Why Does My Dishwasher Smell? Causes, Ideas & Quick Fix Solutions

Dishwasher Smell

It is not unusual at all and pretty much everyone gets there at some point or another – you grab all the empty dishes from your dishwasher and they smell. Most commonly, this smell is disgusting and can be described as a bit fishy. The odor is not uncommon at all and most people experience it at least once after doing dishes.

If you have never experienced it before, you probably blame it on the cleaning product you use, especially if you have just bought it. So, why does my dishwasher smell? The truth is cleaning products are less likely to give you that foul odor. Instead, chances are your dishwasher is dirty and needs some cleaning. That is the smell of rotten food.


Reasons behind a smelly dishwasher

If your dishwasher smells, you probably have some food particles left somewhere. It might have clogged a hose or the drain or it might be left in there. It will start rotting, especially when exposed to all that moisture. The smell will penetrate everything and will even persist in your dishes. So, what are the most common causes of a smelly dishwasher?

The best portable dishwasher filter is the most popular thought when you experience that musty dishwasher smell. The filter or the trap tends to get clogged overtime, mostly with small food particles. They build up and they rot, so at some point, the smell becomes quite obvious.

The drain hose may also represent a common cause. If the drain hose is bent or kinked, wastewater is not properly directed outside the machine. Wastewater full of food debris is sent back into the dishwasher. Practically, food debris gets everywhere – over your dishes and all around the machine.

The drain hose can cause a smell from the dishwasher in more ways. If the hose is too low, the wastewater will not find its way out. In other words, the high pressure will cause the wastewater to flow back into the lower part of the dishwasher, so the dishwasher odor will hit you in the face as soon as you open the door.

Consider the air gap as well. Whether it is blocked or just a bit clogged with food particles, wastewater will have difficulty getting out of the appliance. It will eventually find its way out, but some of it will be back into the appliance, causing a foul odor as you take your dishes out.

Now, when was the last time you used the dishwasher? If you barely use it twice a month, chances are it will inevitably come up with bad dishwasher odors. Even if you do not need it too often, a wash cycle now and then will help. Plus, let it aerate as well. The machine is exposed to food remains that might end up rotting, as well as lots of moisture. It is the perfect environment for bacteria and mold. Keep the door open for too long and such problems will inevitably develop.

When it comes to clogs, the issue may not necessarily be in the food. If you tend to rinse dishes before throwing them in the dishwasher and you make sure there is no food going in there, the problem is clearly caused by something else. If you have hard water, that could be an issue as well. The water supply can have a massive impact if you have limescale building up. Hard water has lots of minerals in its composition, which tend to build up.

These minerals clump up with time. They can affect various parts of the machine.

Last, but not least, if your dishwasher stinks, the answer may not be in the actual appliance. You open the door and you go on your knees. This is when the odor hits you. You do the same when your dishes are done. Sometimes, the smell is not from inside the dishwasher. A few food remains stuck under the appliance may also cause such problems, so take a look under the actual dishwasher.

So, why does the dishwasher smell? As you can tell, there are lots of causes out there. Now, how do you get rid of those musty smells and what kind of maintenance do you have to give your appliance?

Dog Smelling A Dishwasher

How to fix a smelly dishwasher

There are a few steps to make sure your dishwasher is perfectly clean. Arm yourself with patience because some parts are harder to clean than others, so they are likely to cause a bit of frustration.

First of all, clean the bottom. That is where lots of issues show up. Whether the wastewater is sent back or there are food remains, chances are most of these things will end up on the bottom of the dishwasher. They are less likely to be on the top rack, but usually on the bottom of the dishwasher. Take removable parts out and get rid of all the food.

Perform the exact same procedure on the spray arm as well. The sprayer arm has a few holes and food particles will always get stuck in there or underneath them. Small food buildups will also represent a common cause for draining issues. Too many particles will reduce the draining capability of your appliance.

Now, have you looked at the door lip? People usually focus on the inside of the dishwasher, but they fail to realize that food particles are sent all over the machine while dishes get cleaned. Tip your door down and get a dishwasher cleaner. Spray everything, but especially the edge at the bottom and the lip. Let it soak, then scrub everything and repeat the process a couple of times. You should perform such a procedure on a regular basis.

Once you have done all these, you will be surprised with the amounts of food leftovers on the floor. However, the problem is not over. Come up with a dishwashing detergent (the type designed for the appliance maintenance) and make sure you run a cycle or two.

Some people go straight for the bleach bottle, but that is a terrible mistake. Bleach is extremely powerful and quite corrosive. Metallic parts and plastic in the dishwasher will end up with problems. Besides, it does not even solve the problem. Most of these smells come from bacteria feeding on trapped food.

Run a full cycle with no dishes. Do not use any classic dishwashing detergent for your dishes, but just something made for cleaning dishwashers.

Some people come up with their own solutions. You can find all kinds of recipes out there, many of them involving baking soda or vinegar. They are quite handy when mixed with hot water and will refresh the machine while clearing foul odors. Obviously, none of these options will solve the root problem, so cleaning food particles from the above-mentioned areas is key.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you have never experienced such problems, your first thought is quite obvious – why does the dishwasher smell? Plus, you will inevitably have a few follow up questions.


How to clean a smelly dishwasher?

Get rid of all the food particles and remains in your machine. Once you cleaned every area responsible for food traps or clogs, run a cleaning cycle and your dishwasher should be back to normal. Remember, sorting out the problem involves targeting the actual cause – the bacteria and rotten food trapped around the dishwasher. Only then you can refresh it.


How often should I clean my dishwasher?

Areas exposed to traps and buildups should be cleaned once a month. Then, it depends on how often you use the dishwasher. If you use it a few times a day, you might need to clean it every couple of weeks, as food will build up faster. Even if you barely use it once or twice a month, you should still clean it monthly, as food rots very fast and bacteria will be there in no time.


How do I use baking soda and vinegar?

This mix is quite useful when you have a small clog. It is also great to refresh the dishwasher. Mix baking soda and vinegar until you come up with a thin paste. Throw it down the dishwasher and target the affected areas. Let it settle for 15 minutes to half an hour, then pour some hot water down the basket. It should clean the clog. You can also use vinegar and baking soda once everything is clean, as the mix clears the remaining odors.


The bottom line, why does my dishwasher smell? The causes are more diversified, but most of them involve a clog or food. Clogs can appear in various parts of the dishwasher and they may be caused by food or hard water. On the other hand, food will end up in every corner – edges of the door, filters and so on. If you have never cleaned the dishwasher, you will be surprised by what you can find in there.

Cover these aspects and you should have no problems losing those fishy odors that hit you whenever you open the door.

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