We’ve all been there: you open the dishwasher and are greeted with the musty odor of mildew. Or worse: moldy food. While your dishes may be sparkling, the smell means your dishwasher is far from clean. Luckily, there are some quick remedies for when your dishwasher smells bad.

Dishwasher Smells Bad

A smelly dishwasher can have multiple causes. Below are some ways to pinpoint the problem and some fast fixes for how to clean a dishwasher.

What Causes Dishwasher Odors?

When your dishwasher smells bad it’s often due to mildew. Trapped food particles in the dishwasher’s filter or drain or even your garbage disposal can also be the causes of an unpleasant smell. We’ll go through the specific cleaning steps for each source of the odor so you’ll know how to fix a smelly dishwasher.

How to Clean Inside a Dishwasher

When you wonder to yourself, “What is the best way to clean the inside of a dishwasher?” you can begin by simply wiping down the inside with a cloth and warm water and rinsing the racks with hot water. Include the gaskets in your wipe down (the black rubber seal around the dishwasher’s door), as it can trap food. For a deeper clean, look no further than some pantry staples to disinfect and eliminate odor:

  • White Vinegar: Place a bowl with one cup of white vinegar in the top rack of your dishwasher and run your hottest cycle to break down debris and leave a fresh scent
  • Baking soda: Sprinkle one cup directly on the floor of the dishwasher and run a short cycle with hot water
  • Bleach: if mildew persists, bleach may be the only option. Pour ½-1 cup of bleach on the bottom of the dishwasher and run a complete cycle. This method is NOT recommended if your dishwasher has a stainless steel interior.
dishwasher smells bad

Image from TipHero

How to Clean a Dishwasher Filter

The filter is the source of your odor when it becomes clogged with food. For how to clean a dishwasher filter, follow these 5 quick steps:

  1. Remove the dishwasher’s lower rack and spray arm
  2. Twist the filter cap to remove it with the mesh screen
  3. Rinse the filter cap and mesh screen in warm, soapy water, using a toothbrush to gently scrub away stubborn debris
  4. Inspect the area where the filter is located and wipe away any debris with a damp towel
  5. Replace the filter and twist the cap to make sure it’s secure
how to clean a dishwasher filter

Image from BlueIStyle

How to Clean a Clogged Dishwasher

If your dishwasher smells bad a final cause could be a clog in your garbage disposal, dishwasher drain, or drain hose. Here’s how to fix the clogs and the smell:

  • Clogged garbage disposal: disconnect the central hose and clean it out with a straightened wire hanger and some thin, damp cloths. Flush the hose with a little white vinegar and cold running water before reconnecting
  • Clogged drain: disconnect the power and remove the dishwasher’s lower rack and filter. You should be able to see directly down into the drain. Remove any visible clogs with a straightened wire hanger. Flush the drain with 1 Tbsp. of baking soda and 2 Tbsp. of white vinegar, allowing the mixture to sit for 10-15 minutes. Reconnect the dishwasher’s power and run a normal cycle with no dishes.
  • Drain Hose: disconnect the power and use your owner’s manual to locate and remove the hose. Use a straightened wire hanger to remove the clog over a basin to catch any spills. Reattach the hose, reconnect the power and run the empty dishwasher on a normal cycle.

While these easy remedies should do the trick when your dishwasher smells bad, Callahan’s Appliance, Inc. is here to help if you run into trouble. With almost 50 years of experience, we’re more than qualified to be your only dishwasher repair service!