How To Clean Your Dishwasher Filter In 3 Easy Steps

Your dishwasher may be super independent, but it’s not too proud to admit it still needs your help to get those hard to reach places.

Have you ever found yourself in your kitchen and all of a sudden noticed a certain…smell? You pause, sniff again, and … there it is. An undeniable and decidedly unpleasant smell (which never points to anything good). Determined to get to the bottom of it, you do everything you can think of: you take out the trash, peek under the sink, run the garbage disposal, but no matter what you do, you just can’t seem to figure out where it’s coming from or how to get rid of it.

We hate to be the ones to break it to you, but your dishwasher filter could be the culprit. Yep, that shiny miracle of a machine you spent college and your early twenties pining for–the one that’s supposed to get all of your dishes scrubbed and sanitized and sparkling enough to eat off of–relies on a filter that just might be what’s behind that none-too-appetizing stench. And if it is, a thorough cleaning of that dishwasher filter is most definitely in order. And pronto.

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“But what even is a dishwasher filter?” you ask. “And how do I clean it?” Fear not! Cleaning your dishwasher filter is actually super simple and can make all the difference in the world when it comes to your machine’s performance. Plus, a clean filter should go a long way towards eliminating that bad smell!

What you’ll need to clean your dishwasher filter

  • Soapy water
  • A soft-bristle scrub brush (or toothbrush or sponge)
  • This guide!

What is a dishwasher filter and why it’s important to clean it?

Your dishwasher filter is the super important component of your dishwasher that’s responsible for cleaning and clearing all of the dish water that gets used during a wash cycle. In other words, it’s the muscle behind preventing all of those pesky food particles from recirculating and sticking to your otherwise clean dishes. (“Clean” dishes that still have particles of food stuck on them are therefore another tell-tale sign that your dishwasher filter is past-due for a cleaning.) Your dishwasher filter also protects the dishwasher pump from becoming clogged by large chunks of food or miscellaneous objects. So yeah, basically, it’s kind of a big deal.

Keeping your dishwasher filter clean is therefore of the utmost importance. By preventing build-up in and around the filter, you can keep your dishwasher running smoothly with the same filter for years. This means cleaner dishes for you (yay!) and far fewer problems down the road (again, yay!).

Convinced? Fantastic. Here’s how to get that filter clean in no time.

Before you begin: know your model

For the most part, older dishwashers (meaning pre-2010 models) had self-cleaning filters. Self-cleaning filters are really nice in theory. Unfortunately, though, these older models could be pretty loud, so the folks that design and build dishwashers eventually decided to invest in creating new models that used a quieter filter technology.

Sounds great, right? Well, there was a trade-off: this quieter filter technology required manual cleaning. (Bummer, we know.)

So what does this all mean for you and your dishwasher filter? Just that it’s important to know whether you have a newer or older dishwasher because it dictates whether you need to be in the habit of sudsing up your filter.

In all likelihood, your dishwasher is a newer model (which is why we’re going through this whole routine). If you’re uncertain, though, be sure to check your machine’s user manual (or just Google the make and model if you, like us, aren’t quite sure where you last put your user manual). The shape of the filter is also a useful indicator: the newer filters resemble those you might see in many water pitchers, while the older, self-cleaning filters were shaped like a round, plastic grid.

1. How to access a dishwasher filter

Assuming you have a newer dishwasher with a manual-clean filter, the first thing you need to know is how to access the darn thing.

Your dishwasher filter is located on the floor of your dishwasher, which can be easily accessed by removing the bottom dish rack. The filter can be found either in the back corner of the dishwasher or just beneath the base of the sprayer arm, which you may also have to remove to get to it. (And while you’re at it, you might as well take this as an opportunity to clean the sprayer arm, too.)

2. How to remove a dishwasher filter for cleaning

Most newer-model dishwasher filters are actually made up of two parts: an upper filter and a lower filter. The upper filter is typically shaped like a cylinder and the lower filter is typically a flat piece that sits beneath the upper filter. Keep in mind that some dishwashers will only have the upper filter, so don’t be alarmed if you can’t find a lower filter. If you have two filters, you’ll need to remove and clean both. (If you have only one, well, you only have to clean the one.)

First, remove your upper filter by gently turning it a notch (usually clockwise) to unlock it. It should come loose, allowing you to remove it.

Next, remove the lower filter (if you have one). Lower filters aren’t typically locked and you should be able to pull it straight out.

3. How to clean a dishwasher filter

Okay, you’ve successfully removed your filter(s) and are ready to clean!

Start by taking both filter parts to your kitchen sink. Use a soft-bristle scrub brush to gently wash each one with hot water and a mild dish soap like Dawn Ultra Dishwashing Liquid. No scrub brush? No problem! An old toothbrush (or even a sponge) will also work amazingly well.

Once you’ve scrubbed a bit and your filter is looking pretty good, test if it’s clean by running some water through both components. If the water that flows through is clean and clear, you’re good to go!

Before you replace the filter, take a look at the area around where it’s usually located in the dishwasher. Clean if necessary. How do you know if it’s necessary? It will probably be pretty clear (think pieces of food, calcium deposits, etc.). You can use the same setup you did for the filter–a soft-bristle brush and hot, soapy water–to gently scrub away any food particles that might have gotten caught or stuck there. (Think of it this way: you don’t want to have taken the time to clean your filters just to have them get clogged again as soon as you put them back!)

Once you’re done cleaning out the dishwasher itself, put the lower filter back in place first. As you do, be sure that the lower filter is aligned properly with its hole leading to the drainage hose.

Once you’ve put the lower filter back, replace the top filter and turn it a notch (usually counter-clockwise) to lock it in place. It’s essential that you turn the top filter until it clicks into place and no longer wiggles or turns at all. Running your dishwasher with a loose filter can damage it significantly, so double-check that everything feels sturdy and locked in before returning the lower dish rack to the dishwasher.

That’s it! You’re good to go! Take a breath and give yourself a pat on the back. You’re done (for now).

How often to clean a dishwasher filter

We say “for now” because cleaning your dishwasher filter is, unfortunately, not a one-and-done kind of thing. But, on the bright side, you now know what you’re doing–and having done it once, hopefully you see that it’s really not all that difficult or time consuming!

So how often do you need to go through this routine? Assuming you’re running your dishwasher somewhat regularly (and if you have a dishwasher, I mean, why wouldn’t you take advantage?), aim to give your dishwasher filter a good scrubbing about once a month. Between filter cleanings, do your best to take the extra time to scrape and rinse your dishes prior to loading them into the dishwasher. This will minimize the amount of food particles your filter has to deal with and make its difficult job a bit easier.

Trust us, taking these preventative measures–and washing your dishes with something like Cascade Platinum Action Pacs, which are formulated with the grease-fighting power of Dawn AND are convenient and easy to use because they require no premeasuring–will go a long way towards keeping your dishes sparkling clean, and you (and your dishwasher) happy.

But wait, there’s more!

If you’re feeling on top of the world right now (and why wouldn’t you be–you’ve got an immaculate dishwasher filter after all!), there are plenty of ways to keep leveling up your dishwashing game. How about learning how to choose the right dishwasher cycle (and finally getting to the bottom of why there are so many buttons)? Or maybe you’d like to figure out how to properly load your dishwasher? (Yes, there is, in fact, a correct way to load your dishwasher.)

Sounds like a fun Friday night, right? We thought so.

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