How to Clean a Smelly Dishwasher

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Stop what you’re doing and ask yourself when was the last time you cleaned your dishwasher. What’s that? You didn’t even know a dishwasher was supposed to be cleaned? You wouldn’t be the only one.

It seems a little odd thinking about cleaning a machine that normally does the cleaning for you! But think about it this way, you wash your towels now and then don’t you? Your dishwasher should receive no different treatment!

If you’ve been ignoring your dishwasher for a long time it may have started giving off a foul odor! Dishwashers easily grow mold and mildew and start developing nasty smells. There’s a bunch of ways to get the dishwasher sparkly clean and fresh smelling.


Every dishwasher has a drain filter that keeps food particles from clogging the drain. This is the part that is causing most of the smell, as food particles can accumulate there over time.

1. Remove the bottom rack of your dishwasher and twist out the filter. Use hot water and soap to wash the filter well in the sink. If it’s hard to reach all the interior surfaces you can use a bottle brush.

2. Next, you have to clean the spray arm. This is very important because if the spray arm is clogged with food particles, your dishwasher may not be performing the best (and your dishes may still be dirty!). Remove the upper and lower spray arms. You can use cotton swabs to remove the food particles from them, and then rinse them with water.

3. Wash the door gasket in the sink. Remove it from the door of the dishwasher and wash away all the grime or moisture that may have accumulated.

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4. Scrub the interior of the dishwasher. First, take out all the racks so you can wash the interior properly. Use hot water and soap (or mix them and make a sudsy liquid) to wash the inside of the dishwasher. You can use either a rag or a brush to scrub. In case of stubborn stains or grime, you can use household cleaners for scrubbing.

5. Just to make sure all the bases are covered, wash and scrub the dishwasher racks in the kitchen sink.

6. Wipe down all the parts and the interior of the dishwasher after scrubbing and rinsing all the sudsy water away with a clean dry rag. You can wipe down the outside of the dishwasher with a cloth and disinfectant too.


Once all the grime and stray food particles are cleared up, you can move on to getting that funky smell out. There are several easy, inexpensive methods for these using ingredients that can be easily found in the kitchen.

Vinegar and Baking Soda

Vinegar and baking soda are among the first things that come to mind as they are both safe to use and natural deodorizers. You can use them both (not mixed!) or use either one of them.

Place 1-2 cups of vinegar on the top rack of an empty dishwasher. Run the dishwasher on its hottest cycle. The vinegar will not only make the dishwasher smell fresh but also break down any powdery deposits or stubborn stains.

After the cycle is complete, you can sprinkle a cup of baking soda (add essential oils if the strong smell bothers you) on the floor of the dishwasher and run another cycle at the hottest temperature.

If there are stains on the interior of the dishwasher you can also make a baking soda and water paste to apply to the interiors. Wipe off the paste with a damp cloth after letting it sit for a while.

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Citric Acid

Citric acid, which is found in lemons, works great as a natural method to break down the mineral build-up and give your dishwasher a fresh smell.

Add four tablespoons of lemon (or a half of a lemon) to the bottom rack of an empty dishwasher and run it at its hottest temperature. Stop the cycle after a few minutes (before all the water drains out) and let the mixture sit for a few hours. Then, resume and let the cycle finish.

Check the Drain Hose

If you find that the smell still lingers (or returns quickly) after trying any of these methods, you might have to do some troubleshooting. Check the drain hose for any obstruction. If you find water at the bottom of the dishwasher after running a cycle your drain hose could be the problem.

If possible, pull the dishwasher away from the wall to inspect the hose. Make sure the hose isn’t bent or restricted in any way as this could limit the flow of water.

If you find that water from the sink when it is full is backing up into the dishwasher through the drain hose, just raise the loop of the hose a little higher.

Check the Electrical Connection

A poor connection can also be the cause of odors. You can check the junction box behind the kick plate under the door of the dishwasher. If you think the dishwasher has an electrical problem it’s best to unplug the dishwasher and call an electrician as a poor connection can cause other problems as well.

Prevention is Better than Cure!

There are other things you can do to make sure your dishwasher is being used to its full potential and ensure a longer life for it. Follow these tips that will keep your dishwasher from getting dirty and prevent odors.

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1. Scrub and wash your dishwasher regularly, at least once in a month (or more/less depending on how often you use it).

2. Do not leave dirty dishes in the dishwasher for long periods. You run a “rinse and hold” cycle if you’re planning to wash the dishes after some time.

3. Don’t face all the plates in the same direction while running the dishwasher. To make sure the spray reaches all the plates, place them on the bottom racks facing the spray arms and keep the smaller plates in front of the larger ones.

4. While unloading the dishwasher, unload the bottom rack before unloading the top rack. Unloading the top rack first can cause the pool of water collected at the top to spill onto the dry dishes below.

5. Wipe your dishwasher down after each use.

6. Avoid using bleach to clean the dishwasher as bleach is very corrosive to the metal parts of the dishwasher.

7. While cleaning your dishwasher never mix vinegar with chlorine (can be found in some dishwashing detergents), this can create toxic fumes.

Written by Pulkit D

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