Why Does My Dishwasher Smell? 3 Causes of Stinky Odors

Dishwashers can start to smell, but there are simple cleaning routines to remedy it.

Dishwashers are a time-efficient and convenient appliance, but they can also be a source of unpleasant odors. If not properly maintained, foul smells from a dishwasher can make eat-in kitchens an unsavory place. Whether it’s food clogged in the drain, unwashed dishes piling up, or stagnant water, there are many reasons why a dishwasher may smell worse than normal. To keep your kitchen smelling fresh, cleaning experts say to watch out for these three main sources of dishwashing stenches. 

slightly open empty dishwasher
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Common Causes of Dishwasher Smells

Food Residue

There are several reasons why a dishwasher might develop a smell over time. One of the most common is a buildup of food particles and debris in the dishwasher’s filter and spray arms. If you don’t use your dishwasher regularly and allow plates and dishes to slowly pile up over time, the smell is likely from the food degrading inside the dishwasher before running the cycle. In these cases, it’s best to hand wash a few dishes at a time rather than let dirty ones slowly pile up over days.

Alicia Sokolowski, President of AspenClean, says that food debris is the mbhg ain cause of foul dishwasher smells. She explains, “when food particles are left behind in the dishwasher after a cycle, they can start to rot and cause a foul odor.” If you’re running a full cycle and the machine still smells, food is getting trapped somewhere. You can prevent these smells by ensuring dishes are pre-rinsed before they run through a cleaning cycle. And after every cycle, run the empty dishwasher through a self-cleaning cycle with hot water and fresh lemon.

Standing or Hard Water

Another leading cause of dishwasher odors is standing water. Clogged drains can cause standing water in the dishwasher or in the drain pipes. Stagnant water is a breeding ground for bacteria and other microorganisms, which can smell foul and also reduce the cleanliness of your dishes, Sokolowski adds. 

Duane Miller, CEO of Stellar Plumbing, says fixing this issue is simple. Regularly check the drain for any clogs to ensure proper drainage. Also, watch out for mineral buildup from hard water, which can lead to unpleasant odors. “To prevent this,” he says, “run a cycle with a dishwasher cleaner specifically designed to remove mineral buildup.” If the problem keeps coming back, you may need to treat hard water coming into your home. 

Last, how you load your dishwasher can help ensure that bulkier items are on the bottom and tilted for runoff. Still, you should also beware of putting anything in a dishwasher that isn’t cookware. As tempting as it is, please do not try to wash paint bowls, brushes, or other art supplies in the dishwasher. Glues, glitters, and gunk can clog drains and cause standing water.

Moldy or Old Dishwashers

Miller says another cause of unpleasant odor is a moldy or old dishwasher. If it has been in full use over many years, it may be beyond its expiration date. “Old dishwashers can become less effective at cleaning dishes and may emit unpleasant odors due to wear and tear,” he says. If that’s the case, it may simply be time to replace it. Otherwise, you may want to work with a plumber to replace the tubes and drains leading to the dishwasher, in case those have rotted and need to be replaced.

Mold and mildew thrive in moist environments. Miller says that if the dishwasher isn’t properly cleaned or maintained, you may start to smell a musty or moldy stench. He recommends regularly cleaning the dishwasher with a vinegar and water solution or dishwasher cleaner. Leave the dishwasher door open after a cycle to air it out to dry, he adds. Also, check the manufacturer’s manual to understand when the dishwasher is set to be replaced. Because well-made devices can work long after their ideal lifespan, you might be long overdue for a change and not even know it.

How to Remedy Dishwasher Odors

Fortunately, most of these issues can be easily addressed with simple dishwasher cleaning and maintenance. Removing food debris, checking drainage lines, and keeping the dishwasher dry are good preventative habits to keep bad smells at bay.

Miller recommends regular and thorough cleaning of your dishwasher. “This includes wiping down the interior, cleaning the dishwasher’s filter, and running a dishwasher cleaner through a cycle once a month,” Miller says. Scrape excess food from dishes before loading them into the dishwasher to prevent food particles from getting trapped and causing odors. He also recommends using hot water when running the dishwasher to dissolve remaining food particles and using a rinsing solution to prevent mineral buildup and keep your dishwasher smelling fresh.

Sokolowski says two natural solutions can easily eliminate dishwasher odors. First, regularly clean the interior of your dishwasher with a mixture of vinegar and baking soda on a hot water cycle. This formula washes away bacteria and prevents mineral buildup. The second is to run the dishwasher on a hot water cycle with a cup of lemon juice. Both help your hard-working appliance break down any leftover food and oils that might build up in hard-to-reach places.

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