher that houses the filter can get equally gunky so it’s best to tackle that area when you clean the dishwasher filter. Grab your cloth or sponge and dip it into the hot soapy water. Use it to clean the opening and any other areas that look like they have a build-up of food particles or gunk.

How to Clean the Dishwasher Filter

Put everything back

Once everything is spic and span, put the filter back just the way you took it out, just reverse the order of the steps.

Put everything back

Tips to minimize clogging your filter

Even though you will still need to regularly clean the filter, there are steps you can take to help keep it from getting excessively filled with food particles.

First, you’ll want to do a monthly preventive cleaning that’s super simple: Just put two cups of white household vinegar in an open bowl on the top shelf of the empty dishwasher and run it through the cycle. This will keep everything in great shape.

Second, scrape any remaining food from dishes before you load them. You don’t need to rinse them because that’s a waste of water. A good scraping is just fine.

That’s all there is to it. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time and can be easily taken care of while you’re cleaning up after dinner before you run the next cycle. This simple step can be the defining task that gives you clean, sparkling dishes and silverware instead of semi-washed tableware.