I know a post on cleaning a dehydrator seems a little simple. After all, it’s a box with some trays - how hard can it be, right? Well, you’re right, it is pretty straight forward. A little soap and water and in most cases you’re good. But like most activities there are a few tricks that, if you know them starting out, can make your life so much easier. Then of course the likelihood that you will use your dehydrator regularly increases dramatically.
There are a lot of dehydrators on the market today; like with any appliance you get what you pay for and off brands are high-risk. With that in mind, I’m going to concentrate on the two different kinds of dehydrators that I have. I actually three, I have a Nesco American Harvest--GardenMaster, an Excalibur (from the 380 series), and a Stainless Steel Excalibur, but the Excaliburs are pretty similar. Most of the tips and tricks I talk about will work for most dehydrators, but they will especially work with the Nesco and Excalibur brands because obviously those are the ones I clean.
Wash your trays, liners, Polyscreen tray inserts (Excalibur), Clean-a-Screens (Nesco), and fruit leather trays in warm soapy water. Excalibur and Nesco both say that their trays are dishwasher safe on the top rack if you remove them before the drying cycle begins. However, the Polyscreen tray inserts and Clean-a-Screens should not be placed in the dishwasher. All this is too much to remember for me so I just wash everything by hand.
I usually wash the plastic trays separately from either the Polyscreen tray inserts or Clean-a-Screens. I also wash the non-stick liners or fruit roll up trays separately as well. They just seem to fit in the sink better.
Quick Tip: When you have the Polyscreen tray inserts or Clean-a-Screens soaking in the sink be sure to grab the sheets from the bottom when rinsing. That way you only have to get the crumbs and other gunk off of the top tray once. Otherwise if your grab from the top you’ll be getting it off every tray as the crumbs and gunk fall onto the top most tray.
Most of the time a 20 minute soak in warm soapy water is all you need to clean your dehydrator; however, there are times when you use honey or other really sticky ingredients that you might have to do some light scrubbing. Always try soaking first. However, if that does not work then use a non-scratch pad to lightly scrub your trays, liners and inserts.
You will have to eventually clean your dehydrator (Excalibur) case as well. Sometimes depending on how much you “stuff” your food in (I’m a food stuffer) you might even have to clean the top. With the Nesco it’s a bit harder. The fan at the bottom can be cleaned on the exterior but the interior cannot. Nesco says, “DO NOT remove any parts from the power unit.” This is one reason many people decide to go with an Excalibur dehydrator. It is a design flaw, especially if you do heavy dehydrating - you’ll just need to be extra careful not to let food drip onto the “power unit” which is the part that contains the fan.
Quick Tip: Put a non-stick liner in the bottom of the Excalibur to prevent food dripping onto the bottom of the case. Then clean up is super easy as you’ll just have to wipe off the non-stick liner or Paraflexx sheet. If you’re worried about food dripping into the fan on the bottom of your Nesco, you can leave the tray nearest to the fan empty with an empty fruit leather tray to catch the drips.
Don’t laugh at me. Well, ok, go ahead. Honestly, if I was reading what I’m about to write I’d at least chuckle. For a long time I left my trays, liners and sheets in my drying rack next to my sink to drip dry. I really didn’t think anything of it until one day I was in a hurry to wash other dishes and place them in the same rack. So I was trying to think of a faster way to dry my trays, liners and sheets. You know, so they are less wet and have the least amount of moisture... So I could get them dry enough that at least 90-95% of the moisture is removed... Like when I put food into long term storage. I was looking for a way to remove moisture which of course is another way of saying dry--like the food that comes out of the dehydrator. Yup, that’s right, put them back in your dehydrator. How easy is that? So now all I do is carry them back over to the dehydrator and put them in for about 20 minutes on the lowest heat setting.
Quick Tip: Before placing your trays, liner and sheets back into the dehydrator for drying be sure to shake any excess water off and to turn the trays right side up over the sink. If you’ve got them upside down in your drying rack water can get caught and wind up all over you or your floor.
My dehydrators are going year round at least once a week and usually more. So storage is really not an issue for me. They are simply part of our kitchen. However, I know some people only dehydrate in the summer when their gardens are overflowing. So if you put your dehydrator up for the season be sure to place it in a dry place, preferably with a cover to keep dust off (even just a plastic garbage bag will do). As with any electrical appliance, for longer life avoid storing in a place that where temperature extremes occur.
Quick Tip: Store your non-stick liners for the Excalibur in a cardboard tube like the kind you’d use for storing a picture or a painting. This will keep them protected and together because since they are non-stick they tend to slide everywhere.
Sometimes the basics don’t work. Maybe you dehydrated something too long, or not long enough but didn’t realize it until it was too late, maybe you had a recipe with nothing but sticky ingredients and nothing seems to be working to get the food off, or your trays just don’t fit into the your kitchen sink. Well, I can’t cover everything that could go wrong (well, maybe we can in the comments so be sure to leave questions, suggestions and helpful hints there) but here are a few things I’ve learned over the years.
Do Not Put Oil On Your Trays!
I’ve seen it so many times on YouTube and on other blogs. People putting oil or nonstick cooking spray on their fruit leather trays. Please, please do not do this!!!
Oil does not come off even when you wash your trays. So then when you go to dehydrate something you’d like to put into long term storage using those oily trays you contaminate your food with oil. Oil goes rancid a lot faster than say tomato powder. Oil is not shelf stable for long periods of time and can go rancid in as fast as 2 months. Sometimes you can get it to last as little longer, up to 6 months at room temperature. So now you have tomato powder with rancid oil. Yuck!
Oil does not belong in your dehydrator unless you use a tiny bit to mix into a recipe. But placing it directly on your trays is going to sabotage your long term food storage.
Fruit leathers stick to plastic trays and of course you don’t want to dehydrate them until they are as hard as a rock. So the best option is to place some parchment paper over your fruit leather trays or use disposable ParaFlexx sheets. You’ll have to cut them to fit in the Nesco but it’s such a better option than using oil. If you have the regular ParaFlexx sheets fruit leathers will peel off. If you have the Teflon Sheets (the kind not sold by Excalibur) then you’ll still need to use parchment paper or the disposable ParaFlexx sheets.
Some people are okay with using microwavable plastic wrap in their dehydrators, and obviously the temperatures in the dehydrator do not get as high as the oven or microwave. However, I don’t like the idea of the chemicals in plastic touching my food under any kind of heat or for any extended amount of time. Actually, I rarely if ever use plastic wrap because it’s bad for food and the environment.
Help! My Trays Don’t Fit In My Sink!
The size of your sink is something to consider when purchasing a dehydrator. When I went shopping for a new kitchen sink recently I took an Excalibur tray with me to the home improvement store just to make sure my trays would fit. Nesco trays are small than Excalibur trays so if it’s really important for you to wash your trays in your kitchen sink then you’ll want to measure before you buy. The Excalibur trays are 14 inches by 14 inches.
If measuring your kitchen sink before you bought a dehydrator did not occur to you (it didn’t occur to me until my third dehydrator so don’t feel bad) and you already have your dehydrator then you might have to get a little creative. You can always use a clean bathtub for soaking. If you have boys that can’t keep the bathroom clean like I do then you might consider a plastic bin like the kind you buy for storage. This is a great option because when you’re not washing your trays you can use the bin for, you know, storing things.
It Won’t Come Off No Matter How Much I Scrub!
So the first thing I should tell you is that parchment paper and disposable ParaFlexx sheets are your friends and to always use them when you are dehydrating anything really really sticky. Yes, I know, not helpful after the fact. Okay, so soak your trays in warm soapy water overnight. If that is still not doing the trick then use a nonstick scrubby or soft bristle brush on the trays, liners or sheets. If you still have a mess then you might try some Dawn Platinum Power Cleaner, Bon Ami Powder Cleaner--Non Scratch or some Powdered Brewery Wash (PBW). Remember to always follow the manufacturer's instructions on all your appliances, and using abrasive cleaners can damage your trays. However, if they are already damaged because of food you can’t remove then the cleaners I’ve mentioned above are your best bet. Be sure to test a small area before scrubbing all of your trays.
Are The “No-Name” Teflon Sheets Just As Good As The Excalibur’s ParaFlexx Sheets?
It took me a long time to order the ParaFlexx Sheets from Excalibur. I mean, we are talking years! I just couldn’t bring myself to spend the money. Finally, a friend talked me in to trying a few and I have to say they really are better than the “no name” Teflon sheets. However, that’s not to say that the Teflon sheets won’t work for most things--they will. But, when it comes to fruit leathers like I said above, when using the Teflon sheets I still use parchment paper or the disposable Paraflexx sheets over the Teflon sheets. I would also use disposable liners over the Teflon when making beef jerky or making anything that contains oil. So no, they are not as good but you can easily work around their shortcomings if you’re not ready to invest in the ParaFlexx Sheets.
Do you have any tips for cleaning dehydrators? What dehydrated food recipe left the worst mess in your dehydrator? How did you clean it?