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Why Does My Dishwasher Smell—How to Lose the Odor

Does your dishwasher have a foul smell? Do the dishes come out smelling “fishy?” Welcome to the club! Although it’s not very pleasant to have a foul-smelling dishwasher, it’s not that uncommon.

Before you start blaming your machine (and the manufacturer), you should know that the question, “why does my dishwasher smell?” is a fairly common one among many owners.

This article will explain why this happens and how to get rid of the unpleasant smell from your dishwasher.

Possible Causes of Bad Smells in Dishwashers

First things first, let’s be clear on the likely causes of bad smell in dishwashers. When you figure out the reasons for foul smells, it’ll be a lot easier to prevent reoccurrences.

Clogged Filters

Once the filters that are meant to keep the drain free of food particles become clogged, it can cause the machine to exude odors. This is the most common cause of bad smells in dishwashing machines.

Cleaning a clogged filter is quite easy. We’ll get to that in the next section on how to clean dishwashers.

Low Drain Hose Position

If the position of the drain hose is too low, used water will flow back into the bottom of the machine. It won’t take too long before the smell of trapped dirty water starts to find its way through the appliance.

If this is the case with your dishwasher, you can simply raise and lop the drain hose to prevent water from flowing back into the bottom of the appliance.

Buildup of Water Softening Products

Hard water needs to be softened before use to remove heavy minerals from the water flowing into your home. Water softening products can also prevent chalky films that appear on dishes after washing.

Regardless of these benefits, a buildup of water softeners can occur with time. When this happens, it reduces the dishwasher’s ability to effectively clean dishes. Eventually, your machine will start to give off a bad smell.

Burnt Plastic

In some cases, burned rubber or plastic can cause an unpleasant smell. This happens when a plastic lid or small container falls to the floor of the appliance and melts from the heating coils or elements.

If this is the cause of the odd smell in your dishwasher, the smell can linger for a while, even after the burnt plastic has been removed. The best way to quickly eliminate this type of odor is by using natural odor-fighting agents (more on that in a bit).

Keeping the Door Closed for Extended Periods

One other likely reason for a smelly dishwasher is keeping it locked for a long period when not in use. This can trap moisture inside and cause mold and bacteria growth.

Sewage Gas

A less common cause of bad smell in dishwashers is due to sewage gas. This is usually due to a fault in the dishwasher connection.

If your dishwasher performs well but yet you’ve always asked, “Why does my dishwasher smell like rotten egg or fish?” now you know.

How to Clean a Smelly Dishwasher


dishes inside dishwasher being cleaned

Figuring out why your dishwasher smells is an important first step to ridding it of the unpleasant odor. The next practical step is to actually lose the odor, and here’s how to do that.

Remove Food and Blockages

No matter how thoroughly clean your dishwasher is, it can still give off a foul smell if there are food particles lodged near the drain.

Before you start cleaning your dishwasher, first check around the bottom of the machine and remove any food or odor-causing substance that might cause blockages near the drain.

Clean the Drain Filter

A drain filter is an essential feature in some of the best dishwasher models. It prevents food particles from clogging the drain.

Unfortunately, the likely culprit of odors is the highly functional (but often guilty) drain filter. The good thing is that you can easily wash it.

Here’s how:

    1. Locate the drain filter and remove it (in most cases, it’s on the floor of the dishwasher).
    2. Add a good-quality dishwasher detergent to hot water in your kitchen sink, and give the drain filter a good wash. For more thorough cleaning, use a bottle brush to reach all the surfaces.
    3. Rinse and reinsert the drain filter once it’s completely free of gunk and food particles.

Clean the Spray Arms

The spray arms in dishwashers can clean all types of silverware, cups, and plates as long as they are not clogged. Once food particles accumulate and clog the spray arms, their cleaning ability doesn’t only diminish, but the food debris can also cause foul smells.

To clean the spray arms:

  1. Remove any racks to access the spray arms.
  2. Gently remove the lower and upper spray arms, making sure nothing is damaged in the process. In some models, you will need to rotate each spray arm counter-clockwise to “unscrew” the arm assembly and remove it.
  3. Place the arms in a kitchen sink and remove any food debris using a cotton swab.
  4. Once all visible food particles are removed, run water through each arm to ensure the holes are clog free.
  5. Replace the spray arms.

Clean the Interior

While dishwasher machines can do an excellent job of cleaning your dishes, these don’t clean themselves—not their interiors, at least. Over time, it’s common to have accumulated grime on the interior walls.

By simply cleaning the interior of the appliance, you can tackle foul dishwasher smells. Thankfully, there’s no need to cringe about cleaning the inside of your appliance since it’s not a difficult chore. Plus, you don’t have to do it daily.

