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Why The Dishwasher Smells Bad (And How To Fix It)

Dishwasher smells bad

It’s hard to imagine getting through a dinner party without a dishwasher. However, sometimes the morning after that dinner party, you wake up and wish you had never used it. I’ve been there, and when you’re dealing with a smelly dishwasher, it can make the entire house smell. I’ll explain why the dishwasher smells bad, where to look for the odor-causing culprits, and how to ensure you can use your dishwasher without fear! 

Why Does My Dishwasher Smell Bad? 

Your dishwasher smells bad because of stuck food particles, mold and mildew that have grown, a clogged drain pipe, or a filter that needs to be changed. A smelly dishwasher is something that you can recover from; your dishwasher is still working. However, it’s best to clean up this mess before you run it again. A smelly dishwasher can be a sign your dishes are not getting cleaned. 

Top Reasons Your Dishwasher Smells Bad (Where To Find The Smell) 

Sometimes the smell from the dishwasher hits you when you open the dishwasher door; other times, it permeates around the kitchen. Here are the reasons you may be dealing with a smelly dishwasher. 

  • Food residue and grease buildup: look in the utensil holder and any other accessories you have, take out the bottom rack, and check the bottom of the dishwasher as well as the walls. 
  • Stagnant water and mold growth: even if you use the dry cycle, let the empty dishwasher air dry before closing it up. 
  • Failing filter: take a look at the water filter and see how often it should be replaced; if you use it frequently, the dishwasher filter should be replaced every 4-6 years. 
  • Poorly connected drain hose: not only could the drain hose be pouring back into the bottom dish rack, it could also be leaking under your dishwasher. Get a professional to take a look.  
  • Leaks: anywhere that the dishwasher is not sealed tight can cause a leak which will quickly turn into a hotspot for mildew growth; look in the cabinets next to the dishwasher and take off the base plate to see if water is collecting under the dishwasher 
  • Non-use: things can get stagnant if you haven’t used your dishwasher in a while.

How To Get Smells Out of the Dishwasher

Now, the important part is how to get the smells out of the dishwasher. For me, avoiding the smells in the first place is also really important. I’d rather prevent this problem than have to deal with it! 

Below are five things you can do that both remove and prevent foul odor in your dishwasher.

Clean the Dishwasher Filter Regularly 

The dishwasher’s filter needs to be cleaned at least once a month if you are using your dishwasher regularly. 

  1. Find the dishwasher filter on the bottom under the spray arm. (I would remove the top and bottom rack to make this easier. 
  2. The filter should have guidelines that show you how to twist and remove it. 
  3. Create a cleaning solution with two cups of water, a half cup of distilled white vinegar, and a few drops of Dawn dishwashing liquid
  4. Soak and scrub the filter with an old toothbrush; you should find that food scraps and particles easily come out, and the smell (if any) should be dissipating. 
  5. Rinse the filter, wipe down the area around it, and put it back in place. 

Clean The Utensil Basket 

When you clean the filter, I would also clean the utensil basket; this is a spot where even just a small piece of rotten food can lead to a strong dishwasher odor. 

  1. Create a cleaning solution in your sink using vinegar, baking soda, and hot water. I use equal parts of all three. 
  2. Remove the utensil basket and let it soak in the cleaning solution. 
  3. Use an old toothbrush to scrub foot waste and residue. 

Cleaning of the Spray Arms 

The spray arms have been known to have some mildew growth and a bit of soap scum collected on them. 

  1. Take a look at your owners manual to determine how to remove the spray arms.
  2. Take the spray arm out, you may have to remove the bottom rack to have access to it.
  3. Use a soft scrub brush with a bit of baking soda and vinegar to clean it.
  4. If there are holes in the spray arm, use a toothpick or a skewer to push any food residue out. 

Natural Deodorizer 

I love this cleaning method to get rid of the funky smell in your dishwasher. It’s simple, cheap, and gets the dishwasher’s interior completely clean. 

  1. Take a dishwasher-safe bowl and fill it with a cup of vinegar.
  2. Make sure you have no other dishes in the dishwasher at the time.
  3. Place the cup on the top rack, and run a normal cycle with hot water.
  4. When it’s finished, allow it to air dry and see if it helped to remove the foul odor. 
  5. If it did not, you can add some baking soda in the area where the drain line is, the utensil basket, and even on the spray arm, and run a quick wash.
  6. A commercial solution to use instead of vinegar and baking soda would be the Affresh Dishwasher Cleaner and Deodorizer

Identifying and Fixing the Drain Hose and Other Leaks 

If you find that there is a leak in the drain filter of your dishwasher, it may be time to call in a professional. For a handy DIY person, this project may be worth it, but you have to know a few things about hot water appliances to have this go smoothly. 

Before calling in a professional, I would go through my recommended cleaning cycle and see if that helps get rid of the smell first.

Preventative Measures to Keep Dishwasher Smell Away 

Smelly dishwashers are a pain, but they are avoidable; here are my best tips to keep your dishwasher odor to a minimum!

  1. Remove as much food waste as possible from the dishes before placing them in for a wash 
  2. Use a natural deodorizer at least once per month 
  3. Open the dishwasher door and let it air dry 
  4. Use hot water to keep dishes clean and bacteria to a minimum 
  5. Follow all standard maintenance for regular cleaning, filter replacement, and food trap removal procedures
  6. Load the dishwasher properly to avoid standing water, and don’t overfill it


Why does my dishwasher smell bad even after cleaning?

If you have cleaned your dishwasher and it still smells bad, you may have a leak. Sometimes the gasket seal near the drain hose goes bad, and water can leak under your dishwasher. Call an appliance repair specialist.

Why do my dishes stink after being in the dishwasher?

If your dishes smell after being in the dishwasher, it may be because of mold, mildew, or gunk developing in the gasket seals and along the walls and bottom of the dishwasher. Regular cleaning can ensure you are not washing dishes with dirty water causing them to smell. 

Can you put bleach in a dishwasher to get rid of the smell?

Bleach can be used to clean a dishwasher by putting half a cup in a dishwasher-safe container and running the machine at the hottest setting. This will kill mold and bacteria trapped inside, but keep in mind bleach also has a strong smell.

Why does my dishwasher smell like sewer after running?

The dishwasher smells like a sewer when the filter gets filled with food and debris. Clean your dishwasher filter at least once per month, and sometimes allow the dishwasher to dry with the door open. 

Why does my dishwasher smell like burning rubber when running?

When my dishwasher has a burning smell, the first thing I check is the spray arm. If the spray arm is restricted, it will smell as though it’s burning up. Always check to make sure the arm has room to work.

Why do my dishes smell like wet dog after dishwasher?

Dishes may smell like wet dogs if washed with old food particles. Clean your dishwasher once a month with vinegar and baking soda solution to avoid this from happening. 

What causes a dishwasher to smell like rotten eggs?

A dirty filter can cause your dishwasher to smell like rotten eggs. Remove the bottom and top racks of your dishwasher to provide easier access to your filter, take the filter out, clean it, and put it back in. Run a hot cycle with just a cup of vinegar, and the smell should disappear.


Britt Olizarowicz