Why does my dishwasher smell?
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Here's What You Should Do When Your Dishwasher Starts to Smell


Aug. 18 2021, Published 10:23 a.m. ET

Dishwashers remove even the stickiest, oiliest residue from our cutlery, crockery, and cookware. Most modern dishwashers are oftentimes even eco-friendly, using less water and electricity than older models. Every now and then, however, a dishwasher may begin to develop an odd funk, which might have you wondering two things: why does my dishwasher smell, and how can I get rid of the odor?

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Overflowing dishwasher
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Why does my dishwasher smell?

If your dishwasher takes on certain unpleasant odors, the most obvious culprit is likely that something truly disgusting has become stuck somewhere in the mechanism. However, mold can also create a pretty pungent perfume if it's started to grow somewhere in the cracks of the machine.

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According to Molly Maid, you can determine why your dishwasher smells, based on the odor. If it's rancid, like rotting meat or vegetable matter, you likely have fish, meat, cheese, or vegetable scraps piling up in the drain hose, drain filter, or spray arm. Mold is one of the main causes of dishwasher funk, usually growing when standing water sits for long periods of time. Standing water is usually caused by improper drainage, which again, might mean that your hoses or filters are clogged.

On the other hand, per Roto-Rooter, dishwashers that smell specifically of sewage are usually clogged at the back of the drain line. This generally occurs when the dishwasher is linked to the kitchen sink pipes. If you find the dishwasher itself is completely bereft of clogs or standing water, the problem mau be found somewhere down the drain line, in the wall plumbing. In this case, it might be best to call in an expert to investigate, or to snake the clog.

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Dishwasher in vintage kitchen
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Here's how to clean a dishwasher:

If you want to clean out a smelly dishwasher, you need to get into all the cracks and crevices. According to Appliances Online, the first step is to remove the top and bottom racks. Depending on your model, you might also need to check for any dishwasher filters and remove them as well — definitely wear rubber gloves, because it can get pretty gross.

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On many models, the drain filter is easy to unscrew and remove, but if you’re not sure how to do it, consult the product manual. If you don't have that on hand, you can usually look up the make and model number online and download a PDF on the brand's website.

Once the filters are removed, soak them in warm water for 10 minutes. Scrub the filters with a stiff toothbrush, soap, and water. Incidentally, you could add cleaning vinegar or baking soda to this process. Baking soda will also help deodorize the filters and can be used in the drain itself once you’ve scooped all the gunk out of there as well.

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Once the filters and drain are clean and deodorized, replace them and clean the spray arm by unscrewing it from the upper or lower mounting mechanisms. The toothbrush and soapy water/vinegar will work for this too. Replace all parts as necessary and clean the seals on the outside of the dishwasher with a damp cloth or rag dipped in cleaning vinegar. Don’t close the dishwasher right away, though. Leave it open so it can dry out completely.

Emptying the dishwasher
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How to do a deeper clean:

If you still have a smell even after the deep clean, you might need to try something a bit more robust. Bob Vila recommends placing a cup or bowl of white vinegar on the top rack of the dishwasher and running it on a single cycle. Use the hottest cycle possible and make sure the bowl of vinegar is secure and won't spill when the dishwasher runs.

Again, once the cycle is over, leave the door to the dishwasher open so that it can air out. If you require a more pleasant set, add a few drops of orange, lemon, or peppermint essential oil to the bowl of vinegar before you run it through the wash. It should sufficiently cover the vinegary scent and leave your kitchen smelling lovely.

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