How to Clean a Smelly Dishwasher

Bottom of a smelly dishwasher with food debris.
Dinner leftovers are put away, the counter is wiped, and dishes are clean. So where’s that smell coming from? If you’ve discovered dishwasher odor, it means the appliance isn’t running efficiently. Here’s how to clean a smelly dishwasher and restore its full functionality.

Clean the Drain Filter

Many dishwashers have a drain filter to prevent food particles from clogging the drain. A dirty drain filter is the most common cause of nasty dishwasher odors.

Follow these steps to clean it:

  • Remove the drain filter from the floor of the dishwasher.
  • Wash the filter in your kitchen sink with hot water and soap. Use a bottle brush to reach all the interior surfaces.
  • Check the drain itself for food debris and gunk. Wipe away any particles with a sponge.
  • Reinsert the clean dishwasher drain filter.

Clean the Spray Arms

If a spray arm becomes clogged with food, the dishwasher’s ability to clean your dishes diminishes greatly. The debris also leads to a smelly dishwasher.

Luckily, it’s somewhat easy to clean the spray arms:

  • Remove the upper and lower spray arms.
  • Hold one spray arm over the kitchen sink, and remove stray food particles using a cotton swab.
  • Run hot water through the spray arm to make sure all the holes are clear.
  • Repeat this process with the second spray arm.
  • Reinsert the spray arms into the dishwasher.

Wipe Down the Inside of the Dishwasher

Over time, grime can accumulate on the interior walls of the appliance. A quick wipe-down can do wonders for removing that foul dishwasher odor.

Here’s how to clean a smelly dishwasher interior:

  • Remove the upper and lower racks, and run them under hot water in the kitchen sink.
  • Scrub the inside of the dishwasher with a rag or sponge dampened with hot water.
  • If there’s stuck-on debris, use white vinegar and a sponge to remove it. (The next set of tips will also help.)
  • Wipe down the door gasket as well, which can collect mold and mildew.

Remove Dishwasher Odor with Vinegar or Baking Soda

White vinegar is a potent odor-fighting agent, yet it’s completely natural and safe to use. Baking soda is also excellent for neutralizing smells without using harsh chemical cleaners. You can use both—but not at the same time—to sterilize your smelly dishwasher.

Here’s how:

  • Empty the appliance of all dishes.
  • Place one cup of white vinegar in a stable bowl on the top rack of the dishwasher.
  • Run the dishwasher on the hottest cycle available. The acids in the vinegar will break down deposits on the interior of the appliance and leave it smelling fresh.
  • Remove the bowl from the dishwasher once the cycle is complete.
  • Sprinkle a cup of baking soda on the floor of the dishwasher.
  • Run a short cycle at the hottest temperature setting to ensure all the baking soda dissolves. This should eliminate remaining dishwasher odor.

Check the Drain Hose

If the dishwasher odor lingers or returns quickly after you follow all these steps, something could be wrong with the drain hose. Another potential sign of this is standing water at the bottom of the dishwasher after a wash cycle.

A little troubleshooting should help you determine a remedy:

  • Pull the dishwasher out from under the counter to inspect the hose on the back.
  • Make sure the hose isn’t bent or restricted, which can limit the flow and lead to standing water in the dishwasher. If the hose is damaged, it’s time to schedule a dishwasher repair.
  • If wastewater from the kitchen sink appears to be backing up into the dishwasher, prevent this by raising the drain hose loop a little higher. If it fails to stay in place, secure it to the wall with a hose bracket.

Reduce Future Odors with Regular Maintenance

Now that your dishwasher odors have disappeared, you’ll want to take steps to reduce them from returning. Regular maintenance can help with this. Visit our Dishwasher Maintenance Tips article for steps you can start taking now.  

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