March 21, 2012

How to Clean Brown Stains in Dishwasher

When we moved into our new home three and a half years ago, it had a sparkling clean, brand-new dishwasher.  It stayed that way.  For a while.  Suddenly (and I know it was actually a slow process) there were these nasty brown stains all over the interior of the dishwasher.  It was NASTY.  The brown stains were the color of rust in our dishwasher.
I thought it was just a stain because it would not scratch off.  So I didn't try to clean it after the initial attempt.

[As I was writing this post, I learned that the brown stain on the interior of the dishwasher is likely caused by iron in the water.  That makes sense.  We have a well.  I also learned that there is a product on the market that will do the scrubbing for you.  Glisten seems to do the job well, if you trust Amazon reviews (which I do).  I already ordered this to use in a couple of months to remove the remaining stains and any new ones.]

But then I was reading Tidy Mom's article on how to clean a dishwasher.  (We  My husband had just done this, as well as a little tune-up for the dishwasher which quieted the monster nicely.)  Since she addressed the basic gunk that can build up within the dishwasher, but not the nasty brown stains, I thought I would ask if she had any advice.  Tidy Mom Cheryl suggested that I try to sprinkle baking soda on the stains and scrub with half a lemon.  Motivated at that very moment and wanting to use what I had on hand, I got to work as soon as the little children were upstairs for rest time.

I had a bit of lemon juice, a box of baking soda, and plenty of white vinegar.  (I actually used the box of baking soda from the fridge knowing it would be replaced soon.)

I began by sprinkling the soda on the door and adding a bit of lemon juice and vinegar.  The moment I took my worthless dollar store scrubbing brush to the door, I could see results!!  Knowing that, I created a paste.    I have to say, I didn't measure any of it, so measurements are approximate.  My goal, and yours, should be to make a paste that can be applied to the interior of your dishwasher to remove the brown stain.  (I suspect you could use all lemon juice or all vinegar, but below is what was effective for me.)

Dishwasher Scrub
1/2 - 1 cup Baking Soda (depending upon intensity of stain)
3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
Vinegar (enough to form a thick paste)

I began by using my scrubbing brush and was pleased with how easy the brown iron stain was removed from the dishwasher's door.  (Crevices and corners took more effort.)  Then to clean the sides of the dishwasher, I used my hand to scoop the paste.  Something amazing happened.

My hand scrubbed better than the brush!

Even on flat surfaces, my fingers and palm scrubbed easier than the brush!  Who knew?!  I proceeded to clean the interior of the dishwasher using my hand, and sometimes a rag, after removing the bottom rack.  However, the top rack was not removable, so the top stains remain...

Cotton swabs (Q-Tips) were used in a few corners.  I used paper towels to remove some of the dishwasher scrub.  Then I ran the dishwasher on the rinse cycle.  After a few minutes it beeped and revealed the stains that I missed.  I cleaned the remaining stains and rinsed again.  I was thrilled with the result, even if more stains are lurking behind the top rack.

It makes me smile every time I open the door!  The first time my husband used the dishwasher, he noticed the difference.  (It's kinda hard not to!)

It seems that my spring cleaning will be tasks like this...often with a last minute inspiration!

UPDATED: I have now used the Glisten product and loved it.  Read my thoughts and see the new before and after pictures of my brown dishwasher that became clean with Glisten!

Interested in more cleaning with vinegar?  I use just Dawn, vinegar, and a dish wand to scrub my bathtub.  It works surprisingly well!  (Click the link for details.)


  1. That is a dramatic difference! Obviously lots of hard work on your part! Kudos to you!

    Ok, I have to confess...this is one aspect of having the cleaning company come over and give our house a thorough cleaning after the smoke. THEY GOT OUT ALL THE STAINS IN THE TOILET! We'd been trying to get them out for FOREVER (we're also on a well and have mineral issues.) Happy dancing about THAT!

  2. Wow! That is awesome. We don't have the iron stains in our dishwasher, but it's past time for a good cleaning! After Carrie's comment, I'm curious if this would work in a toilet. I've tried everything I could think of, even a pumice stone that was recommended. It's worth a try! :)

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Baking soda does a great job at neutralizing odors, but it also functions as a nonabrasive scrub.

      It's interesting that the lemon juice worked better for you. Thanks for letting us know!

  4. I have used lemonade cool aid to clean my dishwasher and I worked so well that I won’t let my kids drink it!!

  5. I have the same dishwasher. The top rack comes out if you remove the white (or brown hehehe) clips at the end of the metal "drawer" glides. Then the top rack just rolls out. When you're done, roll the rack back in the glides and put the clips back in. I'm cleaning mine right now..... sure takes some elbow grease!

  6. I tried just cutting a lemon in half and rubbing it (cut side against the dishwasher surface)-it easily removed the brown stains!

    1. I wonder if just spraying lemon juice on it would also work?!

    2. It does.Just let it sit there, keep it moist and the stain disappears. I let it sit for half an hour.

  7. thank you, thank you and thank you. I found this thread, tried the paste recommended, and the dishwasher looks amazing. I barely had to scrub to have the stains come off. Wow.

  8. This solution was amazing. I barely scrubed, and the stains came off.
    Huge thanks

  9. I put lemon juice in a spray bottle and sprayed it on the brown areas. I resprayed every 15 minutes to keep the areas moist until all the stains were gone. No rubbing required.

  10. I used store brand pink lemonaide mix. The dishwasher looks like brand new.

  11. These solutions are a little odd because they are opposites, and may not address the underlying problem: rusty pipes. I have the same issue and I want a strategy.
    Does the problem return after cleaning?
    Is the cleaning due to acid (lemon or vinegar) or base (baking soda) or scrubbing?
    Mixing acid and base neutralizes each until the greater one wins out.
    Could it be some kind of organic deposit? My renters claim only the bottom rack gets stained.
    NEVER mix ammonia and bleach--deadly off gassing

    1. In our five year old home we did not have rusty pipes. Our pipes were plastic in the house, though it is possible there could be rust near the well. We had hard water (now neutralized). After talking to the plumbers and water tests, I truly believe that rust was the result of mineral deposits, especially iron, and not rust.

      Last summer we had all of our pipes (which were plastic with copper joints) replaced due to some corrosion. The corrosion was from acidic water. We have since nuetralized the water. In the process we have also needed to add an water softener.

      Does the problem return? Yes. However, since we installed the water conditioner and water softener I have not noticed ANY buildup of the brown stains. It's been about 9 months. Before I would notice buildup after two or three months.

  12. Wow.. I have been wondering for awhile on how to clean up my nasty yellow stained dishwasher. I thought about replacing it but this did the trick.. THANK YOU.. I used one of the recommendations to take the lemon wedge to rub on edges and it came right off.. No scrubbing needed..

  13. Thank you! Was just looking at Iron Out and decided to try and find a home remedy instead (and I'm inpatient and wanted to work on it now!). Saved me $20!

  14. Great tip. Works like a charm.Want to clean your stainless sink? Scrub it with a wadded up ball of aluminum foil and water. read more


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