How to Clean a Stinky Dishwasher

Have you ever opened your dishwasher only to be greeted by an unpleasant odor? A stinky dishwasher can be frustrating and can leave your dishes smelling less than fresh. However, with a few simple steps, you can tackle this problem and have your dishwasher smelling clean and fresh again. In this article, we will guide you through the process of cleaning a stinky dishwasher, addressing the common causes and providing effective solutions.

What causes a stinky dishwasher?

Before we dive into the cleaning process, it’s important to understand what causes a stinky dishwasher. The most common culprits include leftover food and debris, clogged spray arms, built-up residue, mildew in the door gasket, and a dirty dishwasher drain. Identifying these issues will help us target the problem areas and eliminate the odor effectively.

Step 1: Remove leftover food and debris

The first step in cleaning a stinky dishwasher is to remove any leftover food and debris. Start by scraping off food particles from the dishes before loading them into the dishwasher. This prevents clogs and ensures cleaner dishes. Additionally, check and clean the dishwasher filter, which can become clogged with food particles over time.

Step 2: Cleaning the spray arms

Clogged spray arms can lead to poor cleaning performance and unpleasant odors. To clean them, remove the spray arms and rinse them under running water to remove any debris. If there are stubborn clogs, use a toothpick or a small brush to dislodge them. For a deeper clean, soak the spray arms in a vinegar solution for an hour to dissolve any mineral deposits.

how to clean dishwasher racks

Step 3: Cleaning the interior

To clean the interior of the dishwasher, start by wiping down the surfaces with a damp cloth. Pay special attention to the walls, door, and the bottom of the dishwasher. For stubborn stains or residue, sprinkle baking soda on a damp cloth and scrub the affected areas. Baking soda is a natural deodorizer and helps eliminate unpleasant odors.

Step 4: Cleaning the door gasket and seals

The door gasket and seals can harbor mildew and contribute to the stinky dishwasher problem. Inspect the gasket and seals for any visible mildew or mold. If you spot any, create a solution of bleach and water, then use a cloth or sponge to clean the affected areas. Ensure you wear gloves and work in a well-ventilated area when using bleach.

Step 5: Cleaning the dishwasher drain

A clogged dishwasher drain can cause stagnant water to accumulate, leading to foul odors. To clear the drain, start by removing the bottom rack. Look for any visible debris or clogs and remove them using a wire hanger or a pipe cleaner. Once the drain is clear, run hot water through it to flush out any remaining residue.

Step 6: Running a cleaning cycle

After addressing the specific problem areas, it’s time to give your dishwasher a thorough cleaning cycle. You can use a dishwasher cleaner specifically designed for this purpose, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Alternatively, you can run a cycle with a cup of vinegar placed on the top rack or sprinkle baking soda on the bottom of the dishwasher and run a hot water cycle. Both vinegar and baking soda help neutralize odors and remove any remaining residue.

Maintenance tips to prevent a stinky dishwasher

To keep your dishwasher smelling fresh and clean, it’s essential to follow some maintenance tips. Firstly, clean your dishwasher regularly by performing the cleaning steps mentioned above at least once a month. Secondly, ensure you load the dishwasher correctly, allowing water and detergent to reach all the dishes effectively. Finally, use hot water when running your dishwasher as it helps dissolve grease and remove odors more effectively.

Why does my dishwasher has a bad smell?

A bad smell coming from your dishwasher could be due to a few different things. Firstly, it may be due to food particles that have become stuck in the filter or drain. Over time, these particles can start to rot and create an unpleasant smell in your kitchen. To help prevent this from happening, make sure to regularly clean out the filter and drain of your dishwasher.

Another potential cause of a bad smell is mold or mildew buildup. This is often caused by leaving wet dishes in the dishwasher for too long after a cycle has finished. To help prevent this, make sure to empty out your dishwasher as soon as possible after each cycle has completed. Additionally, you can also use a specialized cleaner designed specifically for cleaning out mold and mildew from dishwashers.

Can you use baking soda to deodorize dishwasher?

Yes, you can use baking soda to deodorize your dishwasher. Baking soda is a natural deodorizer and it works well to absorb odors in the dishwasher. To use baking soda, first sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda on the bottom of the dishwasher. Then run a hot water cycle with no detergent or dishes inside. This will help to spread the baking soda throughout the interior of the dishwasher and allow it to absorb any odors. After running the cycle, remove any excess baking soda from the bottom of the dishwasher before adding dishes for washing. You may need to repeat this process several times if there are strong odors that remain in the dishwasher.

How do I deodorize my dishwasher without vinegar?

There are several ways to deodorize your dishwasher without using vinegar. First, you can use baking soda. Sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda in the bottom of the empty dishwasher and let it sit for 15 minutes before running a full cycle. This will help absorb any odors and leave your dishwasher smelling fresh.

Second, you can use lemon juice or lemon slices. Place a cup of lemon juice or a few lemon slices in the dishwasher and run a full cycle on the hottest setting available. The citrus smell will help neutralize any odors in the dishwasher.

Finally, you can use essential oils. Add 10-15 drops of an essential oil such as lavender or tea tree oil to a cup of water and pour it into the bottom of the dishwasher before running a full cycle on the hottest setting available. This will help freshen up your dishwasher with natural aromas.

How often should I clean my dishwasher?

It is recommended to clean your dishwasher at least once a month to prevent odors and maintain optimal performance.

Can I use lemon juice as a natural deodorizer for my dishwasher?

Lemon juice can be used as an alternative to vinegar in the cleaning process. Its citric acid helps remove odors and leaves a refreshing scent.


A stinky dishwasher can be a nuisance, but with proper cleaning and maintenance, you can eliminate the odor and keep your dishwasher smelling fresh. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can address the common causes of a stinky dishwasher and ensure that your dishes come out clean and odor-free every time.

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