How to Get Bad Smell Out of the Dishwasher?

Dishwasher odor – it’s that mystery kitchen odor that’s stinking up your otherwise sparkling clean kitchen. But how to get the bad smell out of the dishwasher? We’re talking about this today!

Many people often check other smell sources first only to find that the kitchen counter and floors are spic and span. The sink is clean and empty. The trash has been taken out. The stove and oven are sparkling.

Then it hits us – the dishwasher needs washing, too!

Let’s have a look at what we can do about this malodorous malady and make it go away.

What causes the bad smell of your dishwasher?

Now, let’s be honest. Some of our practices cause our dishwashers to smell bad. We often take for granted that this appliance that cleans and washes needs care and washing, too!

dishwasher smelling bad

Remember, you cannot just put dirty dishes inside and all the dirt, grime, and grease go poof in the air. This is one of the most common causes for drinking glasses that smell bad out of the dishwasher.

Here are some causes of the bad smell in the dishwasher:

  • Food particles accumulate over time in nooks and crannies with smells ranging from rancidity to rot.
  • There are pockets of stagnant water left inside your dishwasher that cause mold to grow inside and emit that stale stinky smell.
  • The dishwasher door is kept closed for an extended period or has been unused.
  • The dishwasher door is kept completely shut after a hot cycle allowing water to condense and pool in the dishwasher interior resulting in that steamy stink.

How many are you guilty of? Be honest – this will help you determine the next steps that need to be done to eliminate dishwasher smells!

Cleaning your dishwasher properly

At this point, you might have an idea of what is causing the bad smells in your dishwasher.

Now it’s time for some action. More than just simply cleaning the dishwasher for maintenance.

There’s something dirty going on inside your dishwasher and the first thing to do is always:


Never attempt to disinfect your appliance with any utensils or dishes inside, not to damage the unit or your plates and cutlery.

cleaning dishwasher

The problem areas in dishwashers that cause a stink are:

  • Drain Filter
  • Drain Screen
  • Interior Walls of the Dishwasher
  • Sprayer Arms
  • Nooks and Crannies of Racks

Let’s tackle the washing of these parts one by one.

1. Filter Cleaning

A filter prevents food bits from recirculating onto your plates, crockery, or utensils when being washed.

Keeping them well-maintained spells a huge difference in making them sparkling clean and smelling clean.

Check your appliance manual to know for sure what type you have. Here’s how we deal with each type.

Self-Cleaning Filters

There isn’t any cleaning with this type of filter since it lives up to its label as self-cleaning. This type of filter is also known as hard food disposer.

An integrated grinder breaks up food bits like garbage disposals and enables these to be washed down the drain during rinsing. This is typical of the older and louder dishwasher models. At least there’s a consolation to all that noise.

Manual-Cleaning Filters

Remove the bottom rack of the dishwater and find the filter at the bottom. Check your owner’s manual on the proper removal of the filter. Some models may have a secondary filter which also needs to be taken out.

Soak in warm soapy water and hand wash. Lightly scrub with filter surfaces with a soft sponge or toothbrush to loosen any grime stuck. Rinse thoroughly with running water then set aside to air dry.

After washing the filter, check the drain where the filter is inserted in and wipe any stray particles that might be stuck around it.

Then maybe learn how to clean a dirty kitchen sponge, right?

2. Washing Inner Walls

From time to time, wash the walls of your dishwasher interior. Simply scrub with hot soapy water then wash down with a damp and clean sponge or cloth.

While you’re at it, do all the racks as well. Make sure to wipe or air-dry before closing.

3. Door Bottom Lip Cleaning

Sludge tends to form on this oft-neglected part of the dishwasher – the bottommost part of your appliance door that meets the bottom rack and basin.

To clean, open the door down to expose the gap of the dishwasher door bottom lips. Give it a good wipe with a sponge or microfiber cloth that’s been in warm, soapy water.

Make sure to rinse out the soap film by wiping it with a damp cloth then let either let it stay open to air-dry or wipe down with a clean, dry rag.

4. Cleaning Ports of Spray Arm

Teeny food bits and mold can block the minute holes in your dishwater’s spray arm. Aside from causing a bad smell within your unit, it lowers the water supply while cleaning and prevents your dishwasher from cleaning properly.

Remove all the spray arms and soak in warm soapy water.

Lightly scrub the surfaces to rid of any gunk and prick the nozzle holes with a toothpick to dislodge anything blocking the water flow. You can also use a bottle brush to clean this.

Related reading: How to get garlic smell out of your plastic containers.

5. Post-Wash Ritual: Deodorize

Now that all parts are clean, put them back into your dishwasher and run one normal cleaning cycle. We’re not yet done. To get rid of the deep lingering smells we need two more steps.

  1. Neutralize. Place one cup of distilled vinegar in a dishwasher-safe bowl. Place on the top rack. Run a high-heat washing cycle WITHOUT adding detergent. Remove the bowl after the cycle.
  2. Deodorize. Evenly sprinkle one cup of baking soda on your dishwasher’s bottom basin. Run another cycle – high-heat and NO DETERGENT. These are some of the best organic kitchen cleansers and we usually have them readily available.

VOILA! Your dishwasher is now smelling fresh. If you would like to add a hint of essential oil to the second step, it’s perfectly okay as long as the scent is subtle.

What NOT to do when trying to get rid of the dishwasher’s bad smell

clean dishes in the dishwasher

Here are some reminders when washing and deodorizing your dishwasher, with things you should not try.

  • Don’t combine chlorine and vinegar when washing or doing a wash cycle. It can chemically combine into harmful chlorine gas. Do check your dishwashing liquid for composition to make sure.
  • Don’t forget to unplug your unit or shut the power when doing a dishwasher cleanse.
  • Don’t use overpowering scents when doing the deodorizing.

Banish Bad Smells Before They Happen

Moving forward, let’s try to avoid bad smells in our dishwasher altogether by doing these:

  • Wipe down any dishes and utensils before loading them in the dishwasher.
  • Clean the drain filter periodically.
  • Do the “neutralize and deodorize” occasionally even before bad smells set in.
  • Ensure that hot water flow is always adequate when doing a wash by not doing this chore while other appliances might be using your hot water supply.
  • Do a light sink-rinse for items used for smelly food like garlicky and spicy dishes, fish, or eggs.
  • Do leave your dishwasher open a crack after a hot cycle to let all the steam out.
  • When travelling for an extended period, leave a deodorizer inside your appliance. It can be baking soda or coal-based. Make sure you remove all dishes as well.

Doing these regularly will not only reduce the chance of having a smelly dishwasher, but will extend the efficient life of your unit.

Remember, the frequency of cleaning will depend on how much you use your dishwasher. A little extra effort will go a long way.

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