How to Clean or Replace a Stinky Dishwasher

hand holding box of baking soda ready to pour in dishwasher

If you grab a clean glass from the dishwasher and catch a moldy, unpleasant scent, it’s probably time to do a deep cleaning of your dishwasher. Most of the time, the stench comes from one of three things: Standing water breeding mold, trapped food particles starting to deteriorate, or grease buildup becoming a hotbed for bacteria growth. Here’s how to clean a smelly dishwasher and really trust that your dishes are clean.

How to Clean the Inside of a Dishwasher

Whether your smelly dishwasher is from standing water, food debris, or grease, the dishwasher needs a good cleaning before it can properly sanitize another load of dishes. In this section, we break down how to deep clean a dishwasher that smells.

  1. Clean the door seals. Because mold and mildew can easily grow in the creases of the seal, mix and apply a paste of water and baking soda to help lift the grime. Leave the paste on the door seal for a few minutes then use a toothbrush to scrub the seal. Wipe the entire seal with a clean, damp cloth to remove all of the baking soda. Food debris also collects around the door lip and gasket near the hinge, so make sure to check all the way around.
  2. Wipe down the walls. The interior walls and door build up a layer of greasy grime that can be wiped down with a cloth and hot soapy water. You can also wipe down the racks and door gasket to clear out any mildew.
  3. Thoroughly clean the filter. Because the filter is the most common cause of odors in your machine, knowing how to clean a dishwasher filter effectively is key to eradicating the smell. Remove the filter—often located at the bottom of the washer—and allow it to soak in hot soapy water for 10 minutes to allow the grime to loosen. Scrub particles free and rinse. Use a sponge to remove as much grime buildup from the drain as possible before replacing the filter.
  4. Treat the drain. Gunk from particles that pass through the filter forms on the walls of the drain. A baking soda and vinegar treatment is an effective method for how to clean a dishwasher drain. Pour equal parts vinegar and baking soda down the drain and leave it for 15 minutes. The bubbling mixture will break down the grime. Next, flush the drain with a few cups of hot water.
  5. Dislodge food particles from the spray arm. The holes on the spray arm can clog with food particles and decrease the effectiveness of your dishwasher. Take the arms over your sink one at a time and spray away the dirt. Dislodge particles that stick with a scrub brush.

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Deodorizing with Vinegar and Baking Soda

After all the grime, mold, and decaying food particles are cleaned from your machine, the smell may still linger. To deodorize the washer, you can use some simple ingredients you probably already have in your pantry. Here’s how to clean your dishwasher with vinegar and baking soda.

  • Sterilize with a wash of vinegar. First, set a bowl of vinegar on the top shelf of your empty dishwasher and run a regular cycle. After the cycle has finished, allow the washer to breathe with the door open as it cools off. You can add a couple of drops of citrus or peppermint essential oil to the wash if you can’t stand the smell of vinegar.
  • Neutralize odors with baking soda. As a mildly abrasive odor neutralizer, baking soda can absorb smells that vinegar may leave behind. You can pour a cup of baking soda into the bottom of the washer, allowing it to sit for 15 minutes before starting a new cycle with hot water. After the cycle ends, open the door to allow the machine to air dry.

When to Replace Your Dishwasher

Cleaning your washer may be all you need to get it back to cleaning and smelling fresh. However, there are a few signs you can look for that indicate your washer needs to retire.

  • It can’t keep temp. If your dishes aren’t hot when the cycle finishes, then the cycle never reaches the 165° F the FDA says is needed to sanitize the dishes and kill germs. This could be from an issue with the heating coil, which superheats your tap water. Replacement could be pricey and it may be more worthwhile to switch out the whole machine.
  • The water won’t drain. If there is standing water in the bottom of the machine after the cycle ends, you may have an issue with the drain. First, check if there is clogging from food debris. If not, the drain may be damaged and the washer needs to be repaired or replaced.

Find Professional Dishwasher Repair in Raleigh

Learning how to clean a stinky dishwasher becomes simpler when you break down the steps for deep cleaning. Plan to clean the machine every two or three months and you will not only keep the smells away, but you will also extend your machine's lifespan. However, even if you take perfect care of your appliance in Raleigh, dishwasher repair is something you will need eventually.

At Yellow Dot Heating & Air Conditioning®, our trained professionals can repair your washer to smell clean and make your dishes shine again. If it's time for your appliance to retire, we’ll also help you set up the new one. For expert electrical repair or dishwasher installation in Raleigh NC, call us at 919-925-4235 or request service online.

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