Skip to Content

Why Do Dishwashers Smell? How to Prevent them from Stinking?

A collage of stinky dishwashers.

Dishwashers are awesome—thanks to these appliances, we don’t have to do dishes the old-fashioned and boring way. Simply load up your dishwasher and forget about touching gross food particles.

However, even the best dishwashers sometimes have problems that pop up, such as unexpected smells that can ruin even the greatest mood.

But why do dishwashers smell? How can you prevent stinkiness from being something to worry about with your dishwasher?

Those are questions this article will answer, so you can enjoy your dishwasher the way you’re meant to, without nasty smells.

Possible Reasons For Smelly Dishwasher

If you pick up a funky smell that comes from your dishwasher, one of the following problems could be the cause:

  • Clogged drain
  • Food trapped in soap scum buildup
  • Dirty drain filter
  • Mildew and mold growth

To determine which of these possibilities is the reason for your dishwasher’s unpleasant smell, you’ll have to pay close attention.

If the dishwasher smells like rotten food or fish, it most likely has a dirty filter or clogged drain. If you detect a wet dog or sewage smell, it’s highly likely that you have a drainage problem. If that’s the case, you may have to call a professional for a proper inspection.

Here are ways to deal with the four above-mentioned issues that can lead to bad smells in a dishwasher:

Dirty Drain Filter

Close up photo of a dirty dishwasher filter.

A dirty drain filter is the most common reason for bad odors. This happens when food particles have gotten trapped in the dishwasher’s filter. If you don’t regularly clean the filter, things can start to smell incredibly bad.

If that’s the reason for your kitchen stinking, here’s what you do:

First, check out what your dishwasher’s manual says about filter removal. Not every model will have the same removal process, and it’s best to follow the product manual to prevent damaging the appliance.

You’ll likely have to remove the bottom rack to access the filter and then unscrew the filter. Remove it and then thoroughly rinse out all the food and particles that have collected. Use hot water and reliable soap or cleanser for this cleaning.

Once you’re satisfied that the filter is clean, put it back in the dishwasher and replace the bottom rack. From now on, clean the filter as often as possible. 

Clogged Drain

Close up photo of a clogged drain pipe.

The smell that comes from a clogged drain in a dishwasher can be quite bad and can even lead to damage. You should handle a clogged drain quickly, though, to prevent potential leaks.

Fortunately, new models have alarms that go off if the dishwasher’s drain line becomes clogged.

However, this is no way to deal with this problem on your own. You need to call in professional help to solve the situation for you.

Food Trapped in Soap Scum Buildup

Your dishwasher builds up a layer of soap scum over time, which can act like a disgusting glue that traps food particles. If you don’t regularly clean your dishwasher, this buildup of soap scum and food can cause quite a stink.

Before you clean out the soap scum, pour about two cups of white vinegar into a bowl (it has to be dishwasher-safe, obviously) and put it on the bottom of the rack. Make sure the dishwasher is empty before doing this.

Don’t add any detergent but run your dishwasher on a normal cycle. Let the appliance air dry and you should find that the problem is solved.

Mildew and Mold Growth

Close up photo of a dirty pot with mold and mildew growing on it.

Another reason for bad smells coming from the dishwasher could be the growth of mold and mildew. It’s no wonder that mold and mildew grow in dishwashers that aren’t cleaned as often as they should be—there is a lot of heat and moisture produced. 

The most common area where mold grows is on the inside of the gasket seal, so that’s the first place to check if you suspect mold to be the reason for the smells.

If you find any signs of mold or mildew, empty the dishwasher and give it a thorough cleaning with a damp cloth and soap.

Preventing Bad Smells in Your Dishwasher

As you may have gathered by now, the best way to deal with smells is by cleaning your dishwasher. The only real way to prevent these smells from becoming a problem in the first place is by regularly cleaning your appliance.

How to Clean Your Dishwasher

A photo of a woman with cleaning gloves and apron cleaning her dirty dishwasher.

You need to get into all the crevices and nooks of your dishwasher. If you don’t, you give bacteria and other nasties the chance to thrive in your appliance.

This may depend on your dishwasher model, but you may have to remove any filters it has before cleaning. Check the product manual before you start cleaning.

Once the filters are removed, put on a pair of good rubber gloves and get ready to clean your dishwasher.

The filters should be soaked in warm water for at least ten minutes and scrub them with a firm toothbrush. Use soap with your water to get the filters nice and clean. You can also use baking soda or cleaning vinegar by adding it to the cleaning water. Baking soda can be great for removing any lingering smells.

You can replace the filters once they are clean and then proceed to clean the spray arm. Unscrew it from the mounting mechanisms and use a toothbrush and soapy water for this purpose as well.

Replace the spray arm and make sure all seals on the outside of the appliance are clean as well. A damp cloth will be good enough, but you can use a rag dipped in cleaning vinegar if you want to.

Leave the dishwasher to air-dry and you should have a nice and clean, fresh-smelling appliance.

Related: How to clean a dishwasher properly

How to Deep Clean Your Dishwasher

Close up photo of a Deepcleaning product for a dishwasher.

If you find that the bad smells are still lingering after you’ve cleaned your dishwasher, you may have to opt for a deep clean.

For this, you can follow the same idea as recommended for getting rid of food trapped in soap scum. Place a bowl or cup of white vinegar on the top rack of your dishwasher.

Next, run your empty dishwasher on a single cycle and use the hottest possible option to ensure that the vinegar does its job. Also, before starting, ensure the bowl is in a sturdy position so the vinegar doesn’t spill during the cycle.

If you want a really nice smell, add a few drops of peppermint essential oil (or orange or lemon essential oil) to the vinegar before running the cycle.

This should help get rid of any smells that stay behind.

Final Thoughts

There you have it—the reasons why dishwashers can start to smell bad and what to do about them. If you follow these guidelines, you won’t have any trouble with funky or nasty smells and can just enjoy the perks that come with a good dishwasher!