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Bad Dishwasher Smell? Here Are Some Quick, Easy Fixes

Posted on 22/10/2020 by Gabriel Halimi

Automatic dishwashers are a great tool of modern convenience. They do all the heavy lifting so we don’t have to spend hours upon hours a year scrubbing plates by hand over a sink. Over time, however, all that work the dishwasher’s doing can lead to some pretty funky smells in the kitchen. 

If you’ve ever caught a whiff of sewage, rotten egg, or a sulfur-like smell coming from the dishwasher, you’ve got some cleaning to do. Usually, bad smells mean you have some food residue hanging around in your machine. Or, there could some dirty leftover water after each cycle that can’t flush properly. In this article, we’ll give you some pointers to help you clean your dishwasher, get rid of those horrible smells, and keep it clean in the future. 

Clean The Dishwasher Filter

The dishwasher filter, or trap, is where all the food particles that get sprayed off during the machine’s various cycles end up. The filter’s there to protect your drain pipes. Over time, the filter can get pretty nasty. 

The filter is typically located on the floor of the dishwasher, but it’s exact location will vary depending on the model of your machine. If you have your manual handy, look up the proper way to remove the filter. If you can’t find the manual, it should be available online. Simply look up the your exact exact model.

Remove the filter and clean it by hand with hot water and dish soap. Carefully inspect the filter to make sure there are no food particles left on it. Put the filter back in the machine and move on to the next step.  

Clean The Spray Arm

The spray arms rotate around inside your dishwasher and shoot water into the racks through tiny jets. The jets can get clogged with food particles and other debris. They can also get blocked if you have any hard water issues in your home.  

Once again, consult your manual to determine how to remove the spray arms from the machine. Remove the spray arms and scrub the holes on the arms. You may have to poke at them with a toothpick. If the jets are still clogged up, consider soaking them in vinegar for up to 30 minutes. Completely wash both spray arms with soap and hot water.  

Give The Interior A Surface a Clean 

dishwasher smells bad when running 

Once you’ve cleaned the filter and spray arms, it’s time to give the actual surfaces a deep clean.

First, remove the dish racks from the dishwasher and clean them by hand with soap and warm water. Then, grab a sponge and start cleaning the interior walls of the dishwasher. 

The rubber door gasket is designed to keep water inside the machine while it’s running. It can be easy for debris to get trapped in the gasket. Clean along the entire length of the door gasket.  

Reposition The Drain Hose

The drain hose expels the water from your machine after every cycle. If the drain hose can’t do its job properly, some dirty water from each cycle can remain in your dishwasher. Usually, you’ll notice some water pooling at the bottom of the machine when the cycle ends. To access the drain hose, you’ll have to pull the dishwasher out from the counter. Consult the manual before doing this.  

First, check to see that there aren’t any bends or kinks in the drain hose. If there are, straighten them out. The hose should be positioned like an arch. The bend in the hose is there to keep water from backing up into your dishwasher from the garbage disposal. You may need to raise the hose position to ensure that water doesn’t go back into your dishwasher when it drains. 

If the hose has a pronounced kink in it, or otherwise looks worn out, look into getting a replacement hose for your machine. Plenty are available online. 

Use A Dishwasher Cleaner

running vinegar and bleach through dishwasher 

Cleaning With Vinegar

You can use vinegar to clean and deodorize your dishwasher. Vinegar is great because it helps neutralize odors and can remove buildup and hard water scale. First, make sure the dishwasher is completely empty. Use a bowl with a cup of vinegar and place it on the top rack. Run the dishwasher on the hot cycle. 

If you don’t like the smell of vinegar, you can add a few drops of peppermint oil to the bowl. Alternatively, sprinkle a cup of baking soda on the floor of the dishwasher (after you’ve finished the vinegar cycle) and run the dishwasher again.  

Cleaning With Bleach 

Bleach is totally fine to use in a dishwasher, but it should never be used along with vinegar. Vinegar and chlorine (the main ingredient in bleach) combine to create a toxic gas. Some dish detergents have chlorine in them. Check the label on your detergent to determine if it has chlorine. If it does, make sure there is no trace of it in your machine before you put vinegar in it.  

You can also look into dishwasher cleaning products that will essentially do the same job as vinegar. 

Check Underneath The Dishwasher 

Sometimes you might think it’s the dishwasher that’s causing the odor. It could actually be coming from underneath the dishwasher. Disconnect the dishwasher from under the cabinet and pull it out. There could be food underneath it, or even worse, a small animal like a mouse could have gotten trapped there. 

How To Keep Your Dishwasher Clean

Now that you’ve gotten your dishwasher clean and odor-free, you’re probably wondering what you can do to avoid having to go through all that work again in the future.  

You can help prevent food particle buildup by pre-rinsing your dishes before loading the dishwasher. The more food you scrape and rinse from your dishes before you load them up, the less you’ll have to clean the filter down the road. 

Remember the vinegar and baking soda technique we went over earlier? It’s a great preventative tool as well. Run vinegar and baking soda through an empty dishwasher every three months. This will keep the inside of your dishwasher fresh and clean. 

If your home has hard water, you can run a cycle with a descaler a few times each year. Hard water causes buildup in pipes and appliances, which can clog up the holes on your spray arms and leave a residue on your glassware. Descalers can cut through this hard water buildup.  

Water vapor and condensation can lead to mold and mildew. After you finish running a cycle, keep the door to your dishwasher open. This will let it air out when you’re not using it and help keep it smelling clean. 

Conclusion

A foul smell coming from your dishwasher doesn’t mean you need to replace it. An hour or two of deep cleaning can knock out most odors. But cleaning your dishwasher one time isn’t enough. While automatic dishwashers are hallmarks of modern convenience, they still need a little upkeep to keep them running smoothly and smelling clean.

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