How to Clean or Replace a Stinky Dishwasher

open dishwasher in a kitchen

Why do dishwashers start to stink? And how do you make them stop? There are three common causes for the stench in your washer: Decaying food particles, mold growth from standing water, and bacteria growth. A deep cleaning and a sterilizing wash should help freshen the scent. Try these tips on how to deep clean a dishwasher that stinks.

Cleaning the Inside of a Moldy Dishwasher

Not all smells come from mold, but mold thrives around the smells. The decaying bits of food, the standing water, and the high humidity are all perfect elements for mold growth. Learning how to clean the inside of your dishwasher and regularly sanitize the interior will help clear out the mess and prevent it in the future.

  1. The dishwasher filter is perhaps your dishwasher's most common source of foul smells. You’ll find it at the bottom of your machine. Detach it and soak it in hot soapy water in your sink, then scrub the particles away and rinse with hot water before replacing it.
  2. Clean the drain with a mix of equal parts baking soda and vinegar. The two ingredients create a frothy mixture that you can pour down the drain and leave for 15 minutes while it breaks down food particles and softens grease and mineral buildup. Follow up with a few cups of hot water down the drain or running the washer on a hot setting.
  3. Remove the spray arms to clean individually over your sink. Use soap, hot water, and a scrub brush to loosen and remove the grime. Make sure the holes are clear and use a toothpick to dislodge food debris, if necessary. A clogged sprayer will decrease the efficacy of your dishwasher and can add to the funky smell.
  4. Wash the interior walls and door with hot water and soap. The grimy film that builds up can grow smelly bacteria. Use a sponge or cloth dipped in soapy water, and wipe down the walls, door, racks, and gasket for the door as well.
  5. Look at the door seal to see if any black specks are hiding in the creases. Clean the mold growth with a paste from baking soda and water. The coarse mixture will help the mold release easily. Apply it all around the seal. Let it rest for a few minutes to allow the baking soda to brighten the seal before you use an old toothbrush to clean it off.

Disinfect Your Dishwasher with Vinegar and Baking Soda

You can clean the dirt away with soap and hot water, but if the smell is strong, it will linger. if your washer was particularly moldy, you also need to sterilize it against regrowth. Baking soda and vinegar are a couple of natural ingredients that are great at disinfecting and deodorizing. Here are a few methods for how to clean your dishwasher with vinegar and baking soda.

  • Kill mold and bacteria with vinegar. How do you clean your dishwasher with vinegar? Simply place a bowl filled with white vinegar on the top rack of your washer and run the machine without detergent. If you can’t tolerate the smell of vinegar, try adding a few drops of peppermint or citrus essential oil to the bowl. Once the wash has finished, open the door to allow the machine to cool and dry.
  • Absorb odors with baking soda. This natural cleaner can brighten the inside of your machine and capture any lingering smells. Simply sprinkle a cup of baking soda on the bottom of the washer. After letting the cleaner absorb smells for 15 minutes, run a hot cycle. Ensure the machine airs out with the door open after the wash finishes.

Note: Because vinegar and baking soda have a very bubbly reaction to one another, we don’t recommend combining these methods in one wash.

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When Should You Replace Your Dishwasher?

If deep cleaning your dishwasher only offers brief relief and the odor quickly comes back, it could mean your machine is damaged and needs to be replaced. Watch out for these signs.

  • The hot cycle isn’t hot. Your dishes should be toasty when they come out of the washer. If the cycle recently finished and they are not, something is wrong. Dishwashers should reach 165° F to sanitize germs, according to the FDA. If it can’t reach that, the heating coil likely needs to be replaced. With the high cost of replacement, a new dishwasher may make more sense.
  • There’s still water standing after the cycle ends. Water that won’t drain could be due to a clogged drain. Try unclogging it first. If that doesn’t work, the drain may be damaged and the washer probably needs to be replaced.

Where to Find Skilled Dishwasher Repair in Austin TX

A stinky dishwasher may only need a good deep cleaning. However, it may also need repair or replacement. Whether your washer needs a bit of maintenance or to change out with a new machine, our certified technicians at Fox Service Company® can help. Call 512-488-1120 or request service online to receive trustworthy plumbing and electrical services.