How to Clean a Dishwasher That Stinks

Fred's Appliance
November 1, 2021
Dishwasher Repair

What’s that horrible smell coming from the dishwasher? If your dishwasher stinks, the most likely culprit is food that has got trapped inside the filter or drainage system. Underneath the dishwasher should also be checked, as well as the dishwasher spray arms and drain. However, before checking individual parts, run a dishwasher cleaning product through the dishwasher, as this is relatively easy to do, and it may remove or dislodge the food that is causing the dishwasher to stink.

1. Check Underneath the Dishwasher

If you are not completely sure where the smell is coming from, check underneath the dishwasher to make sure there is no food debris, dead insects, or rodents that are causing the smell.

2. Deep Clean the Dishwasher

If there is nothing underneath the dishwasher causing the smell, then the next step is to run a dishwasher cleaning product through the dishwasher. A dishwasher cleaning product can be purchased, or two cups of white vinegar can also be used to clean the dishwasher. The cleaning product may be able to clean out parts like the drain hose or drain pump without you needing to disassemble the dishwasher. Running a heavy-duty wash cycle on the hottest setting with a normal dishwasher tablet or powder may also give the dishwasher the clean it needs.

Follow these simple steps to give your dishwasher a deep clean:

  1. Follow the dishwasher cleaner’s instructions, or pour two cups of white vinegar into a dishwasher-safe bowl and place it on the top shelf inside the dishwasher.
  2. Turn your dishwasher on and run a heavy-duty wash cycle, with the temperature on the hottest option.
  3. Once the cycle is complete, open up your dishwasher, give the seals around the door a good clean, and double-check that there aren’t any food particles still in your dishwasher.

3. Clean the Spray Arms

One of the places where food debris can get trapped and mold builds up is in the spray arms. A thorough cleaning should remove those things, but if you still have a nasty smell coming from your dishwasher, take out the spray arms and give them a separate clean.

To do that:

  1. Remove the spray arms from your dishwasher. Most dishwashers have 1-3 spray arms.
  2. Give the spray arms a good rinse and clean, and make sure there are no food particles stuck in the holes. Avoid using toothpicks to clean inside the spray arms, as these can break and block the spray hole.
  3. Once cleaned, return them to the dishwasher.

4. Clean the Dishwasher Filter

Most dishwashers contain a filter that can be removed and cleaned. The filter is usually located at the bottom of the dishwasher tub. If the filter is not cleaned regularly, the filter can become clogged and cause the dishwasher to stink.

Here’s how to clean your dishwasher filter:

  1. Remove the bottom rack from your dishwasher.
  2. To remove the filter, twist the top of the filter counterclockwise while pulling it up gently to remove it. To remove the lower part of the filter, lift it up slightly and gently pull it outward.
  3. Once both parts are removed, give them a good clean under warm, running water. If there is any debris not coming off, use a soft bristle brush to remove it.
  4. Once cleaned, return the filter to the dishwasher. The lower part of the filter needs to be aligned with the upper filter part and then locked back into place.

5. Clear the Dishwasher Drain

The smell from your dishwasher may be coming from the drain that the dishwasher drain hose is connected to. Using a drain cleaner product or two cups of white vinegar can clear the drain and wash the nasty smell away. For an extra layer of cleaning, after ten minutes, put three tablespoons of baking soda into the drain, leave it for ten minutes, and then pour some hot water into the drain to wash the baking soda away.

Depending on your dishwasher’s setup, the dishwasher should be connected to the garbage disposal or an air gap or have the drain hose connected via a high loop. Cleaning or adjusting these features may solve the issue.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Start by clearing out the garbage disposal if you have one. You should always run your disposal before putting in a load of dishes, as your dishwasher drain hose most likely uses the same drain as the disposal unit.
  2. The next thing to do is to clean the air gap if you have one. Simply remove the cap and clean away any debris that you can see.
  3. If your dishwasher drain hose is connected via a high loop, the smell may be caused by wastewater coming back into the dishwasher. Moving the loop a little higher can solve this issue.
  4. Lastly, pour drain cleaner or white vinegar (as described above) into the drain. After about 10-15 minutes, pour hot water into the drain to flush the solution out and clear away any leftover debris.

Keeping Your Dishwasher Clean

To stop your dishwasher from stinking, get into the habit of keeping the dishwasher clean. By following these tips, not only will it ensure the dishwasher does not smell bad, but it will also ensure the dishwasher lasts longer.

Tips to keep the dishwasher clean:

  • Give your dishwasher filters, spray arms, and the drain a regular clean either by using a dishwasher cleaning product or by cleaning the parts yourself. This should stop the buildup of grease, grime, and food debris from occurring.
  • Run an occasional hot wash when your dishwasher is empty to clean it out and to stop any buildup of mold and grime from occurring. A dishwasher cleaning product can be used once a month for the best results.
  • Make sure that you scrape off large particles of food from your dirty dishes before loading them into the dishwasher. This will ensure that you reduce the risk of any food particles causing a blockage, and your dishwasher will perform better as well.
  • Make sure that you don’t over-stack your dishwasher, so that the dish soap and water can properly wash each dish.
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