Does Dishwasher Need to Be Empty for Self Clean?

The answer is yes, you should run the dishwasher empty to clean it. This will ensure that the dishwasher can reach all the nooks and crannies that may harbor dirt, grease, and bacteria. Running an empty dishwasher also allows you to use a special cleaning solution or an acid-based cleaner to remove any mineral deposits, stains, or odors from the appliance. In this article, we will explain why and how to clean your dishwasher, as well as some tips to keep it in good shape.

Why You Should Clean Your Dishwasher

You may think that your dishwasher is self-cleaning, since it washes your dishes with hot water and detergent every time you use it. However, this is not the case. Over time, food particles, soap residue, and hard water minerals can build up in the dishwasher, affecting its performance and hygiene. Some of the problems that can arise from a dirty dishwasher are:

  • Poor cleaning results: Your dishes may come out with spots, streaks, or food remnants, requiring you to rewash them by hand or run another cycle.
  • Unpleasant odors: Your dishwasher may emit a musty, sour, or rotten smell, which can transfer to your dishes and make them unappetizing.
  • Bacterial growth: Your dishwasher may harbor harmful bacteria, such as E. coli, salmonella, or mold, which can contaminate your dishes and pose a health risk.
  • Reduced efficiency: Your dishwasher may consume more water and energy, as it has to work harder to clean your dishes and itself.
  • Shortened lifespan: Your dishwasher may break down sooner, as the accumulated dirt and grime can damage its components and cause malfunctions.
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How to Clean Your Dishwasher

To avoid these problems, you should clean your dishwasher regularly, at least once a month or more often if you use it frequently or have hard water. Cleaning your dishwasher is not difficult, and it can be done in a few simple steps:

  1. Remove the racks and utensil holder from the dishwasher and wash them by hand or soak them in warm water and vinegar to remove any dirt or stains. You can also use a soft brush or toothbrush to scrub any hard-to-reach areas.
  2. Check the filter at the bottom of the dishwasher and remove any food debris or gunk that may be clogging it. Rinse the filter under running water and replace it. If your filter is removable, you can also wash it with soap and water or vinegar.
  3. Place a cup of white vinegar or a packet of unsweetened lemonade mix on the top rack of the empty dishwasher. Run a normal or hot cycle without detergent. This will help to loosen and dissolve any soap scum, grease, or mineral deposits from the dishwasher walls and spray arms.
  4. Sprinkle a cup of baking soda on the bottom of the dishwasher and run a short or rinse cycle with hot water. This will help to deodorize and brighten the dishwasher interior.
  5. If your dishwasher has a self-cleaning cycle, you can also use it to clean the appliance. This cycle uses high-temperature water and a special cleaning solution to sanitize and remove any dirt or bacteria from the dishwasher. Follow the instructions in your dishwasher manual to use this cycle correctly.
  6. Wipe the door, gasket, and control panel of the dishwasher with a damp cloth and a mild cleaner. You can also use a streak-free cleaner for the front panel, depending on the finish. Make sure to dry the surfaces with a soft cloth to prevent water spots.
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Tips to Keep Your Dishwasher Clean

Besides cleaning your dishwasher regularly, you can also follow some tips to keep it in good condition and prevent dirt and odor buildup:

  • Scrape off any large food particles from your dishes before loading them into the dishwasher, but do not rinse them completely. This will help the dishwasher sensors to detect the level of soil and adjust the cycle accordingly.
  • Use the right amount and type of detergent and rinse aid for your dishwasher and water hardness. Follow the recommendations in your dishwasher manual and check the labels of the products you use. Too much or too little detergent can leave residue or stains on your dishes and dishwasher.
  • Run the dishwasher only when it is full, but do not overload it. This will save water and energy, as well as ensure proper water circulation and cleaning results.
  • Leave the dishwasher door slightly open after each cycle to allow the moisture and heat to escape. This will prevent mold and mildew growth and keep the dishwasher fresh and dry.
  • Check and clean the dishwasher filter, spray arms, and drain regularly to prevent clogs and improve water flow and pressure.
  • Use a dishwasher cleaner or an acid-based cleaner every few months to remove any stubborn stains, deposits, or odors from the dishwasher. You can also use vinegar, lemon juice, or citric acid as natural alternatives.


Cleaning your dishwasher is an important part of maintaining your kitchen appliance and ensuring its optimal performance and hygiene. By running an empty dishwasher with a cleaning solution or an acid-based cleaner, you can remove any dirt, grease, or bacteria that may be lurking in the dishwasher. You can also follow some simple tips to keep your dishwasher clean and fresh, such as scraping your dishes, using the right detergent and rinse aid, and leaving the door open after each cycle. By doing so, you can enjoy cleaner dishes and a longer-lasting dishwasher.