Here’s Why Your Dishwasher Smells Bad

A dishwasher is a common household equipment that helps you save time and energy, a truly staple equipment to millions of households across the globe. However, like every working appliance out there, your dishwasher is prone to wear and tear without proper maintenance.

One of the very popular signs your machine has broken down is that pungent odor that comes out of it, but why?

When you put your dishes into the dishwasher, some food particles find their way into the nooks and crannies of the machine. Areas like drains, spray arms and filters receive some of the particles, and with time, there’s a slow build up. The particles eventually start decomposing and begin to emit a really foul odor.

Apart from it being totally disgusting, there are also some dangers associated with it, both to the machine itself, and to you, let me explain further.

Like I said earlier, a build-up of food particles would eventually decompose, and here’s the thing, when there’s decomposition, there has to be bacteria involved because they’re actually the causer agents.

The accumulation can get to a stage where the insides of your dishwasher would turn into a small ecosystem of bacteria. You do not want your plates in there.

I also said it’s not too safe for your dishwasher, and the reason is pretty self explanatory; tiny food particles end up clogging some vital parts of the system, there isn’t a free flow and the whole thing eventually collapses.

How do I get rid of the smell?

For you to get rid of the smell, you’re going to have to attack it from the root. In theory, dishwashers are meant to be self cleaning but unfortunately, it’s usually not the case as food particles often get stuck in the process of the washing.

As a result, you’re going to have to handle the food particles stuck in different parts of the machine yourself, and I’m going to show you how.

I’m going to divide the techniques into two; the surface technique, and then the deep technique used in cases where the smell still persists, even after cleaning.

For the first technique, you’re going to start with cleaning the filters.

You should really pay good attention to the filter because if the filter isn’t properly cleaned, nothing else in the machine would be clean.

To do that, remove the bottom tray, unscrew the filter, and then soak in warm water for 15 minutes. The filter is typically found just under the spray arm, however, if you’re having trouble finding it, check the instruction manual.

Take it out and clean it thoroughly with an old toothbrush, soap, and warm water.

Rinse it thoroughly, and probably repeat the washing process just to be sure, and then put it back into the machine.

While you’re cleaning the filter, there’s also a chance you’re looking at the drain too. To clean the drain, first of all, turn the system off, and if there’s any standing water, remove it with a small cup or an absorbent cloth.

After that, remove any food particles trapped in it, rinse it properly and you’re pretty much good to go. You could even pour in some baking soda to make it smell nice for good measure, but it’s not a must though.

The next place you’d want to clean is the dishwasher seal:

This one’s very easy, all you need is a piece of cloth, soak it in water, and then rub the seal continuously till all the particles are removed.

You also have to clean up the spray arm:

First of all remove the spray by gently unscrewing it off its mount, use a piece of wire to clean the tiny holes in a floss-like manner, and then gently screw it back in.

I’ve tried all of these and my machine still stinks, what do I do?

Remember when I said something about a “second technique?”, Well that’s where it’ll come in.

Luckily, the second technique is much easier than the first. All you have to do is remove everything inside the dishwasher, pour some vinegar (preferably white vinegar) inside a dishwasher friendly plate, pour some inside the drainage, and run a wash cycle with hot water.

The acidic property of vinegar, alongside the hot water would help break down stubborn food particles and residues. I wouldn’t, however, advice you to use vinegar too often so as to not slowly erode the insides of your machine.

What are the best and safest chemicals to clean my dishwasher with?

Any good dishwasher detergent or rinsing aid would do just fine. If you can’t lay your hands on them, you could use vinegar.

Can I use bleach on my dishwasher?

If the insides are made of stainless steel like most typically are, do not use bleach, at all. This is because the bleach would end up attacking and corroding the insides. Also, it’s very dangerous to mix bleach with vinegar, it would react to form a very toxic gas.

Prevention is better than cure, instead of having to do all I mentioned earlier when your machine starts to stink, it’s best to clean it up regularly to prevent it from getting to that stage in the first place. So how do I do it? 

The first thing you should do is to remove leftover food after every washing cycle, don’t let them accumulate, make it a habit to do this.

Also, if you don’t want to constantly scrape off gunk from the system, try to scrape them off your plates before you put them in the machine.

The next step is to wipe the insides of the door. This is because during the washing process, some dirt may splash on the door and get stuck to it, use a damp sponge to do this.

You should also open the door so you can reach the top and sides. Get into the crevices, grooves, and hinges to dislodge any dirt trapped in there.

The outer part also matters too. Fingerprints, alongside other greasy stains do not look good on stainless steel. A good stainless steel cleaner should do the trick, but try not to use hard and abrasive materials to avoid scratching the surface.

Cleaning the outer part frequently prevents the build-up of mold as a result of food particles and grease stains on the body.

Some machines have touch screens and special finishes on their bodies. In order to clean them, use a slightly damp soft cloth and ensure there are no cleaning products involved.

To clean the gasket, use a soft toothbrush to clean off any icky residue, and then wipe them clean with a soft damp cloth or paper towels.

Take out utensil holders and wipe off food residues from them.

Follow these steps regularly and you won’t need to go through the rigors of everything I explained at the beginning of this article.

What precautions should I take while cleaning and using my dishwasher?

Do not use vinegar too frequently because it would damage the interior

When you take out different parts to clean them, please ensure you put them back very firmly. Running a wash cycle with lose parts could damage the system.

Ensure you remove any label from the dishes before you start washing. This is because the hot water and soap could dissolve the glue from the labels, dislodge them, and get them stuck to vital parts.

Place sharp items like knives, and forks facing down in the utensil holder.

Place glassware carefully to avoid them shaking and hitting each other

If you have kids, install a child safety lock to prevent them from tampering with the system.

Do not overload the system. This could cause them hit each other and get broken, worst of all, they won’t even get clean eventually.

The insides of the system are usually hot after each wash cycle, ensure everything cools down before you even open the door.

When you’ve emptied and cleaned the system, leave the doors open to speed up drying as a warm damp environment is very comfortable for molds.

Check with your instruction manual before using hydrogen peroxide to remove mildew

Frequently asked questions

How often do you have to clean the dishwasher?

Food particles and gunk should be removed everyday. The dishwasher and the filter should be cleaned weekly. The interior should be deep cleaned monthly or in cases where the surface cleaning technique didn’t work.


Your dishwasher is typically meant to last for about 10 years. However, if you fail to take good care of it, not only would you find yourself spending good money on technicians, your health could also be at risk.

Follow all the procedures in this article, adhere to the instruction manual, and you’ll get the best out of your dishwasher.