How to Clean a Smelly Dishwasher

Bottom of a smelly dishwasher with food debris.

After putting away the leftovers, clearing the dishes, and wiping the counter, your nose tips you off to something foul. It’s your dishwasher. If you’ve discovered you have a smelly dishwasher, it means the appliance isn’t running efficiently. The appliance experts at Mr. Appliance® will share some tips on how to clean a smelly dishwasher and get it working properly again.

How to Clean a Smelly Dishwasher: 5 Things to Try

Cleaning a smelly dishwasher is no one’s favorite activity, but it can usually be accomplished without investing significant effort or time. Here are five methods to help you clean your smelly dishwasher.

1. Clean the Drain Filter

Many dishwashers have a drain filter to prevent food particles from clogging the drain. A dirty drain filter can quickly lead to a smelly dishwasher and inefficient washing.

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.

After carrying out these steps, run the dishwasher with a small load to see if it still smells bad.

2. 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, cleaning the spray arms in your dishwasher is fairly easy:

  • Remove the lower spray arms from the dishwasher.
  • Hold one spray arm over the kitchen sink and remove food particles using a cotton swab. Take special care to swab the spray nozzle holes.
  • Run hot water through the spray arm to ensure all the holes are clear.
  • The upper spray arms are not removable.
  • Wipe the outsides down with a sponge and clean the holes out with a cotton swab.

3. 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, which can collect mold and mildew.

4. Remove Dishwasher Odor with Vinegar or Baking Soda

White vinegar is a potent odor-fighting agent that’s completely natural and safe. Baking soda can also neutralize smells inside a dishwasher without the harmful effects of harsh chemical cleaners. You can use both—but not at the same time—to sterilize your smelly dishwasher.

Here’s how to clean your dishwasher using natural ingredients:

  • Take all the dishes out of the dishwasher.
  • 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 appliance's interior 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 the remaining dishwasher odor.

5. Check the Drain Hose

If the dishwasher odor lingers or returns quickly after you follow all the steps above, 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:

  • Open the kitchen cabinet doors below the sink. The corrugated hose running from the dishwasher to your drain pipes or the garbage disposer is the dishwasher drain hose.
  • 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 from Mr. Appliance

Knowing how to clean a smelly dishwasher will help you overcome a vast majority of dishwasher-related issues. But if cleaning, vinegar, and baking soda don’t fix the issue, you can turn to the service professionals at your local Mr. Appliance. Our team of repair experts knows how to fix everything that could lead to a smelly dishwasher. We also service almost every brand, from Bosch to Kenmore and beyond.

If you can’t seem to get rid of the bad dishwasher smell or fear the machine isn’t working effectively, give us a call and schedule a service today!