How to Clean a Smelly Dishwasher

Here are a few of our favorite tips.

One of my least favorite games to play is called "What's That Smell?" This game—you can play it alone or with others—usually takes place in the kitchen at our house. After getting a whiff of something especially rank, participants wander around, sniff audibly, and try to locate the source of the smell. Usually it leads to the trash can. Other times, it's the garbage disposal or something that's gone off in the fridge. Recently, the game took a surprising twist—it was the dishwasher.

Before then, I couldn't tell you the last time I cleaned the dishwasher. Unlike other appliances in the kitchen, the dishwasher doesn't seem like something you actually need to clean, since that is its primary function. But just one sniff of the musty machine was all it took to convince me otherwise.

Thankfully, it's easy to clean a dishwasher, and it doesn't require any special equipment or tools or scrubbing on your knees. There are three ways you can do it—choose the one that works for you, or try them all if things get really stinky.

Dishwasher with Clean Dishes
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How Often To Clean Your Dishwasher

Many experts recommend giving your dishwasher a deep clean once a month to keep it sanitary and running efficiently. That's because food can collect in the silverware basket and in the filter. And even though you're running it on a daily basis, your dishwasher can grow bacteria, mildew, and mold. All of this leads to an unpleasant odor and a clear signal that it's time to get cleaning. Here are some easy steps you can take to reduce the smell.

Empty Dishwasher
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What You Need To Clean Your Dishwasher

  • Baking soda
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Dishwasher-safe bowl

How To Deodorize Your Dishwasher With Baking Soda

This pantry staple will help deodorize the inside of the dishwasher and make it look shiny and new.

  1. Under the bottom dish rack (in most dishwasher models), you'll find a drain filter. This is often where bits of trapped food get stuck, causing unpleasant odors. Remove the filter and wash it with dish soap and hot water. If it requires a deeper clean, use a toothbrush.
  2. Sprinkle about 1 cup of baking soda over the bottom, then run a hot water cycle as usual, but with no detergent.
  3. After the cycle runs, leave the door open to air dry.

How To Clean Your Dishwasher With Vinegar

Still not smelling fresh? Another pantry staple, distilled white vinegar, can clean and deodorize a dishwasher.

  1. Pour a cup of vinegar into a small dishwasher-safe bowl and place the bowl on the top rack of the dishwasher.
  2. Run a hot water cycle without detergent.
  3. After the cycle runs, leave the door open to air dry.
Integrated elements: A cabinet-front dishwasher and waterfall-edged countertops give the kitchen a more modular, less built-in appearance. Photo: Laurey W. Glenn

Tips For Keeping Your Dishwasher Smell-Free For Longer

  • Check the bottom of the dishwasher, the filter, and the silverware baskets daily and clean out any trapped food.
  • Crack the door after each wash to allow moisture to evaporate more quickly.
  • Keep door gaskets from harboring mildew and mold. Use a toothbrush dipped in this homemade cleaning solution to wipe away the crud at least a couple of times a year.
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