Reader Tip: Clean Your Dishwasher with Vinegar

Tracy emailed in with the following tip:

We suffer from hard water even with a water softener — and we don’t always keep up with the salt like we should. I discovered that by just pouring about a cup or so of white vinegar into the bottom of my dishwasher it does a wonderful job of keeping hard water residue off my dishes — and white vinegar is so cheap! I don’t even need a drying agent. Just my cheap dishwashing powder soap and the white vinegar!

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  1. Julie says

    We do this, too! But our dishwasher automatically drains any standing water from the bottom during the first 5 minutes (before it starts filling up the tub with hot water for the wash)…if yours does this, too, you should add the vinegar a few minutes after the cycle starts. Our washer can be opened/closed at any point during the cycle. (This is why LemiShine is nice to use for dishwashers that prevent opening during a cycle–the solid crystals are acidic like vinegar but don’t get dissolved until the tub fills with water).

    • Terri says

      Thanks for the tip, Julie. I have wondered why my vinegar wasn’t helping my dishwasher…. I will have to wait a few minutes , like you suggested, to add the vinegar.

  2. says

    My mother has sworn by this trick for years. It works especially well if you have a lot of lyme in your water. Over time, all that lyme builds up, but the vinegar takes it right off!

  3. Michele K says

    Love this tip!!! White vinegar is THE most useful item – can be used for so many different things around the house!!

  4. Mo says

    Just wondering if anyone that does this has a white plastic inside of their dishwasher. I used (after reading about it online) vinegar as a rinse agent in my dishwasher and it permanently discolored the diswasher door and I had to pay to have it replaced when we moved out of our apartment :( Anyone have discoloring issues when just adding it to the bottom? Hesitant to try it on my new diswasher.

    • Abigail says

      We have a white dish washer and have been using these methods for about 9 months now. we havent had any discoloring. and I havent heard of white vinegar discoloring things. In fact we have very hard water and a very very high content of iron in our water. When our water softener died it took a week to get it replaced and our tubs, toilets, sinks, clothing and washer, dishwasher….anything water touched…was completely orange till the new one was up and working. we used the vinegar to help remove the discoloring.

  5. Lana says

    I just put it in the drying agent dispenser and it does fine that way. I put a few drops of food coloring in a quart bottle of white vinegar and keep that under the kitchen sink to refill the dispenser with. The color is so that I can see the vinegar and know if it needs refilling. We have very hard water and the tiny amount it dispenses is enough to do the job.

  6. Mary W. says

    Do you put the vinegar right in the bottom of your dishwasher or do you put it in the designated spot for the rinsing drying agent? Thanks!

    • Megan says

      Just put it right in the spot for the drying agent. That’s what I do and then you don’t have to open the dishwasher after it’s started. It works great this way, plus then you don’t have to add it every load!

    • Amber says

      Whenever I have used vinegar for any type of cleaning, be it laundry or dishes, I’ve found the smell to disappear as soon as it dries.

  7. Lori says

    I have heard that vinegar can corrode your dishwasher. Not sure if it is true but thought I would pass it on.

    • JW says

      The user’s manual of our dishwasher specifically says not to use vinegar for that reason. DH was pretty mad that I hadn’t checked before using vinegar for a rinse aid.

      Same with vinegar as a de-icer on car windows. It can ruin the seals.

  8. Mon says

    So you do you just put vinegar in at the same time you are doing your load along with the detergent? I also have hard water in our area and lately my dishes have this white powdery residue on them when I take them out of the washer.

  9. says

    This is what we use as well!! We thought we were going to have to replace our entire dishwasher because the limescale was so severe. Instead of trying to find a place to store the huge jug of vinegar in my kitchen, I just poured some into an “olive oil pourer” type jar (you know, the one with the curvy metal spout??) and keep it on my counter. Now it is useful and a little pretty as well :)!

  10. Bridget Gleeson says

    Mo, I have a plastic inside and it yellowed from the hard water not vinegar! Vinegar is used to take the yellow stains from your arm pits on white shirts, how could it cause the yellowing?