  1. Remove all the racks and clean them in hot water inside your kitchen sink.
  2. Dampen a sponge or clean kitchen towel in hot water and use it to give the insides of the machine a nice rubdown.
  3. Don’t forget to give the door gasket a quick wipe down, too. This part of the appliance can also collect mildew and mold.

Safe and Natural Odor-Fighting Agents

Sometimes, you might need to go a little extra mile to remove odor from your dishwasher, especially if cleaning the drain filter and the interior doesn’t seem to solve the problem.

Here are two simple cleaning solutions you can try.

White Vinegar

A white vinegar solution is an excellent odor-fighting agent that can rid your appliance of bad smell and bacteria. Vinegar is natural and completely safe to use.

Follow this simple procedure to get a fresh-smelling dishwasher using white vinegar:

  1. Empty the dishwasher of all dishes, leaving the racks and other fittings in place.
  2. Pour one or two cups of white vinegar (depending on the size of your machine) into a dishwasher-safe bowl.
  3. Place the bowl on the top rack of the dishwasher.
  4. Run the machine through one cycle, making sure it’s set to the hottest water setting available.

The water will mix with the vinegar, and the acids in the solution will break down grime, gunk, and deposits on machine’s interior. The result is a fresh-smelling dishwasher.

White vinegar is highly effective because of its roughly 2.5 pH level, which is highly acidic. Most standard cleaning agents can’t clean as much as white vinegar.

However, the pungent smell of vinegar can be too much for some people – if not for everyone! But, not to worry, there is a simple way around this. Add a few drops of peppermint, orange, lemon, lemongrass, or any essential oil with a fresh, pleasant smell to the bowl of white vinegar.

Baking Soda

Another natural option is baking soda. This is a chemical-free way of neutralizing smells in your dishwashing machine.

To clean your appliance with baking soda:

  1. Lightly sprinkle a handful of baking soda over the interior of your machine, but don’t run it just yet.
  2. Allow the baking soda to sit overnight. It’s best to add the cleaning agent toward late evening when you’ll likely not need to use it until the next day.
  3. Run the dishwasher through a cycle the next morning. Make sure it’s empty and on its hottest water setting.

Tips for Keeping Your Dishwasher Odor Free


Woman removing clean dishes from dishwasher

The best defense, they say, is a good offense. This applies to keeping your dishwasher in tiptop shape, too.

To bring this article to a close, let’s take a quick look at four useful tips that will help you stop asking why your dishwasher has odors:

  1. Establish and follow a weekly cleaning schedule. Even if you don’t clean the entire machine, ensure that you clean the screens and filters at least once every week.
  2. Make sure that your kitchen faucets are turned off while the machine is working. This will allow the dishwasher to have enough water to flush out all food particles. Diverting water resources might result in too little water in the dishwasher and the possibility of food residue getting trapped in the machine.
  3. Always remember to leave the machine’s door open when the washing cycle is complete to allow for proper drying. Damp inner walls can result in mildew growth and bad smell.
  4. Don’t leave dirty dishes in the dishwasher because they are “still too few.” Instead of keeping dirty dishes in the dishwasher until they are numerous enough to run a full load, a better practice would be to first run the few dishes through a rinse-and-hold cycle.

You can also rinse your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. However, keep in mind that some dishwasher models may not thoroughly wash the dishes if you pre-rinse them before adding them to the machine.

If your dishes have large pieces of food on them, scrape them off before loading them into the machine. This can prevent possible clogging of the machine’s drainage system.

  1. If you use well water, make sure your water softener has the correct level of salt. If it doesn’t, consider using a water softener with iron removing salt to prevent odors.

If the smell persists even after applying all these tips, there’s probably a kink in the machine’s drain hose. A blocked drain hose often leads to backed-up water, and of course, trapped odor.

The solution?

  • Inspect underneath the sink where the drain hose passes through the cabinet to connect the machine to the drain.
  • Check to see if the weight of the drain hose is properly supported at the point where it connects to the drain under the sink.
  • Ensure there are no sharp bends in any excess coil in the drain hose underneath or behind the machine.

By simply removing any kink, your drain hose will function normally, and there’ll be no reason to ask why the dishwasher smells.

If checking the drain hose is not up your alley, or if your dishwasher still smells after fixing the kink, you might be dealing with sewage smell. In that case, you might need to call in the pros and have it checked professionally.

Final Thoughts

Barring any manufacturing defects, your dishwasher is usually not faulty (and you don’t need to shop for a replacement) if it smells fishy. It probably needs a good wipe down.

Consider keeping the doors open just a crack when you don’t need the machine for a long time. Also, avoid storing your dishes in the dishwasher, whether they’re dirty or not. The best place to keep your dishes is on a dish rack.