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How to Clean a Smelly Dishwasher

Your dishwasher smells like eggs. Great! Just another thing to add to the list of adult responsibilities in your life. If your dishwasher smells like sewage, or is giving off a rotten smell, there’s clearly something wrong that needs fixing. Read on to find out how to get rid of that bad dishwasher smell, and how to prevent it in the future.

What causes a stinky dishwasher?

The first and foremost reason for a smelly dishwasher is that the filter is clogged with food or grease. It could also be a build-up of food waste (often tiny grimy food particles) on the spray arms, the drain hose or the general interior.

If you don’t deep clean your dishwasher regularly, food bacteria will begin to grow and cause a bad smell. Often a fishy, eggy or sewage-like smell. And nobody wants that in their home.

You might also find that the smell will transfer onto your plates or glasses. At this stage your dishwasher will be causing more harm and good, as although your dishes may look clean, they might actually be covered in stinky bacteria.  

My dishwasher smells like burnt plastic

Opening your dishwasher and smelling burnt plastic can be alarming. But no need to panic just yet, as there some very simple explanations and easy ways to solve this (jump here for remedies). Main causes of the burnt plastic smell are:

  • A plastic utensil (or something like a rubber lid) has somehow fallen out and burnt onto the heating element.
  • The plastic racks have been burnt.
  • There’s an internal problem such as a burning wire.

Why does my new dishwasher smell?

If you have a new dishwasher, it really shouldn’t smell, right? Wrong. A lot of water connected appliances will emit an off or odd smell. This is from the overall manufacturing process. That new smell should go in anywhere from a week to a month, as long as you’re doing regular cycles with a good detergent.

If the smell persists, changes or doesn’t seem normal, contact the manufacturer to look further into the problem.

How Do I Clean A Smelly Dishwasher?

Cleaning the filter

Giving the filter a good scrub could solve the bad smell issue in an instant. The filter is located on the floor of the dishwasher, most often under the spray arm. Soak and scrub it in hot soapy water, using a bottle brush to get in all the crevices.

Give the drain where the filter sits a good clean too. There’s no point in putting a clean filter back in a dirty drain.

Cleaning your filter every month or so will prevent any bad bacteria build up. It’ll also mean you’re on top of any blockages that could happen.

Cleaning the spray arms

If your spray arms become clogged with food particles, the ability to get a full clean on your dishes decreases massively. Simply remove the spray arms and give them a good wash in the sink with hot and soapy water. Use a toothpick, cotton bud or pipe-cleaner to make sure the holes are clear. Run water through it to double check.

Cleaning the interior

Cleaning the inside of your dishwasher may seem like a daunting task, but there’s ways to make it easy! Do it your own way is often the best answer.

Remove and soak the interior racks in hot water whilst cleaning the inside. Use a large cloth and your choice of cleaning fluid (I like fabulosa) to give the interior a good scrub. You can use a longer utensil like a handled scrubbing brush so you don’t have to actually poke your head inside the dishwasher.

Make sure to give the rubber gasket (the seal) a wipe down too, as there may be a hidden build-up of grime there that you didn’t know about.

Home remedies & hacks

To clean a dishwasher, you don’t always need fancy solutions or expensive sponges to get a good overall clean. What you need is right in your cupboards. White vinegar, baking soda and bleach. The holy hat trick of the cleaning world.

Run the hottest possible cycle with a cup of vinegar, then a hot short cycle with baking soda across the bottom and then a hot cycle with a cup of bleach in the bottom.

PLEASE DON’T do a bleach cycle if you have a stainless steel interior dishwasher. It could permanently damage and discolour it. Also make sure to check your manual to see if you can safely use vinegar in your dishwasher, as some manufacturers don’t recommend it.

I’ve cleaned the filter but it still smells!

If you’ve scrubbed and cleaned absolutely everything and it still smells, it’s possible its not actually the dishwasher. Check around and behind the dishwasher for in case any food has dropped and is causing this bad smell. And if the smell still keeps going after a few more weeks, it’s time to contact your manufacturer to find out exactly what’s wrong.

How to clean a burnt dishwasher smell

If you’ve seen that something plastic has melted or has fallen onto the heating coil, it’s time to ventilate. Open your dishwasher and your windows for a few hours to remove any of the remaining smell.

With the dishwasher turned off, carefully remove any burnt plastic with a wooden spoon (and heat resistant gloves if you have any). You can use a hair dryer or some ice to gently remove anything that is seriously stuck on.

Once the plastic is all gone, do a cleaning cycle. Either using the DIY vinegar & baking soda method or use a professional dishwasher cleaner. Also don’t be tempted to reuse any of the melted utensils, as broken down plastic can leech into your food and potentially cause health issues.

If you can’t see any melted plastic, but there is still a strong burning smell, please contact your manufacturer. This plastic smell could be caused by a faulty wire or rogue plastic that has got caught inside during manufacturing.

The Dishwasher Cleaning Routine:

Let’s say your dishwasher has just turned a month old (happy birthday!). This is when you should start the deep cleaning process:

  • Soak the filter, the spray arms and the inner baskets in hot soapy water.
  • Whilst they’re soaking, clean the interior and wipe down the gasket.
  • Rinse off and clean all the inner bits, then put them back where they came from.
  • Run an empty hot cycle with a bowl of white vinegar (or a dishwasher solution, if you’re fancy).
  • Run an empty hot cycle with a cup of baking soda thrown in the bottom.

Your dishwasher should be squeaky clean now, but I’d recommend you do a vinegar & baking soda wash at the end of every month just to prevent any further smells building up. Give your dishwasher a deep clean every three months, or when you freak out and notice the grime building up again.

Smelly Bosch, Miele & Samsung Dishwashers

Sometimes with branded dishwashers, it’s better to use the manufacturers’ advice to really get in and clean the nitty gritty bits and pieces of your dishwasher. See below a few links to exactly how the manufacturers explain how to clean their dishwashers: