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Why Does My Dishwasher Smell? How to Fix a Smelly Dishwasher

There is nothing worse than properly cleaning your kitchen only for there to be a lingering unpleasant odor. Often, the foul odor you can smell coming from an otherwise clean kitchen is coming from the dishwasher.

Ironically, an appliance we rely on to cut down on clutter and clean our dishes is often one of the dirtiest objects in the kitchen. We assume that because dishwashers are designed to wash and sanitize dishes, they are clean spaces. That said, it is important to remember that dishwashers are not self-cleaning machines.

Even high-end dishwashers can give off unpleasant odors if they are not cleaned regularly. Stray food particles, grease, dirt, and bacteria on our dirty dishes and cutlery can become trapped inside the dishwasher’s filter. This buildup results in an odor that only gets worse each time the dishwasher is used.

Luckily, the gross smell that dirty dishwashers emit can be removed in just a few simple steps. To help you solve the issue of a stinky dishwasher, we’ll explain three reasons why your dishwasher smells, and more importantly, provide some simple steps you can use to get rid of that gross smell.


Why Does Your Dishwasher Smell in the First Place?

Before we learn how to fix a smelly dishwasher, let’s discuss some of the potential causes.

A Dirty Filter

A dirty filter is the most common reason why dishwashers smell, so it should be the first place you check. All of that gross food residue can become lodged in your dishwasher’s filter and it can get pretty stinky over time.

Not only can a dirty filter make your dishwasher and kitchen smell bad, but that nasty scent can also be transferred to your dishes during the dishwasher’s drying cycle. Who wants to eat off of a clean dish that smells?

A Moldy Interior

If you do not use your dishwasher regularly, it can become a breeding ground for harmful and stinky mold. Due to their warm and damp interior, a neglected dishwasher can be the perfect environment for the spread of mold.

If you are someone that washes most of your dishes by hand and only runs the dishwasher for certain occasions, make sure your dishwasher is dry before you close it. Leaving it open to dry after it has been used can help a lot!

Dirt and Debris Trapped Beneath

In some cases, the actual interior of the dishwasher is not the cause of the bad smell, but rather the dirt, mildew, and debris that fell under the appliance. While your focus should be cleaning the interior of your dishwasher, it is worth giving the underside a quick sweep.

Remember, a sanitary kitchen is a fresh-smelling kitchen. Even the easy-to-miss spots and surfaces can ruin the scent of an otherwise spotless kitchen.

How to Fix Smelly Dishwasher

How to Properly Clean a Smelly Dishwasher

Clean the Drain Filter

As mentioned, the filter is often the cause of a smelly dishwasher. Most dishwasher designs have a drain filter that prevents food particles from clogging the drain and causing the water line to backup. To clean the filter you should:

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and remove the filter from the floor of the dishwasher’s interior.

Thoroughly wash the filter in a sink or bucket with hot water and soap. Use a bristle brush to make sure you clean the entire surface of the filter. You can also use white vinegar to clean the filter, which is an effective, affordable, safe, and natural cleaner.

Make sure you clear out the drain so it is clear of food debris and other potential clogs before you reinstall the filter.

Clean the Spray Arms

The spray arms inside your dishwasher can become clogged with food residue and mineral deposits from the water. Clogged dishwasher arms won’t spray your dishes properly, which can cause your dishes and dishwasher to have an unpleasant smell.

Consult the instruction manual and remove the spray arms.

Soak them in white vinegar to sanitize and unclog the rinsing holes.

If you cannot remove the spray arms or you do not feel comfortable doing so, try your best to clean them using vinegar and an old toothbrush. You do not need to apply much pressure.

Wipe Down the Entire Interior of the Unit

The interior walls and dish racks in your dishwasher can accumulate stinky grime, mold, and mildew over time. A quick wipe down will help remove any unpleasant scent.

If you can, fully remove the upper and lower dish racks and clean them with warm and soapy water.

Scrub the interior walls of the dishwasher unit with a sponge dampened with white vinegar or a safe cleaning solution.

Scrub the door gasket and soap dispenser.

Clean Underneath the Dishwasher and the Exterior Surface

While the smell is almost certainly coming from within your dishwasher, you should still take this time to clean the outside of the appliance.

Use an appropriate surface cleaner to scrub your dishwasher until it has that brand new shine. If you can, remove the bottom grate and sweep out any dust and debris from underneath the dishwasher.

Tips for Routine Cleaning and Smell Prevention

As you have probably guessed from the steps above, vinegar is your friend. It’s the perfect cleaning agent because it can cut through grease, clear away old detergent deposits, and neutralize food odors. Aside from being effective, white vinegar is also very affordable and accessible.

To make sure your dishwasher doesn’t get stinky in the first place, you can run your dishwasher with roughly one cup of white vinegar inside. Run it on the hottest setting for a single cycle with the vinegar placed inside your empty dishwasher.

Once the cycle is complete, leave the door open until it has completely air-dried. Doing this roughly once a month helps keep the interior of your dishwasher clean and smelling great!

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