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In my household, we heavily rely on the dishwasher, operating it daily. I believe my frequent use of the dishwasher is an unconscious attempt to compensate for never utilizing it during my childhood, despite having one.

However, the truth is that in many busy households, including my own, it’s commonplace to use a dishwasher regularly and frequently. A dishwasher is a convenient appliance many depend on to save precious time in the kitchen.

Occasionally though, the dishwasher fails to perform at its best. When this happens, it usually indicates that the dishwasher filter requires a thorough cleaning. While it may seem counterintuitive to clean a component of a dishwasher whose primary function is to “clean,” this particular piece is a part that often goes unnoticed.

Ensuring the cleanliness and maintenance of your dishwasher filter is crucial for achieving its best performance. Over time, this small yet significant component can accumulate food particles, grease, and other debris, leading to subpar dishwasher performance and unpleasant odors.

In this comprehensive guide, I will provide step-by-step instructions on deep cleaning your dishwasher filter. By doing so, you will not only enhance your dishwasher’s efficiency and effectiveness, but you will also prolong its lifespan and ensure impeccably clean dishes every time.

So, let’s get into it. 

dishwasher filter in sink

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Step-by-Step Guide on Cleaning Dishwasher Filter

inside a dishwasher

Supplies Needed

  • A toothbrush or soft-bristle brush
  • Vinegar
  • Dawn dish soap
  • Rag or Paper Towel
  • Bucket or sink

Step 1: Locate and remove the dishwasher filter

Remove all dishes, utensils, and any other items from your dishwasher. If your dishwasher has a removable bottom rack, take it out to access the filter easily. Locate the dishwasher filter. Twist or lift it out.

dishwasher filter

**The exact location of the filter may vary depending on the make and model of your dishwasher, but most are located here. Check the dishwasher’s manual if you’re unsure.

Step 2: Clean the dishwasher’s filter

Fill a sink or a basin with warm water, dish soap, and vinegar. Place the filter in the soapy water and let it soak for about 15 minutes.

soapy water in sink

Use a cloth or sponge and gently rub the filter, removing any bits of food and waste stuck to the filter.

For stubborn residue, use an old toothbrush to scrub the filter, paying extra attention to the mesh screen and any crevices. Make sure to clean the filter until it looks clean and free from any visible remnants.

filter in soapy water
scrubbing filter

Step 3: Check the drain

Take a look at the dishwasher’s drain area to ensure there are no large food particles or debris blocking it. Use a paper towel or a small brush to remove any visible obstructions. Remove any debris and food particles clogging the drain.

drain of dishwasher

Step 4: Reassemble and reinstall the filter

Once the filter is clean and dry, it’s time to reinstall it back into the dishwasher. Ensure it is securely in place. 

dishwasher filter

It is recommended that once you clean the dishwasher filter, you should clean the entire dishwasher with vinegar and baking soda. Here’s a quick tutorial on how to clean a dishwasher.

Why is deep cleaning your dishwasher filter necessary?

The dishwasher filter plays an important role in the proper functioning of your dishwasher. The dishwasher filter’s main purpose is to trap food particles, debris, and other contaminants, preventing them from clogging the drain and re-depositing food onto your dishes. Over time, however, the filter can become clogged, impairing its ability to do its job effectively. 

This can result in poor cleaning performance, unpleasant odors, and even damage to your dishwasher. By deep cleaning your dishwasher filter regularly, you can prevent these issues and ensure that your dishwasher continues to perform at its best. Not only will this save you time and frustration, but it will also help extend the lifespan of your dishwasher and keep your dishes sparkling clean.

Signs Your Dishwasher Needs Cleaning

Here are a few signs to pay attention to identify when it’s time to clean your dishwasher filter.

Dishes aren’t getting cleaned – One of the most common signs that your dishwasher filter needs cleaning is a decrease in cleaning performance. If you notice that your dishes are coming out dirty, have a cloudy residue, and have food particles still clinging to them, it’s a clear indication that your filter is clogged and needs a deep cleaning. 

Smelly dishwasher – Another telltale sign is the presence of unpleasant odors emanating from your dishwasher. This is often caused by trapped food particles and debris that have started to rot and produce a foul smell. A strong and unpleasant smell coming from your dishwasher indicates the presence of bacteria or mold. This can be caused by food debris stuck in hard-to-reach areas or a dirty filter.

Slow drainage and water left behind in the dishwasher could be due to a clogged filter causing reduced water flow.  If you notice that water is taking longer than usual to drain from your dishwasher, it may be due to clogged filters or debris blocking the drain.

Noisy operation: A dishwasher making unusual noises during the wash cycle may have debris trapped in the drain.

How to Maintain a Clean Dishwasher Filter 

Establishing a regular maintenance routine is important to keep your dishwasher clean and operating efficiently. Here are a few tips to help you maintain a clean dishwasher filter:

  • Scrape off food particles: Before loading your dishes into the dishwasher, scrape off any foreign objects and large food particles into the trash. This will prevent them from clogging the filter.
  • Rinse dishes before loading: If your dishes have a lot of stuck-on food, rinse them under running water before placing them in the dishwasher. This will help prevent excess food debris from entering the filter.
  • Clean the filter monthly: Aim to clean your dishwasher filter deep at least once a month to prevent the buildup of food particles and debris. Use vinegar regularly: Once a month, pour a cup of white vinegar into the bottom of your empty dishwasher and run a hot water cycle. This will help dissolve grease, remove odors, and keep your dishwasher and filter clean.
  • Check for clogs regularly: Inspect your filter for any signs of clogging. You will notice this when there is a buildup of food particles or a decrease in water flow. If you notice any of these issues, deep clean the filter immediately.
  • Correctly load dishwasher: Properly load your dishes, ensuring enough space between them for water to circulate. Refer to your dishwasher’s manual for loading instructions.
  • Use the right detergent: Choose a high-quality dishwasher detergent that is suitable for your water hardness level. Using the right detergent will help prevent residue and buildup.
  • Run the dishwasher regularly: Running it at least once every few days is recommended, even if it is not full of dishes. This will prevent any stagnant water or odors from developing.


Your dishwasher filter is a small yet crucial component that plays a significant role in the performance and longevity of your dishwasher. By deep cleaning your dishwasher filter regularly, you’ll improve its efficiency and effectiveness, extend its lifespan, and ensure sparkling clean dishes each time. 

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Tamara White is the creator and founder of The Thrifty Apartment, a home decor and DIY blog that focuses on affordable and budget-friendly home decorating ideas and projects. Tamara documents her home improvement journey, love of thrifting, tips for space optimization, and creating beautiful spaces.

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