How to Clean a Smelly Dishwasher

By Laura Parker
July 13, 2023


Dishwashers are some of the busiest appliances in our kitchens. Between non-rinsed dishes, low-quality detergents, inefficient dish-loading, and interrupted cleaning cycles, it’s no wonder that a foul odor may be coming from your dishwasher.


It's a good practice to clean your dishwasher once a month, and if it's been a lot longer than that, then it's undoubtedly time to reward your reliable kitchen helper with some TLC. This simple how-to guide will show you our top tricks and tips for cleaning a dishwasher and getting rid of those funky dishwasher smells.

Why Does My Dishwasher Smell?

If your dishwasher smells, it’s not your fault! Dishwashers are designed to remove food particles and grease from your dishes, which means over time most dishwashers will get clogged with old pieces of food and other gunk. 


The warm, damp environment of your dishwasher is a great place for bacteria and mildew to grow. If your dishwasher smells, it’s likely because of a build-up of food particles. Clogged drains that produce standing water can also lead to a foul odor from your dishwasher. 

Steps to Clean a Dishwasher

Cleaning your dishwasher isn’t as tricky as it might seem. In fact, there are a few simple steps you can follow to help eliminate odors and boost the cleaning power of your dishwasher, no matter its age.

Step 1. Clean the Drain Filter

To clean the drain of your dishwasher, just remove the bottom dish rack and inspect the drain. Put on a pair of rubber gloves and clear away any pieces of old food or other debris that you see around the drain. Getting rid of the food will help with odors and drainage efficiency, and it’ll also help ensure your dishes are actually getting clean. 

Step 2. Clean the Spray Arm

Your dishwasher’s spray arm, usually located on the bottom of the dishwasher, can also become clogged with food and mineral build-up. For a deep clean, remove your spray arm by twisting it off or unscrewing it. Then soak it in white vinegar for 10 to 15 minutes. Scrub any build-up off the spraying arm, and be sure to clear out any blockages in the spraying arm’s holes. 

Step 3. Clean the Inside of Your Dishwasher

For a good general clean, take a scrubbing sponge to the inside of your dishwasher. A solution of white vinegar, warm water, and a mild dish soap is a great cleaning agent. You’ll want to make sure to clean the insides of the tub and door, as well as the seals.  

Step 4. Remove Odor with Baking Soda and Vinegar 

To make sure there aren’t any remaining odors, place a bowl filled with two cups of white vinegar upright on your dishwasher’s top rack and run a full cycle. As a final step, you can dump a cup of baking soda on the floor of the tub and run another cycle to fully eliminate nasty smells. Leave the dishwasher open and allow it to air dry. 

How to Prevent Future Dishwasher Smells


To stop your dishwasher from getting smelly in the first place, here are a few helpful tips:


  • Thoroughly rinse your dishes before running them through the dishwasher, making sure there aren’t any large pieces of food on them. 

  • Stick to a schedule. A thorough cleaning of your dishwasher only needs to happen every few months, but you should make sure to check your machine’s filter once a week, clearing away any large food particles that you find.

  • Avoid using other water sources in the kitchen while your dishwasher is running. Lower water pressure during your dishwasher’s cycle can leave grease and smaller food particles in the machine even once the cycle’s finished. 

Dishwasher Cleaning FAQs

How do you get rid of bad smells in a dishwasher? 

For a quick fix, clean any food particles from the drain at the bottom of your dishwasher. Then fill a bowl with 1-2 cups of white vinegar and place it upright on the top rack of your dishwasher. Run a full cycle on the hottest setting, and allow the machine to air dry. 

Is vinegar bad for a dishwasher? 

On the contrary! Vinegar is a fantastic way to both clean the inside of your dishwasher and eliminate any foul odors that linger after a cycle has finished. It’s safe to use, cheap, and easy to find — you’ve probably got some in your house right now. 

What can you run through a dishwasher to clean it? 

Running vinegar through your dishwasher can help clean it and eliminate odors. Place 1-2 cups of white vinegar in an upright bowl on your dishwasher’s top rack and run a full cycle. You can also pour a cup of baking soda on the dishwasher’s floor and run a full cycle. Both are great ways to clean and sanitize your dishwasher. 

Where is the filter in a dishwasher? 


In most dishwashers, the filter is located in the back corner or beneath the spray arm on the bottom of the dishwasher. Most filters have two parts, an upper filter that you can see after removing the bottom rack, and a lower filter that you can access by lifting the upper filter.


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