  11. Debra says

    This is great if it will replace my rinse agent which is natural also, but costs much more than vinegar. Also, we use vinegar in the clothes washer to sterilize the clothes, great for families with children. I heard vinegar in the wash also softens the clothes and I would say it must, because we don’t have a static issue and don’t use fabric softener. If you do this, just be sure to add to the washer in the beginning or sometime before the last rinse unless you love the smell of vinegar or are washing a Subway uniform in which case add whenever :) I will certainly try the vinegar in the dishwasher tip, Thank you!!!

    • Barbara Bean says

      I also make my own dishwashing soap for the dish washer, I use 1 teaspoon of any brand dish soap and 2 table spoon of bleach, because bleach cuts the suds and makes the dishes shine.

    • Andrea says

      The smell fades as soon as the clothes dry. However, vinegar doesn’t completely sterilize anything. It kills a lot of bacteria, but not all microbes.

    • says

      Do you just throw the vinegar in on top of the clothes? I have a front loader so wasn’t sure if I put it on top where the detergent goes?

      • Debra says

        When I had a front loader I put it in before the last rinse, but would sometimes forget so it would not hurt to put it in the beginning and on the clothes or if you have a compartment that would release it in time to rinse it from you clothes. I use a 1/2 to 1 cup (depending on the wash load) and have found the vinegar to linger even after drying if not rinsed out. That is interesting about the microbes, I will be sure to consider that when I have really soiled laudry. At least to be more diligent at prewash and getting them in a load. I have to recommend Grandmas Secret Spot remover also, I have found it to work wonders! I have even used it on an already washed and dried outfit and the stain came out. Just read and follow directions on bottle. The downfalls is that it comes in a small squeeze bottle and that although it says good for the enviroment has no ingredients listed (I usually like to know what I am using).

  12. Megan C. says

    For 18 months I placed a coffee cup (open end up) in the center of the bottom rack of our dishwasher with every load of dishes. It kept the white filmy water residue from building up on my dishes as well as off the inside of my dishwasher (which is white/haven’t had any discoloration issues). Recently though, I switched to Jet Dry Glass Magic and although it is not AS cheap as vinegar (but is still pretty inexpensive) it works like a DREAM! My dishes have NEVER been so sparkly! I also use the JetDry Dishwasher Cleaner once a month and it is amazing as well. I would highly recommend clipping those coupons and giving this stuff a shot when it’s on sale!

  13. says

    We do this by adding it the drying agent dispenser, too. Vinegar is a GREAT cleaner for any hardwater build up…like bathroom sinks and tubs. It also cleans lime deposits that occur on the kitchen and bathroom faucets. Just soak the nozzle in a cup of vinegar, and voila, it works perfectly again! Oh, it also works in the laundry. That is, if you make your own soap, etc. I also run it through the washer cleaner cycle to clean out the washing machine. Vinegar is a clean-all agent, and it’s so cheap! Does a lot better than other expensive cleaners, too!

  14. Denise C. says

    Vinegar works really well in the washer too. Use it instead of fabric softener. It keeps clothes bight and colorful, gets rid of any stinky-ness , and will remove soap build-up.

  15. Robyn says

    Yep, this works! It also works great for tea pots, coffee pots and other hard water encrusted parts and appliances.

  16. Joan says

    OK, how do you get the hard water ring out of the toilet? I feel like I’ve tried everything, even sanding!

    • melissa says

      Ahhh! Same here! Frustration! I feel like such a sub-par house wife when my toilet looks dirty. And sanding it with those pumice stone things just seems to leave scratches for more dirt to gather. I also have a hard time keeping the underside of my toilet seat clean. It’s stained and looks awful even though it’s sanitized.

    • Chris says

      Have you tried “The Works” toilet bowl cleaner? Normally I am not brand loyal for just about anything, but for whatever reason this is the ONLY brand (and I have tried many) that has removed ALL hard water stains. Ironically, it’s also one of the cheapest! :)

      • Laura Oller says

        I have had the same experience. My husband even sanded some of the stains out with his power drill. The Works took the stains that came back plus the last that he couldn’t reach off and is cheap. The reason I bought it in the first place.

    • Stephanie Ott says

      Try the Pumie Pumice Stone for Toilets. It removes the hard water rings without scratching the porcelain. Just takes a little elbow grease but worth the effort!

    • barbara Bean says

      The only way I get the hard water ring and stains out of the toilet is . First drain or turn off the water at the back of the toilet than put on very , very little Muriatic Acid on the stain ” Lowes sells Muriatic Acid” Muriatic Acid burns or eats the stain , be careful very dangerous.

