How to Clean Your Dishwasher Filter: Step-by-Step Guide

Key takeaways:

  • Understanding the importance of cleaning your dishwasher filter can significantly reduce maintenance costs over its lifespan, as highlighted by Consumer Reports data showing a significant portion of dishwashers needing repair within five years of ownership.
  • Recognizing signs such as dirty dishes, funky smells or improper drainage are major.
  • Different types of filters require varying levels of maintenance.
  • Having the right tools and supplies matters and will save you time.
  • Beyond filter cleaning, using appropriate detergent, running hot cycles and more may help you save on repairs.


Soiled food and crumbs in the dishwasher must go somewhere.

Many of us don’t realize that “somewhere” is your dishwasher filter. Learning how to clean your dishwasher filter can greatly reduce the amount of money you have to spend on dishwasher maintenance over its lifespan. According to Consumer Reports, survey data from members’ experiences with more than 140,000 dishwashers reveals that about 24.5 % of them either broke or stopped working as well as they should have within five years of ownership.

Below, we review the types of dishwasher filters and explain how to clean them so that you can keep your dishwasher working at peak performance. Our dishwasher filter cleaning guide will equip you with all the tools you need to maintain this vital appliance properly.


Importance of maintaining a clean dishwasher filter

Maintaining a clean dishwasher can improve performance and save you from unwanted repairs and replacements. Even if you are following best practices like scraping your food off plates and rinsing your dishwasher, your filter needs to be cleaned twice per year to be most effective.

However, this timing can vary by dishwasher and you should be on the lookout for some signs that you need to clean your dishwasher filter, such as:

  • Your dishes are coming out of the washer dirty
  • Your dishwasher smells funky
  • Your dishwasher isn't draining properly

If any of these signs present themselves, it is evidence that it may be time to clean out your dishwasher filter to prevent more severe damage or issues.


Understanding your dishwasher filter

When figuring out how to maintain your dishwasher, the first thing to know is which type of filter you have. Much older models may have self-cleaning filters that include food grinders, but these have gone out of fashion due to their energy inefficiency.

Many households will have manual filters that require you to scrape hard food items into the trash before loading them into the dishwasher. Manual filter dishwashers are more energy efficient but also require more regular maintenance to keep clean.

Once you know which type of filter you are working with, you need to know how to locate it in your dishwasher. Thankfully, most major brands have placed their filters in similar places, so if you change makers, it won’t be much of an adjustment to find.

The dishwasher filter is at the bottom of your dishwasher, under the bottom rack. Pull out the bottom dish rack to find it, then look for the filter — it's usually either in one of the back corners of the dishwasher tub or around the base of the bottom spray arm.

hand inserts dishwasher filter

For the best results in cleaning your dishwasher filter, make sure you use your resources. The user manual for your make and model is a great place to start. This will inform you of any specifics that could make the job easier.


Preparing for cleaning

While many household appliances require specific tools or expertise, thankfully, cleaning your dishwasher filter is usually simpler. That said, knowing the right supplies for the job is essential.

For many makes and models, you can successfully clean your dishwasher filter with the following supplies:

  • Sink or large bowl
  • Dishcloth or sponge
  • Old toothbrush
  • Soft-bristled nylon brush
  • Dishwashing liquid containing a degreaser
  • Distilled white vinegar

Additionally, when using industrial cleaning products, it is important to protect your skin. We recommend using dishwashing gloves while you clean your filter for the best results for both your filter and your body and to protect your hands.


Cleaning your dishwasher filter

If you have a self-cleaning filter, you do not need to tend to it. However, since many dishwashers now have manual filters, we are going to focus on cleaning out a manual dishwasher filter.



1. When you want to start the cleaning process, you first need to remove the dishwasher's bottom rack. Next, identify if the filter is under the water spray arms or in the back corner of the machine. Either way, pull out the water spray arms to access the bottom of the dishwasher. Typically, the filter should slide right out. Also, depending on your make and model, your filter may separate into pieces for easier cleaning, so do not be alarmed if it separates.

2. Once you have the filter out, run it under warm water to remove larger debris. This will not remove all debris, so use the scrub brush, toothbrush and soapy water to remove particles stuck on the sides of the filter. We recommend avoiding more abrasive materials, such as steel wool, which can damage the filter and cause replacement.

3. Once you have cleaned out the filter, make sure to wipe down the filter housing before reinserting it. When inserting the filter, make sure that it is going in the correct direction. The owner’s manual is an excellent resource for this.


Additional dishwasher maintenance tips

While cleaning your filter regularly is an integral part of improving your dishwasher performance, other areas can impact your dishwasher. Some things that can also affect your dishwasher are:

Using suitable dishwasher detergent: Follow manufacturer guidance on using a detergent made for your dishwasher to avoid ones that may create too many suds and clog your dishwasher’s performance.

Running the dishwasher on hot cycles regularly: Hot water dissolves and activates dish detergent and pods while helping to break down grease on your dishes. Some dishwashers have cycle settings like the Hi-Temp Wash or the Sanitize Cycle to raise the water temperature during the wash cycle.

Checking for spray arms and drain blockages: Dishwashers are connected to your kitchen sink's water supply line and drain system. If either becomes clogged, your dishwasher won't get all the water it needs to clean the dishes properly.

Troubleshooting common dishwasher issues

Although dishwashers can have many issues depending on the model and complexity, some of the more common problems are:

Cloudy glassware: Typically, cloudy glassware is a sign of water with a high mineral content or “hard water.” A water softener is the best solution because it removes the hard water minerals that cause the problem.

Food particles left on dishes: This article focuses on the most common reason food particles are left on dishes! If your filter is clogged or needs cleaning, it could spray food particles onto your dishes.

Persistent odors: If your dishwasher smells moldy, check the seals and clean them out. Also, run an empty dishwasher cycle or two with white vinegar and baking soda to kill any potential mold that could be causing the unpleasant odor


  Related Article

Interested in learning more? Check out this article:

How to Unclog a Dishwasher


Coverage for your dishwasher

According to Home Guide, a new dishwasher costs $400 to $1,200 on average for a standard 24” comprehensive built-in model. Small dishwasher prices are $250 to $500 for countertop models. The cost of a dishwasher depends on the type, size, and brand.

Properly cleaning your dishwasher filter and following our other dishwasher cleaning tips can maximize your dishwasher's lifespan. As you can see, many of these maintenance steps are easy to do on your own.

In addition to regular appliance maintenance, having the right home warranty* coverage is the best way to protect your budget and household from unexpected repairs and replacements.

Here at Cinch Home Services, our Appliance and Complete Home Plans both offer excellent coverage for dishwashers.

*The product being offered is a service contract and is separate and distinct from any product or service warranty which may be provided by the home builder or manufacturer.

The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.

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