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Smelly dishwasher? How to clean it

Man with young daughter opening smelly dishwasher

You’ve run the dishwasher. The cycle is complete and you’re about to unload the dishes when—whoa, what’s that smell? As surprising and unpleasant as it might be, dishwasher odor is normal and usually easy to fix. We’ll show you what to do. Asurion Experts can help with all your appliance issues, whether your dishwasher won’t start or your dishwasher isn’t draining. Here’s our guide on how to get the smell out of your dishwasher.

Why does my dishwasher smell?

There are several reasons you might have a smelly dishwasher. Here are some of the most common:

  • There’s standing water in the machine.
  • You haven’t used your dishwasher for a while.
  • Food particles or debris from spills are stuck in the dishwasher filter, drain hose, spray arm, or other parts of your machine.

How to clean a dishwasher

It’s easy to get rid of bad smells by cleaning your machine and its parts. Here’s what to do:

Clean the inside of your dishwasher

Soap scum, mold, mildew, grease, and other debris can build up in your dishwasher with every cycle. Use a scrub brush or soft cloth to clean the inside of your machine with hot soapy water. Make sure to wipe the racks and door gaskets.

Clean the dishwasher filter

If your machine has a dishwasher filter—and most models do—you’ll need to remove it for cleaning. First, you’ll need to find it. It’s likely located on the bottom rear of the tub, but if you need help finding your filter, check your owner’s manual. Then, follow the steps in our guide to remove and clean your dishwasher filter.

Clean the spray arms

Remove your dishwasher’s spray arm (or arms) and use a toothpick or a clean toothbrush to dislodge any food debris stuck in the holes. Rinse the spray arms with warm water then put them back in the dishwasher.

Run empty dishwasher cycles

After you deep-clean your dishwasher, finish the job by running two separate hot wash cycles.

  1. Cycle one: fill a bowl with distilled white vinegar on the top rack of the dishwasher and run a regular cycle.
  2. Cycle two: pour a cup of baking soda into the bottom of the dishwasher and run another regular cycle.

How often should I clean my dishwasher?

You can wipe down the inside of your dishwasher whenever you see soap scum or food particles. For bigger jobs like cleaning the filter? Depending on how often you run your machine, fully clean your dishwasher every three to six months.

How to prevent a smelly dishwasher

Now that your dishwasher is fresh and clean, here’s how to keep it that way:

  • Scrape and rinse your dishes before loading them.
  • Don’t use other hot water appliances—like your washing machine—while you run your dishwasher.
  • Run your dishwasher regularly. Keeping your machine idle with the door shut can trap unpleasant odors.
  • Open the dishwasher door slightly when it finishes a load to air dry the dishes and machine parts.

Do forks go down or up? Check out our guide on how to load your dishwasher.

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