How to clean a dishwasher with vinegar – expert ways to disinfect safely

Clean a dishwasher with vinegar for an occasional deep clean, removing odors and keeping things running as they should

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The dishwasher is one of those appliances that often work overtime, especially when we're doing lots of cooking and hosting guests. White vinegar has long been used for cleaning around the house, from windows and mirrors to kettles and showerheads. 

You can clean a dishwasher with vinegar too, to give it that next level clean once in a while. Although, as we explain below, it's important to dilute it. 

It pays to know how to clean a dishwasher to keep everything in good working order and to avoid odors. So, how do the experts do it?

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How to clean a dishwasher with vinegar: step-by-step

Hugo Guerrero, a certified House Cleaning Technician at Mattressive (opens in new tab) recommends following these simple steps.

  • Fill a dishwasher-safe cup or bowl with equal parts water and vinegar (about one cup of each) and place on the top rack.
  • Run the machine on a normal cycle with no dishes in it, using the heated dry option if your dishwasher has that function. 
  • When the cycle is complete, wipe away all of the water from your dishwasher and run a second normal cycle without any dishes in it. This will clean out any debris and vinegar that may have been left behind.

White vinegar is a natural deodorizer and disinfectant that will break down food, soap scum, and other residues on the interior surfaces of your dishwasher. Due to its low pH of around 2.5, it is corrosive, so it should be diluted with water and reserved for deep cleaning.

Rubber seals and gaskets can be vulnerable to deterioration if vinegar is left on their surfaces for extended periods of time, so check your manual and make sure you rinse the dishwasher completely after using it.

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Cleaning with vinegar is also useful for the removable parts of your dishwasher, so as well as using it on the interior, take out the racks, utensil holder, and filter at the bottom and soak in a mixture of warm water and a cup of white vinegar for around 30 minutes.

'Run on a hot water cycle to activate the vinegar, breaking down grease, food particles, soap scum, grime, and residue,' suggests Robert Johnson from Coast Appliances (opens in new tab). 'Don’t forget to air dry the dishwasher after.'

Where do you put vinegar in the dishwasher?

Use the vinegar either in the detergent compartment or in a bowl. Hugo warns against using it in the rinse aid compartment as this could cause corrosion on the heating element, which can lead to leaks and other problems, as well as expensive repairs.

 Will vinegar damage your dishwasher?  

'Vinegar may damage some rubber gaskets and cause your dishwasher to leak,' cautions Michael Davis, a plumbing expert from Plumber Tip (opens in new tab). 'However, if gaskets are made from Viton you could do it more often. Viton is a chemical-resistant material, and the acidity of vinegar won't hurt it.'

Never use white vinegar with other cleaning agents, such as bleach, as this can be dangerous and could even cause permanent damage to your machine.

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How often should you run vinegar through your dishwasher?

Michael Davis suggests using it once a month when you're cleaning the kitchen – any more than that and he says you might end up damaging the rubbers and causing leaks. You could also save white vinegar for whenever you notice an odor. If you live in an area with hard water, running vinegar through your dishwasher once every couple of months may help to remove stains from minerals in the water.

Millie Hurst
Section Editor

Millie Hurst is Section Editor at Homes & Gardens, overseeing the Solved section, which provides readers with practical advice for their homes. She has been in the world of digital journalism for six years, having previously worked as Senior SEO Editor at News UK both in London and New York. She joined the Future team two years ago, working across a range of homes brands. Millie formerly worked as Senior Content Editor at Ideal Home, taking care of evergreen articles that help and inspire people to make the most of their homes and outdoor spaces. Millie has a degree in French and Italian and lives in North London.