How to Clean or Replace a Stinky Dishwasher

the bottom of the inside of a dirty dishwasher with cleaning product out of focus in front

Pulling “clean” dishes from a funky-smelling machine can be disconcerting. What exactly is the smell? Mold? Decaying food? Other bacteria? Honestly, it could be all of the above. The toasty, humid environment is ideal for mold, mildew, and other bacteria growth — particularly if the machine isn’t aired out after each load. Whatever the cause of the smell, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to clean the inside of your dishwasher.

How to Deep Clean a Dishwasher

It’s hard to trust a stinky Dishwasher to produce clean, sanitized dishes. A good way to put your mind at ease is to put the machine through a deep clean. Here's the best way to do that.

  1. Clean the filter. Often at the bottom of the dishwasher, the filter is the most common culprit of odors. Knowing how to clean a dishwasher filter can help clear away the smell and reduce it in the future. First, take the filter out to wash in your sink. Bathe it in hot soapy water for 10 minutes. After the grime has time to soften, use a scrub brush to knock off the dirt. Rinse the filter again with clean hot water.

Before returning it to the dishwasher, inspect and clean all the dirt you can from the mouth of the drain.

  1. Clean the drain. A good method for cleaning a dishwasher drain starts by making a solution of half baking soda and half white vinegar. Next, pour the mixture down the drain, allow it to set for 15 minutes, and follow by washing down a few cups of hot water.
  2. Clear debris from the spray arms. When the arms that spray water over your dishes become dirty and particles wedge in the jets, it puts a strain on your washer’s ability to clean. It also can contribute to the smell. Take each arm over your sink to spray down with hot water. Keep your scrub brush handy to work away the grime. if the holes are gunked up, a toothpick can help clear them.
  3. Wash the grime off the walls. You’ll find that the inner walls and door have a coat of dirt. Wet a cloth in hot water and dish soap and start clearing the dirt away. This would be a good time to wash the racks and door gasket as well.
  4. Scrub the door seals. The dark filth hiding in the creases of the seal is mold or mildew and likely adds to the smell. To lift the dirt off and lighten the seal, make a paste of baking soda and water to spread over the seal. Allow it to set for a few minutes. Next, use an old toothbrush to scrub it away.

Related Content: 4 Signs Your Water Heater is Overdue for Repair

Baking Soda and Vinegar for a Fresh Smelling Dishwasher

A deep cleaning helps remove the gunk and a lot of the smell from your washer, but there could still be a lingering odor. This is where it helps to know how to clean your dishwasher with vinegar and baking soda.

Unlike cleaning the drain where the baking soda and vinegar’s bubbling reaction helped to break up dirt, running a load with both baking soda and vinegar could have some adverse results. We suggest running them separately to deodorize your washer.

  • Vinegar wash. White vinegar has great cleaning properties and will kill off mold, germs, or bacteria that love to grow in warm humid nooks. The most effective method is to place a bowl of white vinegar on the top shelf of the washer and start the machine. Let it run through a regular cycle. Afterward, open the dishwasher door to let the machine air out.
  • Baking soda wash. Another great natural cleaner, baking soda can soak up lingering smells and brighten the inside of your washer. Simply add a cup of baking soda to the bottom of the dishwasher. Let it work to absorb the odors for 15 minutes before starting the machine on the highest heat setting. Once the cycle is over, again, open the door for the washer to cool and dry.

When to Replace Your Dishwasher

A smelly washer is a sign for a cleaning, but it could also be a tell-tale sign that your dishwasher should be replaced. Look for these other signs to know if it’s time to part with your machine.

  • Dishes are not hot at the end of the cycle. When your dishes are done with their session in the dishwasher sauna, they should be steamy and warm. According to the FDA, 165° F is needed to properly sanitize and kill germs. Dishes that are cold or barely warm right after the wash are a sign your heating coil may be damaged. You could pay a lot to change the part, but it’s probably more cost-effective to get a new machine.
  • Standing water in the washer could easily be from a clogged drain. First, check to see if it can be cleared. But, if the drain isn’t clogged with food particles, it could be deteriorating. If that’s the case your machine will need serious repair or replacement.

Find Expert Dishwasher Installation in Orlando

Your dishwasher is the modern-day maid, cleaning dishes day in and day out. Eventually, its work will build up enough food particles or grease to begin to smell. You may also get a musty stink from leaving the door closed while away for a few weeks without allowing the machine to fully air out.

The smell itself can be cleaned, the bacteria and mold killed, and the food debris minimized on future loads. But if the stench is caused by a broken or malfunctioning part, you’ll want professional help to repair or replace the dishwasher. Our certified experts at U.S. Heating & Air Conditioning® can give you a hand with repair or dishwasher installation in Orlando. Simply request service online or call us at 407-337-7925 for plumbing or electrical services you can trust.