How to Clean or Replace a Stinky Dishwasher

image of an open dishwasher

It's not a good sign when you’re physically repulsed by the smell creeping out of your dishwasher. But it’s also not uncommon. What you’re smelling is a mixture of food particles starting to decay, mildew from trapped humidity or standing water, and bacteria growth. Essentially, your machine needs a nice deep clean. We've broken down the steps for how to clean a moldy dishwasher. You may find that it’s simpler than you thought.

How to Clean the Inside of a Dishwasher that Stinks

Before picking up strong chemicals to fight the odorous smell, try this process on how to clean a stinky dishwasher using only dish detergent, baking soda, vinegar, and hot water.

  1. Cleanse the filter. Start by removing the filter from the bottom of the machine. The trick for how to clean a dishwasher filter is to give it a hot bath in soapy water for 10 minutes before trying to scrub off the filth. Once you have the dirt dislodged, give it another hot rinse and set it back in the washer.
  2. Clear the drain. Whether the water drains slowly or not, gunk can build up on the walls and could be contributing to the awful aroma. What's the best method for how to clean a dishwasher drain? A simple mix of two items you probably keep in your pantry. Vinegar and baking soda react with each other, creating a foaming solution that bubbles as it breaks down grime on the drain wall. Let the solution work for 15 minutes before pouring hot water down the drain to rinse it.
  3. Wash the jet arms. Filth can accumulate in the corners of the propeller arms. Even the jets can become blocked, reducing the dishwasher’s performance. Take the arms, one by one, to the sink to wash down with hot water and soap. Use a toothpick to dislodge any grime covering the holes. Rinse again before replacing them in the machine.
  4. Scrub the walls and racks. Similar to how your sink can collect a dirty film despite dealing mostly with soapy water, the interior surface of your dishwasher also collects its share of grime. Take a cloth with hot soapy water and wipe down the walls. Remove the racks to wash them off as well.
  5. Clean the door seal. The rubber around the door is an easy place for mold to grow and hide. You can simply wipe it away, but to lift the bacteria out of the rubber and prevent regrowth, apply a paste of baking soda and water and let it rest for a few minutes. Next, clean it all off. A toothbrush also helps to scrub into the creases.

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How to Use Vinegar and Baking Soda to Neutralize Dishwasher Odors

Instead of buying expensive cleaners that are marketed for cleaning a dishwasher, we recommend using white vinegar or baking soda to eliminate persistent odors. These simple ingredients are natural, great at sterilizing and deodorizing, and likely already in your cupboard. Here's how to clean a dishwasher with vinegar and baking soda.

  • Rinsing with white vinegar kills bacteria and mold still clinging in the crevices and treats the walls to prevent regrowth. The simplest and most effective method how to clean a dishwasher with vinegar is to fill a bowl with vinegar, set it on the top rack, and start the machine on a heated wash cycle. When the wash completes, let the steam air out with the door open.
  • Running a wash with baking soda pulls out any remaining odors and gently scrubs the machine walls, working away stubborn stains or grime. Pour a cup of baking soda on the dishwasher floor and let it rest to absorb smells for 15 minutes. Next, run the machine on a hot cycle. Open the door afterward to let it cool off completely.

When the Smell Means It’s Time for a New Dishwasher

Commonly, deep cleaning and deodorizing your dishwasher will clear up the issue. If you clean the machine or run a vinegar rinse regularly, the smell may never come back. However, quickly recurring odors could mean the machine needs replacement or repair. Here's what to watch out for.

  • The heat isn’t high enough. Dishwashers should reach between 165-180° F to kill germs and sanitize the wash. If you notice your dishes are cold or barely warm immediately after a wash, then your machine no longer meets the requirements of the FDA’s Food Code. A damaged heating coil would cause this. The part can be changed. However, considering the cost, it may be more worthwhile to buy a new machine instead.
  • There’s standing water even when the drain is clear. If there's still a pool of water when you open the dishwasher door, but the drain isn’t clogged, the drain may be damaged, meaning your dishwasher would need more serious repair or replacement.

Where to Find a Reliable Plumber in Volusia County

Now that you know how to deep clean a dishwasher, you can keep your kitchen smelling fresh. Cleaning your machine regularly will also extend its lifespan. However, even with cleaning, regular wear and tear can break down your dishwasher.

If a deep cleaning doesn’t fix your dishwasher problems, don’t hesitate to call on professional assistance. At Advance Air®, our certified plumbers and electricians will help you solve any issue with your appliance, including repairing or installing a new machine. To get started, give us a call at 386-260-2330 or request service online.