DIY Plumbing: Get the Smell Out of a Dishwasher

How I Keep That Smell Out Of My Dishwasher

Automatic dishwashers are probably the single-greatest innovation ever conceived (as far as household chores are concerned). If you’ve ever had to wash dishes by hand, you already know what we mean. With all of the convenience that they offer, they will require a little maintenance to keep them running smoothly and efficiently. One common issue with dishwashers is a foul smell emanating after the dishes have dried. Let’s look at a few ways to eliminate both the odor and, maybe, even the cause.

Baking Soda

Baking soda is an amazing product. It’s used from everything to baking to cleaning. And, it’s a very effective way to freshen up your dishwasher. I just fill up a cup of baking soda, put it on the top rack of my dishwasher, and run a long cycle. It leaves your dishwasher smelling clean and fresh.


Another cooking ingredient that makes a great cleaner is white vinegar. Use it the same way as baking soda. Keep in mind, though, vinegar does have a rather strong smell. So, while it gets the smell out of your dishwasher, most people don’t particularly care for the aroma of vinegar lingering in their kitchen. But, most people enjoy the cleaning power of vinegar. So, you can add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to create a more pleasing aroma.


Lemon peels will also refresh the inside of your dishwasher. You can put the peels inside the silverware slots and then simply run the dishwasher. It not only makes the dishwasher smell great, but it also fills the kitchen with a nice, lemony aroma.


If you see a build-up of mold or mildew on the inside of your dishwasher, you can use bleach. But, you should only use about a half cup for each cycle and then run the dishwasher a couple of times empty just to make sure all the bleach is gone. And, never mix bleach or any other chemicals together. You could unwittingly create toxic, health-threatening fumes.

Cleaning Schedule

I would suggest having a cleaning schedule in place to make sure you keep the smell from coming back. Here are some ideas for how and when to schedule dishwasher cleaning for your particular situation.

  • Quarterly:
    You could schedule it every three months on the same day that you change your furnace filter.
  • Monthly:
    Depending on how often the smell recurs, you could plan to do it on the first day of every month.
  • Weekly:
    If the odor is coming from your water source, you may want to pick a certain day of the week to clean it to help keep it smelling fresh.

Strainer Screen

If the odor is persistent, I’d suggest checking the strainer screen on the bottom of the inside of the dishwasher to see if that’s where the smell is coming from. Food particles can get trapped in the screen. It can easily be removed and thoroughly cleaned with soap and water.

Check Your Pipes

I have even seen issues with food particles trapped in the pipes causing the foul smell. Over time, they can collect in the drains and the odor can be released into the dishwasher. I have found some great products at my local home improvement store that do the trick.

Septic Issues

I would call this a worst-case-scenario. But, if you live with a septic tank sewer system and it is failing, the odors from the septic tank will begin to permeate the pipes leading into the house. Especially if you are smelling the same rotting smell from other drains when you use them, foul odors coming out of your dishwasher could be an indicator that there is an issue with your septic system.

In most instances, I find that keeping my dishwasher smelling clean and fresh is usually just a matter of a little maintenance. In severe cases, there can be mechanical issues causing the odor. But, usually, with a regulated cleaning approach, my dishwasher always smells clean and fresh.