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Why Does My Dishwasher Smell?

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Your dishwasher is a kitchen workhorse that makes your life easier. But when it starts to emit an unpleasant smell, it can turn into a source of discomfort. Understanding why your dishwasher smells is the first step to solving the problem and restoring your kitchen’s fresh environment. In this article, we delve into the common causes of a smelly dishwasher and provide practical solutions to eradicate the odor.


Your dishwasher may smell due to various reasons such as accumulated food debris, standing water, mold and mildew growth, a dirty filter, hard water, or incorrect detergent use. You can eliminate these smells by cleaning the drain filter, unclogging and cleaning interior parts, running empty cycles with vinegar and baking soda, checking for leaks, and performing regular maintenance.

Why Does my Dishwasher Smell?

There are several reasons why your dishwasher might develop a foul odor. Here are some of the most common culprits:

1. Food Debris

A common cause of dishwasher odor is the accumulation of food particles in various parts of the dishwasher. These particles can get trapped in the drain filter, spray arm, or other parts of the dishwasher, causing a foul smell. For example, if you allow dirty dishes to pile up in the dishwasher before running a cycle, the food can start to degrade inside the dishwasher, leading to an unpleasant smell.

2. Standing Water

A clogged drain can cause water to stand in the dishwasher or the drain pipes, leading to unpleasant odors. Standing water can become a breeding ground for bacteria, which can produce a foul smell.

3. Mold and Mildew

A water leak, even a small one, can cause mold and mildew to grow, resulting in a musty smell. Mold and mildew thrive in damp environments, and a dishwasher is a perfect place for them to grow if conditions allow.

4. Dirty Filter

Your dishwasher’s filter is responsible for capturing and holding the bits of food that come off your dishes during a cycle. If the filter isn’t cleaned regularly, these food particles can start to decay, causing a foul smell.

5. Hard Water

Hard water has a high mineral content, which can leave behind a residue on your dishes and inside your dishwasher. This mineral buildup can cause a harsh metallic smell and can even lead to corrosion and damage to the dishwasher’s components over time.

6. Incorrect Detergent or Rinse Aid

Using the wrong type of dishwasher detergent or rinse aid can also contribute to a bad smell. The residue from these products can be left on your dishes and the interior of the dishwasher, causing an unpleasant odor.

How to Eliminate Dishwasher Smells

Now that we know what causes a smelly dishwasher, let’s look at some solutions to get rid of the odor.

1. Clean the Drain Filter

The drain filter is usually located at the bottom rear of the tub. Remove and clean it to ensure there are no trapped food particles causing an odor.

2. Unclog and Clean Interior Parts

Check the dishwasher’s spray arm and drain hose for clogs and clean them if necessary. Food particles or other debris can get trapped in these parts, causing a bad smell.

3. Run Empty Dishwasher Cycles with Vinegar and Baking Soda

Vinegar and baking soda are natural deodorizers and cleaners. Place a dishwasher-safe bowl filled with distilled white vinegar on the top rack and run a cycle. Then, sprinkle baking soda on the bottom of the dishwasher and run another cycle.

4. Check for Leaks

Inspect your dishwasher for any water leaks and fix them if necessary. Even a small leak can cause mold and mildew to grow, resulting in a musty smell.

5. Regular Maintenance

Regularly clean your dishwasher to prevent the buildup of food particles, mold, and mildew. This includes cleaning the filter, wiping down the interior, and running cleaning cycles.

By taking these steps, you can eliminate the unpleasant smell in your dishwasher and keep it running efficiently. Remember, a clean dishwasher is a happy dishwasher!

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should I clean my dishwasher filter?

You should clean your dishwasher filter once a month. However, if your dishwasher is heavily used or you notice an unpleasant smell or poor dishwashing results, you may need to clean it more frequently.

Can I use any type of vinegar to clean my dishwasher?

While any type of vinegar will work, distilled white vinegar is recommended because it doesn’t leave any color or residue in your dishwasher.

What are the signs of a clogged dishwasher?

Signs of a clogged dishwasher may include an unpleasant smell, standing water at the bottom of the dishwasher after a cycle, dishes not being cleaned properly, and the dishwasher making unusual noises.

How can I prevent food debris from accumulating in my dishwasher?

To prevent food debris from accumulating, scrape off large food particles from your dishes before loading them into the dishwasher. Also, running regular dishwasher cleaning cycles can help keep your dishwasher free of food debris.

How can I tell if my dishwasher has a water leak?

Signs of a water leak may include water pooling underneath or around your dishwasher, a musty smell, or visible mold and mildew growth. If you notice any of these signs, it’s best to have your dishwasher inspected by a professional.

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