    • Heather says

      I’ve had luck with pouring in about a cup of vinegar, waiting a few minutes and then pouring in some baking soda. I scrub while it’s foaming. That seems to get the hardwater stains out of the toilet (and the same method works for soap scum in the shower).

      • Debbie says

        Try some drywall screen or drywall mesh. It’s not as hard as pumice so may be it won’t scratch. I can attest that it works to remove the stain but since my toilet was already scratched up from pumice, not sure if it’s scratch proof.

    • Abigail says

      We have been doing this for 9 months and we have not see negative signs on our pots. I actually feel that our silverware is cleaner looking. The glasses sure shine nicer now too!

    • Michelle says

      This is just a WARNING about the eventual results of white vinegar in our dishwasher.
      Background: I love natural and I love cheap so, we used vinegar for over a year in our dishwashers rinse aid dispenser and it worked well. However, over time it white washed all my black pots, and knife handles, so be careful. The dishwasher stayed clean and never had spots but EVENTUALLY the vinegar corroded our strainer and it did a terrible number on our stainless steel interior & exterior Bosch dishwasher. Without realizing it, the holes in our corroded strainer let in all kinds of junk into the water system and I had tiny pieces of corn, carrots stubs, plastic wrap, etc… stuck in all the sprayer arm holes. I tore it all apart one night and found the reason my dishes kept coming out slightly dirty. On top of that I discovered something larger must have gotten into the food chopper area because the pin that held it was snapped off and the blades were in pieces. So of course this has cost us a LOT of money to repair. I am sure I did not end up saving enough money on rinse aid to pay for the repair bill!!

  17. says

    We were told by dishwasher repairmen to put a bowl of vinegar in the top rack of the empty dishwasher ONCE A MONTH and run it for a short cycle (ie quick wash).

  18. cyndi says

    thank you for the great info and tips! nice to know i;m not alone out there(:
    peace ad blessings, cyndi.

  19. Mary says

    I just had a repairman out to fix my dishwasher which wasn’t cleaning our dishes anymore. He’s been repairing dishwashers for 30 years. He recommended throwing in a cup of vinegar and letting it soak in an empty dishwasher for 24 hours to clean out the motor. We did this several times for a week, have continued to add vinegar in the cycle, and now it works again! It just saved us $500.

  20. ksldr says

    My dishwasher repair person recommended Tang instant breakfast drink to clean the dishwasher. Since it is a powder you can add it to the soap dispenser. Then run a cycle with the dishwasher empty. Tang contains a lot of citric acid which is one of the main ingredients in commercial dishwasher cleaners and is less expensive. It did seem to work well and smelled great too.

  21. Sue says

    I am married to an Appliance Service Tech & when we finally bought a house 8 years ago that had a dishwasher 8 years ago, he had specific instructions about the detergent. He knows I’m the queen of bargain shopping & told me “I don’t care what kind of food we eat, shampoo or toothpaste we use but don’t use anything but “CASCADE COMPLETE” if you want this dishwasher to work properly & Never Ever Use the Liquid Dishwasher Detergents. He says dishwasher performance depends a lot on the water quality & temp. On occasion he does run a little vinegar through ours. We do not rinse our dishes just get the chunks off & don’t have any problems.

  22. stephanie prokop says

    When I bought my last dishwasher the salesman told me to only use Cascade complete and to not rince the dishes too much before loading them or the cascade would “Eat” the plates. I thought Cascade had some deal with the Salespeople but I do notice when I buy the cheaper brands that the dishes don’t get as clean! And I like the Idea of using Vinagar and Baking Soda in the bottom every once in awhile to clean it! FUN TIPS FOR KIDS: Vinagar and red food coloring added to baking soda at the hallowed out top of a sand Valcano makes for a great, cheap, fun, science exsperiment!

  23. Dina says

    I just purchased all the compoments for homemade dishwasher detergent (borax, super washing soda, epsom salt, unsweetened lemonade koolaid) but after making it & using it for at least 6 washes we had a gritty film over everything. Then I added vinegar to the rinseaid holder and used detergent for 4 more washes, we still had film on everything. Can anyone offer tip as to what I’m doing wrong?