When it comes to operating a commercial kitchen, there’s one certainty every restaurateur must face: dirty dishes. Lots of them. Professional chefs and their crews churn through hundreds, if not thousands, of pieces of cookware and dinnerware in a single shift. That’s why the commercial dishwasher is one of the foodservice world’s most essential tools. It’s also why it’s so important to properly clean your dishwasher to optimize its efficacy and prolong its lifespan. Before you begin, it’s crucial to understand how to clean a dishwasher the right way—especially when the unit is subject to constant, high-volume use. Here are seven simple steps to follow for the deepest clean possible.
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Commercial Dishwasher Cleaning in 7 Steps
There are a variety of different types of commercial dishwashers available, including undercounter, door-type, and conveyor models. The following instructions provide a good roadmap for cleaning most units, though every models has its own peculiarities. For the most detailed and accurate instructions for how to clean a dishwasher, make sure to consult your owner’s manual. Ideally, you should clean your dishwasher daily at the end of service.
1. Wipe Down the Interior: Using a soft cloth, clean the interior of the machine with a mild detergent, making sure to get into the corners and door guides as you work. Clear the dishwasher of any stray food scraps or debris as you wipe down the interior, as well. When you’re finished with this step, use the spray nozzle to rinse off residual detergent and suds.
2. Drain the Dishwasher: Once the interior’s clean, drain the dishwasher and empty the tank. Then turn off the machine to make subsequent steps easier and safer. For high-temperature machines, leave the door open for 10 to 15 minutes afterwards to allow the unit to cool down.
3. Clean the Spray Nozzles: Wipe the spray nozzles with white vinegar to prevent any buildup from hard water.
4. Clean the Screens, Filters, and Baskets: First off, remove any screens, filters, or baskets from the dishwasher. Clean the parts in the sink using a soft-bristled brush, detergent, and warm water. Make sure the filter is cleared of any food particles, since these can clog the drain and cause unpleasant odors.
5. Inspect and Clean the Wash/Rinse Arms: Clean the jets and wash/rinse arms with warm water, taking care to scrub away any food debris. This process helps ensure all water holes are clear and the jets work as effectively as possible. If any water holes remain clogged, use an unbent paper clip or toothpick to extract the debris. Quickly check the arms and gaskets for signs of excessive wear. If you spot any, it may be time to replace them (especially if you’ve been experiencing any issues, such as rattling sounds or poorly cleaned dishes).
6. Run a Cleaning Cycle: Top the commercial dishwasher off with detergent and run a cleaning cycle. Not only does this provide an additional round of cleaning inside the machine, but it also gives you the opportunity to take note of any unusual noises or operation issues. If these occur, make sure that any part you removed during the cleaning process has been reinstalled correctly.
7. Air Out the Machine: Open the door of your dishwasher to allow air to circulate and dry out any remaining moisture. This prevents any bacteria from growing inside.
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Additional Considerations for Conveyor- or Door-Type Dishwashers
Compared to the more typical undercounter dishwasher, conveyor- and door-type units have slightly different builds and components. As such, these models generally require a few extra steps in the dishwasher-cleaning process. These include, but are not limited to, the following considerations:
Spray manifolds: Conveyor dishwashers typically have multiple spray manifolds that soak the dishes as they pass through the unit. Following your owner manual’s instructions, remove the manifolds from the machine. Use a soft cloth or sponge to scrub the manifolds with warm water and mild detergent. Clear any food particles from the nozzles, as well. Once the manifolds are rinsed and dried, reattach them to the conveyor dishwasher.
Dishwasher curtains: Remove the curtains and rods from the dishwasher. Grab the same cloth and detergent you used for the manifolds, and wipe down the curtains. Make sure to get into the curtain flaps, which is where most grime and food debris tend to collect. For especially tough jobs, use a soft-bristled brush for an extra-thorough clean. Rinse the curtains, let them air dry, then replace them according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
The interior of a door-type dishwasher is very similar to that of a standard undercounter unit. Therefore, the cleaning instructions provided in the previous section can guide you through the process fairly well. Some door-type models may have multiple spray/rinse arms or spray manifolds that need to be removed and cleaned, however, so you’ll want to consult the owner’s manual for specifics.
How to Descale a Dishwasher
To get the most life out of your commercial dishwasher, the procedures outlined above should be conducted on a routine basis. In addition, there’s one more cleaning task you need to add to your dishwasher to-do list: descaling. Learning how to descale a dishwasher properly will thwart harmful lime and mineral deposits from building up on the machine. Preventing this lime buildup will ensure the dishwasher’s heating elements, drain, door hinges, and other components continue to function properly and efficiently. This process should be performed periodically depending on need; users with hard water may need to descale their dishwasher more frequently. Here are the steps you’ll need to follow to keep mineral deposits at bay.
1. Assemble proper safety gear. Descaling chemicals are caustic and can damage the skin, eyes, and lungs. Before you begin, make sure to don latex or rubber gloves, safety goggles, and a face mask.
2. Fill the dishwasher with water.
3. Add your descaling product. Follow the instructions on the package, and allow the cleaner to sit for at least one hour.
4. Run a full wash cycle.
5. Check the dishwasher. Inspect the interior of the machine to see if the lime buildup has been removed. If you still find deposits, repeat steps 3 and 4 until you get the desired results.
6. Drain the dishwasher. You’re done! Your commercial dishwasher is now free of limescale buildup, food debris, and bacteria growth.
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Adriane works as a Content Specialist at Central Restaurant Products. She has more than a decade of experience as a copywriter and e-commerce strategist, with most of that time spent focusing on the restaurant industry. When she’s not writing about foodservice, Adriane enjoys cooking, hiking, traveling, and hanging out with her dog.