5 reasons your dishwasher smells and 5 ways to get rid of It

Why does my dishwasher stink? Bad smells in the dishwasher could be due to various things, from uncleaned filters, improper installation, leakages, and build-up of bacteria.

The smell could also come from packing your dishes and leaving them to sit before putting them on. Luckily, there are effective solutions to get rid of the bad smell in the dishwasher.

I decided to write this post because many of our readers have asked us this question. Over time, some common questions we receive regarding a smelly dishwasher include:

Why does my dishwasher stink?
Why does my dishwasher smell like rotten eggs?
Why does my dishwasher smell like sewage?
Why does my dishwasher smell like fish?
Why does my dishwasher smell like wet dog?
Why does my dishwasher smell like burning plastic?


Why Does My Dishwasher Stink?

Dishwashers can turn smelly if it’s not cleaned and maintained properly, however, they can also smell due to other reasons. You can follow these tips even if your new dishwasher smells bad.

Here’s why.

1. The Dishwasher’s Filter Is Dirty

what does my dishwasher stink clean filter

This is a very common reason why your dishwasher stinks. The dishwasher filter needs to be cleaned and drained at least once a month.

However, some people may not know that there is a removable filter in the dishwasher. Old dishwashers used to have food disposals in the bottom that catch bits of food, however, the newer machines commonly have filters. The food stuck in the filter is probably causing the smell.

The wet food creates the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive, which causes a yucky odor. If you’re not sure where and how to remove the filter or check it for stray bits of food, check out your dishwasher’s user manual.

When cleaning the filter, wear gloves!

2. The Dishwasher Was Not Installed Properly

If your new dishwasher smells bad and you’re wondering why then installation may be a problem.

Sometimes, your dishwasher may not be installed properly. This means that the drain hose is not connected correctly, where the dirty water will become stagnant on the bottom of the tub and start smelling. If the dishwasher is unlevel, this could also pose drainage problems, leading to standing water.

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The drain hoses are quite confusing to put, so it’s best to call a professional to get them fitted for you. Apart from the smelling, standing water, if the p-trap isn’t connected to the drain hose, the sewer gases may come up the tube and into the dishwasher.  

3. Your Dishwasher Is Not Being Used Enough

Even if you rinse your dishes before popping them in the dishwater, stray food bits can still remain. If you like to pack your dishwasher several days before actually running it, these food bits can cause odor-causing bacteria.

This bacterium can last for up to 4 days and can cause a very bad smell that’s hard to take care of. To avoid this, you should run your dishwasher as soon as it’s packed or try to use it more often. If you want to save energy, use the dishwasher on a ‘light cycle.’


4. The Dishwasher May Be Leaking

If nothing seems wrong with the dishwasher, or you just got it installed, and it still gives off a musty smell, then you may have a leak.

A leaking dishwasher may go unnoticed, however, you would see that the area at the bottom of the dishwasher is always damp. The reason why a dishwasher could leak is a partial clog. When the pipes are clogged, it can create a mold that can have a nasty odor.

If this is the issue, then a professional is needed.

5. The Water Filtration System is Faulty

If your dishwasher is maintained and cleaned regularly but still smells, then the internal water filter system may be damaged or not working as well as it used to.

Not all dishwashers have water filters, however, those that do pose a big problem if they are not clean. It may not filter out the minerals in hard water, which will form limescale and clog pipes and other parts of the dishwasher. This clogging can cause an odor.

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If the filter is faulty, it can be easily replaced.

How Do You Get Rid of Bad Smell in Dishwasher?

No matter how stinky your dishwasher is, there are simple steps you can follow to get rid of it. Following a weekly cleaning ritual will give you the best results and keep your dishwasher smelling fresh. These solutions will also help with a new dishwasher that smells bad.

1. Cleaning the Dishwasher Filters and Drain Hole

  1. Remove the dishwasher bottom tray or rack.
  2. Take out the removable food and water filters. These filters should be easy to unscrew. If you’re not sure how to remove them, ask someone for help or use your manual.
  3. Soak the filters in warm water for 10 minutes or more.
  4. While wearing gloves, scrub the filters with an old toothbrush, some dishwashing liquid, and water. Make sure to get into each crevice and get all food out of there.
  5. Rinse and leave to dry on a paper towel.
  6. Don’t forget the drain at the bottom of the dishwasher! If you haven’t cleaned this in a while, be prepared for some gunk. After removing the gunk, you can put some baking soda to freshen it up.
  7. After the filters are dry, put them back into the dishwasher.

2. Cleaning With Vinegar or Baking Soda

While you can use dishwasher cleaners such as Affresh Dishwasher Cleaner, common household items such as white vinegar and baking soda can also break down food build-up and deodorize your dishwasher. You can also pull the racks and give those a good scrub.

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Vinegar can also break down food clogs and any food deposits around the dishwasher.

  1. Remove the racks of the dishwasher.
  2. Pour about a mug of white vinegar into the drain of the dishwasher, where you usually put your detergent or tablets.
  3. Run a short hot or warm water cycle.
  4. Your dishwasher should be stink-free!
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You can also do a cycle of baking soda. Grab a cup of baking soda and sprinkle it at the bottom of the dishwasher. Run a warm or hot water cycle. This method is also good if your new dishwasher smells bad.

Note: You shouldn’t run a vinegar cycle often, as it can damage your dishwater parts. The same goes for bleach, as bleach can damage stainless steel parts.

3. Clean the Spray Arm

what does my dishwasher stink clean spray arms
cleaning dishwasher spray arm

If the holes in the bottom or top spray arm are filled with food deposits, this could cause the stink. Remove these arms and use the kitchen tap to remove all food that’s lodged in the holes. You can also use a toothpick for this.

Run water through them again to make sure all the food parts are out. This will also make your dishwasher run smoothly.

4. Clean the Inside and the Screen of the Dishwasher

If you keep putting off cleaning your dishwasher, soap scum and grime can build up on the door and walls of the dishwasher. This is a possible reason for odor.

Scrub them down with hot foamy water and a medium-bristle scrub brush. Wipe the racks (if you’re not washing them) and door gaskets. Make sure there’s no mold and mildew in these areas.

5. Clean the Lip Of the DIshwasher

This area is often ignored and can build up a lot of gunk, which leads to bad smells in the dishwasher. Put the door all the way down and spray the area with some dishwashing cleaner and warm water. Let it soak for a while and scrub it clean.

How to Prevent a Stinky Dishwasher

Once you finally get rid of the smell from your dishwasher, keep it that way using these tips:

  • Clean your filters at least once a week.
  • Rinse and scrape food off your dishes before putting them to wash.
  • Run occasional vinegar hot water cycles to keep your dishwasher clean.
  • Dedicate a time to remove racks, soak them, and wipe down the inside of the dishwasher.
Paul Goral

Paul Goral

I am the founder of Brooklyn Grill and I have a master’s degree in Engineering Acoustics. I love cooking, grilling, and trying new recipes. I also love camping and high-quality knives. I wanted to start this blog and share my passion with others.