How to Clean a Smelly Dishwasher: 6 Steps

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It’s important to make sure you regularly carry out maintenance on all of your home appliances, especially appliances, such as your dishwasher, that get plenty of use.

When it comes to your dishwasher, you might be thinking it cleans itself. For the most part, it does stay pretty clean inside, but it does still require regular cleaning. When you don’t regularly clean your dishwasher, foul odors can develop from trapped food particles, the drain blocking up, and mold buildup.

Here’s what to do if your dishwasher is smelly.

1. Check Underneath the Dishwasher

If you are not completely sure where the smell is coming from, check underneath the dishwasher to make sure there is no food debris underneath it or any dead insects or rodents.

2. Deep Clean the Dishwasher

If the smell is coming from inside the dishwasher, the first thing to do is to give it a thorough clean. When you run a wash cycle, loose food particles will get washed out through the filter and down the drain, but sometimes random particles can get stuck, and this can cause a bad smell over time.

Follow these simple steps to give your dishwasher a deep clean:

  1. Fill the dishwasher’s detergent dispenser with your normal dish powder or use a cleaning tablet. For a more natural cleaning option, you can place 2 cups of white vinegar into a bowl and then place it in the top rack of your dishwasher.
  2. Put another tablet or, alternatively, some dish powder in the bottom of the dishwasher.
  3. Turn your dishwasher on, and run a heavy-duty wash cycle, with the temperature on the hottest option.
  4. Once the cycle is complete, open up your dishwasher, give the seals around the door a good clean, and double-check that there aren’t any food particles still in your dishwasher.

3. Clean the Spray Arms

One of the places where food particles can get trapped and mold builds up is in the spray arms. A thorough cleaning should remove those things, but if you still have a bad smell coming from your dishwasher, you should pull out the spray arms and give them a separate clean.

To do that:

  1. Remove all of the spray arms from your dishwasher. Some dishwashers have one, and some have three separate spray arms on the top, middle, and bottom.
  2. Give them all a good rinse and clean, and make sure there are no food particles stuck in the holes. Avoid using toothpicks to clean inside the spray arms, as these can break and block the spray hole.
  3. Once cleaned, place them all back into your dishwasher.

4. Clean the Dishwasher Filter

Most dishwashers contain a filter that can be removed and cleaned. The filter is usually located at the bottom of the dishwasher tub. The filter will most likely catch all larger particles of food when your dishwasher empties the water at the end of a cleaning cycle. However, if it is not cleaned regularly, the dishwasher can become smelly.

Here’s the best way to clean your dishwasher filter:

  1. Remove the bottom rack from your dishwasher.
  2. To remove the upper filter, simply twist the filter counterclockwise while pulling it up gently.
  3. To remove the lower part of the filter, lift it up slightly, and gently pull it outward.
  4. Once both parts are removed, give them a good clean under warm, running water. If there is any debris not coming off, use a soft bristle brush to give them an extra clean.
  5. Place the filters back into the dishwasher. The lower filter needs to be aligned with the upper filter and then put back in the filter slot and locked back into place.

5. Clear the Dishwasher Drain

Most food particles will get picked up by the dishwasher filter, but sometimes they can get past it and then accumulate in the drain. Over time, if they don’t wash down the drain, they will cause a bad smell.

When cleaning your dishwasher drain, you should also clean your sink drain and garbage disposal, as they are also possible sources of bad smells, as they are often all interconnected.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Start by clearing out the garbage disposal if you have one. You should always run your disposal before putting in a load of dishes, as your dishwasher drain most likely uses the same drain as the disposal unit.
  2. The next thing to do is clean the air gap if you have one. Simply remove the cap, and clean away any debris you can see.
  3. Finally, mix up a solution of baking soda and vinegar (about ½ a cup of both) and pour it down the drain. After about 10-15 minutes, pour down hot water to flush the solution out and to clear away any leftover debris.

6. Keep Your Dishwasher Clean

In the long run, you should try to practice regular cleaning of your dishwasher. It doesn’t take long to give your dishwasher a little bit of care from time to time, and you’ll reduce the chances of any bad smells developing.

Here are some tips to keep it clean:

  • Give your dishwasher filters, spray arms, and the drain a regular clean like outlined above. This should stop any buildup of grease, grime, and food debris from occurring.
  • Run an occasional hot wash when your dishwasher is empty to clean it out and to keep any buildup of mold and grime from occurring.
  • Always make sure that you scrape off large particles of food from your dirty dishes before loading them into the dishwasher. This will ensure that you reduce the risk of any food particles causing a blockage, and your dishwasher will perform better too.
  • Make sure that you don’t overstock your dishwasher, so that the dish soap and water can properly wash each dish.
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