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Home » Cleaning » How to Clean a Smelly Dishwasher

How to Clean a Smelly Dishwasher


Cleaning a dishwasher

There’s a terrible smell in your kitchen. You clean the whole thing, from your ceiling to the baseboards. The smell lingers. You think to check your dishwasher; you run it until the dishes are spick-and-span. There’s still an odour. You smell the inside of your dishwasher – that’s definitely where it’s coming from. How do you get rid of the smell? What’s causing it? That’s why you’re reading this, and that’s what we’ll explain:

How to Remove Odours from Your Dishwasher

The simplest way to get rid of the smell is to use vinegar. Empty your dishwasher, place a glass cup filled with vinegar on the top rack, and run the dishwasher on its hottest setting. The result will be a dishwasher that smells like, well, vinegar. You might not love that idea (we don’t), so you can opt to put a few drops of your favourite essential oil into the vinegar. That should leave you with a pretty pleasant smell. Open your dishwasher’s door when it’s finished running, and leave the door open so it has time to air-dry.

When using this technique, check your dishwasher detergent to ensure there’s no chlorine in it; you don’t want to mix chlorine and vinegar. If there is chlorine in your detergent, be sure that all the detergent is cleaned out of your dishwasher before starting your vinegar cycle. This might go without saying, but you don’t need detergent during the vinegar wash.

Smelly dishwasher
My Dishwasher Still Smells – Now What?

The vinegar wash technique can leave your dishwasher smelling great for quite a while, but if you find it starts getting smelly again shortly afterwards, you’re going to need to deep clean it. This task can seem a bit daunting, so we’ll break it down for you.

Dishwashers have one of two different types of filters: self-cleaning or manual. For self-cleaning filters, you shouldn’t need to do anything at all. When your self-cleaning filter isn’t living up to its name, appliance repair experts such as Mike’s Quality Appliance Repair recommend looking into getting the thing fixed or replaced. If left alone, the filter can become torn or damaged. This could cause food particles or other foreign objects into the spray arms and hinder their performance.

For manual filters, you’ll need to clean them out once a month at least. You’ll be able to remove the drain filter from the floor of your dishwasher and then clean it out with soap and water in your sink. You can use a sponge or a brush for the process. Make sure all of the food particles are thoroughly cleaned out and rinsed away before reinserting it.

The Filter’s Clean, but There’s Still an Odour. Now What?

That’s one smelly dishwasher you’ve got! Not to worry; there’s still plenty of cleaning we can do. Unplug your dishwasher if you can for this next step. Remove the bottom rack of your dishwasher so you can access the spray arms; they look a little bit like blades with holes in them.

You’ll be able to remove the spray arms, in most cases, by twisting a knob to loosen them. You’ll then want to clean out the gunk that’s stuck in the holes. You can use toothpicks or cotton swabs to do this. Once those holes are thoroughly cleaned out, give the spray arms a wash in the sink. Again, dish soap and water should be all you need here. Harsh chemicals might have adverse reactions with your detergent, and harmful chemicals can affect the home environment in all kinds of nasty ways.

Screw the spray arms back into place, put the bottom rack back, and you’re ready to run your dishwasher again!

…It Still Smells. Now What?

You’ve got quite the odorous appliance on your hands! There’s one last thing that could be causing you problems – the drain hose. That’s the thing that connects your dishwasher to the rest of your plumbing. You’ll need to unplug your dishwasher and then move it from under your counter so you can access the back. There should be a hose there – that’s what you’re looking for.

There may be a clamp on the back that you’ll need pliers to loosen. Make sure you have some kind of container for any residual water in the hose; a pan should do the trick. You can clean out the hose using a declogging device or you can make your own using a straightened coat hanger. You might even opt to line that hanger with fabric if you want to thicken it.

Full dishwasher
There may also be a clog in the dishwasher drain itself – this is the basket-shaped part at the floor of your dishwasher. You can remove it using a screwdriver then use your declogger or straightened coat hanger to clean it. You might even opt to use a solution of baking soda and vinegar to get residuals out. Leave it for around 10-15 minutes, and then pour hot water down the drain to clear it out.


Oh, sorry! We forgot to mention that once all this cleaning is done, you’ll want to do something to get rid of those odours. Use the vinegar technique we outlined above once again to get rid of the smell. At this point, you’ve cleaned out every component of your dishwasher, so you should be good to go.

Just in case there’s some caked-on food inside your dishwasher, you can go ahead and wipe the whole thing down with dish detergent, water, and a dishcloth. Remove the racks, wash those individually, and wipe down the inside of the dishwasher. This is rarely necessary (dishwashers are, by their nature, pretty good at self-cleaning), but it could help.

When you’ve really given up hope, it might be a good time to call in an appliance technician – they would definitely be able to help you get rid of the smell if it is coming from the dishwasher.

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