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How To Clean a Smelly Dishwasher

Smiling Young Woman Arranging Plates In Dishwasher At Home

So you open up your dishwasher to be greeted by a foul odor. Don’t worry — it happens to the best of us.

Because dishwashers are almost always moist, they become a breeding ground for various odor-causing bacteria and microbes.

That’s why when you notice a foul stench in your dishwasher, you shouldn’t hesitate to give it a deep clean.

How do you get rid of the foul smell of your dishwasher? Here’s what you can do to neutralize those foul odors.

  • Odors in a dishwasher often come from food residue.
  • Rinse and clean the filter to get rid of accumulated food waste.
  • Clean the spray arms, which may also become clogged with food residue.
  • Scrub all of the interior surfaces of the dishwasher, including the door gaskets.
  • Run an empty cycle with vinegar and baking soda or commercial dishwasher cleaner to finish up.

Because dishwashers are used daily, most homeowners hardly find time to take a moment to clean them. On the contrary, however, experts recommend thoroughly cleansing your dishwasher at least once a month to prevent foul odors, germs, and bacteria from thriving.

How To Clean a Smelly Dishwasher

1. Remove Trapped Food Waste From the Filter

Woman Making Gestures Of Bad Smell When Opening Her Automatic Dishwasher

All dishwashers have a filter that traps any food waste that it might wash off of your dishes. This all gets collected somewhere at the bottom rear of the tub.

As the food waste is left over time, it rots and produces a foul odor. Most of the time, the foul smell from a dishwasher results from rotten food trapped in the filter.

  • Remove the filter and wash it under a warm tap.
  • You can also brush it lightly with mild dish soap to remove particles, bacteria, and grime.
  • Then clean the filter compartment.
  • You can use the same method as you did with the filter itself.

2. Clean the Spray Arms

Dishwasher Interior Shows Filter And Spray Arm

The spray arms look like slender fan blades that turn and spray water to clean the dishes during a cycle. These appendages have lots of little holes that it used to spray water throughout the tub.

Over time, these little holes can become clogged with food debris and even mold. When this happens, the spray feature could become inefficient, leading to a poor wash and, thus, foul odors.

Remove the arms and run them under a warm tap. Take a clean piece of wire or anything similar and use it to poke through the holes and remove any debris that might be caught in the spray holes.

3. Wipe and Clean the Interiors

Young Woman Cleaning Dishwasher With Rag And Spray Bottle In Kitchen

When was the last time you scrubbed the interiors of your dishwasher? As it sprays and cleans your dishes, some of the food particles left on your plates, pots, pans, and containers can stick to the various surfaces inside the dishwasher.

Although unseen to the naked eye, these contaminants can cause a serious stink inside your dishwasher if they aren’t cleaned.

  • Take a clean, moist rag and lather it up with dish soap.
  • Then scrub down the various surfaces inside your dishwasher, including the racks.

Remove the racks and wash them separately. You should also take the opportunity to check the door gaskets.

The folds and creases in the gaskets can invite grime and mold to thrive. Wiping away any residue can help neutralize foul odors.

4. Finish Off With Vinegar and Baking Soda

Baking Soda With White Vinegar

To complete the deep cleaning process, take a clean dishwasher-safe bowl and fill it halfway with white vinegar. Place it on the top rack of the dishwasher and run a cycle.

When it’s finished, sprinkle some baking soda at the bottom of the tub before starting another empty cycle.

Alternatively, you can try a commercial dishwasher cleaner to finish the job. Follow the instructions on the packaging to complete the cleaning process.


The moist conditions inside your dishwasher make it the perfect breeding ground for all sorts of odor-causing germs and bacteria.

Ensure you thoroughly clean once a month to prevent foul smells from developing in your dishwasher. This should keep odors at bay and keep your dishes sanitary and clean.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can You Prevent Your Dishwasher From Smelling Bad?

The secret to a fresh-smelling dishwasher would be constant, regular maintenance. Food particles can get trapped inside your dishwasher, causing rot and, thus, foul odors.

Routine cleaning can help neutralize these odor-causing contaminants. Some other steps you can try include the following:

  • Leave your dishwasher open to dry after a cycle instead of closing it to prevent moisture from getting trapped inside.
  • Rinse dishes and remove as much food waste off of each one before loading them into the dishwasher.
  • Use just enough cleaning products to reduce the amount of residue left behind.
  • Avoid running other water fixtures while the dishwasher operates to prevent low water output during a cycle.

What Causes Bad Odors in Dishwashers?

Two culprits cause foul odors in dishwashers. The first, as previously mentioned, is food waste. The second is moisture.

When these two are left to stay inside a warm, enclosed dishwasher, they develop into a breeding ground for mold, mildew, germs, and bacteria that can cause all sorts of foul smells.

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