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Do you need to clean the inside of your dishwasher? Here's what experts advise

When it comes to efficiency, a dishwasher is where it's at. That said, how many of us have noticed strange odors creeping up over time, or opened the door after a cycle and realized our dishes were far from clean? While we may think doing a load of dishes is enough to keep our appliances pristine, the truth is, dishwashers require a bit more maintenance. We spoke to professional cleaner Laura Avila, creator of the cleaning website Cleaning Fan, and Karina Toner, operations manager of top Washington, D.C.-based cleaning company Spekless Cleaning about how to keep one of your kitchen's most valuable appliances looking, smelling and working like new. One of their suggestions is to use a product like Affresh Dishwasher Cleaner — an affordable, zero-effort solution.

Once a month, just pop one of these dishwasher cleaning tablets into the detergent tray and run a normal wash cycle. Easy breezy!

$9 at Amazon$9 at KitchenAid$9 at Best Buy

If you're thinking, "I didn't even know I was supposed to clean the inside of my dishwasher!" you're not alone. It would seem that the detergent packet you pop in would do the trick while it washes your plates, right? Well, not quite. While dishwashing detergent might be enough to combat last night's tomato sauce, longtime buildup coating the interior of the machine is another story.

"Accumulated debris and mineral deposits can greatly affect the dishwasher's performance and energy efficiency," says Toner. If that buildup is allowed to sit, it can create problems down the line. "Mineral deposits, particularly from hard water, can reduce the effectiveness of heating elements like the water heater and dryer," she says. "As a result, your dishwasher may need to run longer cycles or use more water to compensate for the reduced cleaning performance, leading to increased energy consumption and even higher utility bills."

Luckily, cleaning your dishwasher is even easier than doing a load of dishes itself — no loading and unloading needed! Avila is a fan of Affresh Dishwasher Cleaner, which targets limescale and mineral buildup. To use, simply place a tablet into your appliance's detergent tray, run a normal wash cycle and ta-da! You can even use it while your dishes wash (just put the tablet on the bottom of your machine)."I've been really impressed with their effectiveness," says Avila. "They're easy to use and they dissolve quickly in the dishwasher. I've noticed that they help to remove any buildup or residue in the machine, leaving it sparkling clean and smelling fresh."

hand taking a clean plate out of a dishwasher
Regularly cleaning your dishwasher will help extend its life, get rid of bad odors and keep things sanitary. (Photo: Getty)

What reviewers say:

The only useful dishwasher is a functional dishwasher, and regular cleanings will help your machine operate at peak performance. "Dishwashers can develop clogs from food debris and other particles that accumulate over time," says Toner. "Components like the spray arms, filters and interior walls can collect food residues and soap scum, leading to reduced water flow. These clogs can obstruct the flow of water and also result in drainage issues, preventing your dishwasher from effectively cleaning your dishes."

This might sound like something requiring professional attention, but don't be alarmed — dishwasher cleaners are made to bust through the layers of film coating your dishwasher and keep things working properly. "One thing I particularly like about Affresh is that it seems to help my dishwasher run more smoothly and quietly," says Avila. "In fact, I've recommended Affresh to a lot of my clients and I've heard nothing but good things. One client in particular had been struggling with a residue buildup on their dishes, and I suggested they try Affresh. They were pleasantly surprised by how much cleaner their dishwasher was after using it and their dishes were coming out spotless."

Get rid of that nasty dishwasher odor

Off-putting — and sometimes downright rancid — smells are probably one of the most common concerns among dishwasher owners. "A dirty dishwasher can emit unpleasant odors as food debris decomposes," Toner explains. "Without regular cleaning, the warm and moist environment of a dishwasher makes the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, mold and other microorganisms that produce these unpleasant odors. These odors can linger in your dishwasher and even transfer over to clean dishes." Gross!

Take comfort in knowing that regular cleanings will keep foul stenches at bay and remove whatever nastiness has been making your appliance reek.

a packet of dishwasher cleaning tablets next to two of the white tablets
Nearly 103,000 Amazon shoppers thought these dishwasher cleaning tablets were so effective, they gave them a perfect five-star rating. (Photo: Amazon)

Germs, be gone

Not only is dishwasher cleanliness essential for functionality and odor control, it can also help prevent mold and bacteria. "One of the main purposes of a dishwasher is to clean the dishes and utensils we use that come into contact with food," says Toner. "Over time, unclean dishwashers will harbor harmful contaminants that are potential food safety risks. Bacteria and germs can contaminate dishes, utensils and glassware, posing a health hazard for the household. Mold can also be a concern in a dirty dishwasher, as it thrives in moist areas like the dishwasher's interior, especially if there are food residues present."

Dishwasher cleaning tablets don't just tackle the messes you can see; they also target your machine's pump and valve, tub and internal hoses. That means you'll be giving it a good, deep clean every time you pop one in.

Consistency is key

How often should you be cleaning your dishwasher? "I typically use Affresh once a month, but you might need to use them more or less often depending on your specific situation," says Avila.

Toner agrees: "Many factors can play into this — the hardness of your water, and how often you use your dishwasher are just some of the things that affect how often you should clean it. As a general guideline, you should clean your dishwasher at least once a month, or more frequently if you notice any buildup, odors or performance issues. We also recommend completing a deep clean at least once every three to six months."

Don't forget — dishwasher best practices go beyond cleaning, too. "In addition to routine cleaning, it's important to practice good dish-loading habits to minimize the risk of clogs, such as scraping off excess food from dishes before loading them, using a high-quality dishwasher detergent and avoiding overloading the dishwasher," says Toner. "Clogs in your dishwasher not only affect its performance but can also lead to costly repairs or replacements if left unaddressed."

"Overall, I think Affresh Dishwasher Cleaning Tablets are a great choice for anyone who wants to keep their dishwasher in tip-top shape," says Avila. Hey, if they're good enough for the pros, why not try them out for yourself?

Not only will these dishwasher cleaning tablets target residue buildup, they'll also make your appliance smell lemony-fresh.

$9 at Amazon$9 at KitchenAid$9 at Best Buy

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