How to clean a dishwasher filter – pro tips for perfectly clean plates

Not the most glamorous of tasks, but essential nonetheless

An open dishwasher in a kitchen
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Cleaning a dishwasher filter is one of the many chores that simply has to be done. But how do you clean a dishwasher filter correctly and how can we make it easier?

Cleaning a dishwasher is often as simple as running a cleaning solution through the machine on a normal, empty cycle, but some parts – like the filter, need a little more care and attention to keep them in top form. 

Here, cleaning experts explain how to clean a dishwasher filter correctly – and the good news is that it is super simple to do with what you already have at home. 

How to clean a dishwasher filter  

Cleaning a dishwasher filter may sound like a tedious task but is super simple and takes only a few minutes out of your day – so long as you don't need to unclog a dishwasher filter at the same time, that is.

someone removing a dishwasher filter

(Image credit: Getty Images)

‘If you don’t clean your dishwasher filter, food remains and bacteria will build up inside the machine. This leads to smelly dishwashers and smeary dishes and glasses,’ explains Sarah Dempsy, cleaning expert at MyJobQuote. ‘So it's an important step for clean plates and utensils that are safe for cooking and eating.’

Other great ways to keep your dishwasher filter in top shape, and space out how often you need to clean your dishwasher filter, include knowing what not to put in a dishwasher to prevent damage and clogs and learning a few dishwasher maintenance tricks to prevent patchy washes.  

You will need:

1. Locate and remove your filter head

A common dishwasher mistake is not understanding the different parts of your machine. Consulting the manual should help you to locate your dishwasher filter and explain how to remove it without damage. 

‘In most cases, you’ll find the filter inside your dishwasher, right at the bottom,’ says cleaning expert Sarah Dempsey. ‘You’ll need to take out the lower baskets and look for a round plastic plug. This should twist and lift out. The filter may come in two parts with an outer or inner mesh that unscrews to help you clean it thoroughly,’ she continues.

You may need to use a flathead screwdriver or similar tool to carefully remove the screws that hold the filter assembly in place,’ adds Phi Dang, director of Side Post, a home services company. ‘Once removed, lift out the filter assembly and inspect it for any debris or clogs that may be present.’ 

2. Use dish soap and hot water to loosen grime

Some of our favorite cleaning tips for around the home use degreasing dish soap. There are various things you can clean with Dawn Powerwash, and dishwasher filters are no exception. 

‘It’s a grim task, but somebody’s gotta do it. And if the thought of touching slimy food remains makes your skin crawl, get the rubber gloves at the ready,’ advise the experts at Method, the plant-based cleaning company.

‘Once you’ve mustered the courage to face the fear, locate and remove the filter according to your dishwasher manual, then pop it with some hot water and a few drops of dish soap in your sink. The trick here is to opt for a product that’s tough on grease, like Method’s grease-fighting dish soap (available on Amazon), as this will make for easier cleaning.’ 

3. Employ baking soda and vinegar for stubborn deposits

You can also try cleaning with vinegar. ‘It is a common occurrence that food and other small particles get stuck in a dishwasher. To unclog, try a mix of baking soda and vinegar in equal parts. Pour it into the bottom of the dishwasher and let it sit for 10-15 minutes then run your dishwasher on a rinse cycle at a high setting,’ suggests Ben Peach, product manager at Haier Europe

Always check your manual before using vinegar to clean a dishwasher in its entirety, however, to prevent damaging delicate components with its strong acidic qualities.  

4. Replace the filter and run an empty cycle

Once the filter is visibly clean, and the filter slot has been freed of built-up grease, food, or grime you can pop the filter back in place and run a cycle. ‘After cleaning and drying off your filter assembly, reassemble it back into place in your dishwasher machine using new screws if necessary and plugging it back into its power source once complete,’ says Phi Dang of Side Post.

Running an empty cycle after cleaning the filter will help to check that everything is back in place properly, and remove any soap residue from the base of your machine.

How often to clean a dishwasher filter

An open dishwasher in a kitchen

(Image credit: Getty Images)

‘Regular cleaning of your dishwasher filter and prevention of problems like food build up every month is important to prevent clogging,’ says Richard Dixon, founder and business operations head of Team Emergency Plumber. ‘It’s important to ensure that your dishwasher is operating at its best. When the dishes are coming out with small stains or pieces of food or if your glasses are not well cleaned, then you may have a problem and you should go check.

‘When you have a problem like this, it is very important to double-check the hygiene and cleanliness of your plates, cutlery, and glasses so as to avoid the proliferation of bacteria and potentially harmful microorganisms,’ he adds.


What happens if you don’t clean your dishwasher filter?

If you do not clean your dishwasher filter, then your dishes are likely to remain dirty – even after a full cycle – they are also likely to be less sanitary as a clogged filter promotes bacterial growth. A dirty filter is also likely to produce a bad odor that will not go unnoticed in your kitchen by your friends, family, and guests.  

How do I know if my dishwasher filter is clogged?

One of the first signs of a clogged dishwasher filter is dirty or gritty plates after a dishwasher cycle. If you notice that your dishes are remaining soiled even after a wash or two, then it is likely time to clean your dishwasher filter to ensure that dirt and food particles are not either left behind on your dishes or pushed back onto them at the end of a cycle.  

Chiana Dickson
Content Editor

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for two years, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.