How to fix a smelly dishwasher:tips from a general contractor

If you’ve ever asked yourself, “Why does my dishwasher smell like sewage?” today’s helpful post is for you.

how to clean a smelly dishwasher

How to clean a smelly dishwasher

Your dishwasher may just be in need of a simple cleaning or you may have to really get to work to solve the stinky smell. Either way, we’ll walk you through all the steps.

Step 1: Clean your smelly dishwasher with vinegar

A simple solution that might just do the trick is to wipe down the inside of the dishwasher with diluted vinegar. I like to add a 1:1 ratio of vinegar and water to a spray bottle and wipe down the inside of the dishwasher.

Next, you’ll add a bowl filled with vinegar to the top rack of your dishwasher and run the dishwasher as normal. For an extra boost, consider sprinkling baking soda to the base of the dishwasher, too.

This type of cleaning is good to perform about once a month.

If you haven’t cleaned the dishwasher in a while or you still notice an odor after doing this, move on to step 2.

Step 2: Inspect your dishwasher filter

For most dishwashers, this filter will be located somewhere on the inside bottom surface of the dishwasher.  Figuring out how to release or rotate your specific filter may take a few minutes, but once you’ve removed it for cleaning, you’ll be glad you did.

When we pulled our filter out, I thought that perhaps a small fluffy rodent had taken up residence inside the filter. 

As it turned out, the tiny food debris collecting on the surface of this filter over time had created a white, almost wool-like coat of nastiness both inside and outside the filter.  Once thoroughly cleaned off, the filter looked brand new and worked like a charm.

Step 3: Check your drain to see if that’s the cause of your smelly dishwasher

Your dishwasher drain line doesn’t just go under the house and enter the waste water plumbing with the rest of your used water — at least not right away. 

Dishwasher lines drain into your sink waste water. Most of the time, they run into a disposal beneath the sink, but if your sink does not have a disposal, the drain line will run into the pvc or metal drain line coming directly from your sink.

Disconnect the disposal line and take a little sniff. If you feel like throwing up, you may need to fully disconnect this line from the back of the dishwasher and clean it out. 

Food can get trapped in this line and rot over time. Additionally, check the connection point on the disposal where the drain line was attached. 

Food is often stuck in this exit piece and needs to be pulled out.  Be careful not to accidentally push this buildup back into the disposal as you pull it out. 

Step 4: Clean your garbage disposal

  1. Start with your splash guard — that black rubber circle piece that blocks the food from shooting back into your face through the sink hole while the disposal is running. Ironically enough, running this through the dishwasher ought to do the trick.
  1. Next, you need to cut power to your disposal by flipping the breaker at your breaker box. Verify that the disposal has lost power by trying to turn it on again.  
  1. Next, shine a flashlight in the disposal to see if there’s any lingering food items that seem caught.  These will be tough to get out, so you’ll need some long needle-nosed pliers or some narrow clamps to pull things out. Whatever you do, don’t stick your hands in there.
  1. After large items of food are no longer visible, pour around a ⅓ cup of  baking soda into the disposal and let it sit down there for a few minutes.  Now add some vinegar, maybe ½ cup or more, and let that sit for a few more minutes. Boil a gallon or so of water and pour it in slowly.
  1. Turn the power back on to your disposal, and throw some ice cubes in with some rock salt and lemon peels. Make sure you put your splash guard back in there before you turn the disposal on.  Run the disposal for about a minute, pouring hot water from the faucet into the drain the whole time.

How can I routinely freshen my dishwasher?

It’s an odd thing to clean something that is designed to clean things, but cleaning your dishwasher filter, making sure the disposal is clean and wiping down and your dishwasher with just a little diluted vinegar on a regular basis keeps the smells at bay and actually keeps it running smoothly.

Now that you’ve tackled your smelly dishwasher, here’s how to fix a smelly front load washer.

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