How to get rid of dishwasher smells for good – according to expert cleaners

Freshen up your kitchen and your dishes with these dishwasher-cleaning tricks

An open dishwasher in a grey modern kitchen
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Does your dishwasher smell funky no matter how you clean it or what you put in it? You’re not alone. 

Cleaning a dishwasher is no one's favorite task, but regular deep cleans are essential if you want to make your kitchen smell nice and ensure your dishes are left gleaming after every cycle.  

These are the seven methods professional cleaners use to get rid of dishwasher smells for good and why they are so effective. 

How to get rid of dishwasher smells for good 

Unfortunately, there is no way around it – the only way to get rid of dishwasher smells for good is to deep clean and clean regularly, professional cleaners warn. Luckily, there are some simple and effective methods to make it lighter on our arms. 

Mid grey kitchen with wood floor and brown tiled backsplash

(Image credit: Shannon Tate Interiors)

1. Clean regularly

Whenever you clean a kitchen, you should add your dishwasher to the to-do list, suggests Vannessa Bossart, cleaning expert and owner of Green Terra Cleaning. Cleaning the inside of the dishwasher and emptying the filter to remove food particles, grease, and soap scum is the best way to fend off unpleasant odors, she says.  

2. Scrape off dishes

'If you want to prevent odors or stop them from getting worse, you can start by scraping excess food from plates before you load them into the dishwasher,' adds Jade Piper, Operations Manager at BetterCleans. This limits how much food ends up in the filter, preventing it from becoming clogged – one of the most common causes of bad dishwasher smells, she says. 

‘Believe me, this will help prevent any food buildup and keep your dishwasher running smoothly. It’ll do the job better by focusing on cleaning instead of dealing with tough food stains.’

3. Load the dishwasher correctly every time

'Knowing how to load a dishwasher properly does more for your home than stopping arguments about proper technique – it can prevent smells by ensuring your dishwasher runs efficiently every time,' explains Vannessa Bossart, cleaning expert.

You should always avoid overloading the dishwasher if you want to ensure that everything is rinsed away properly, preventing food particles from lingering and causing bad smells.

4. Leave the door open when not in use

Much like cleaning a washing machine, leaving the dishwasher door open when not in use will allow the appliance to air out, reducing mold growth and preventing bad smells,' assures Eliana Coca, cleaning expert and Founder of E.C. House Cleaning.

‘This promotes air circulation within the machine, preventing the moist environment that bacteria and molds thrive in,' she adds. ‘I would also encourage the regular use of the machine to prevent water from sitting idle in the bottom, which can become stale and contribute to the odor over time.'

5. Wash with vinegar

'There are many good products on the market today to clean your dishwasher,' says Ron Shimek, President at Mr. Appliance a Neighborly® company. 'If you are looking for something more natural, white vinegar is always good.'

Cleaning with vinegar is an obvious go-to whenever you need to tackle lingering odors, but for good reason. There is nothing like it for combatting even the worst of bad home smells, agrees Daniel Vivanco, cleaning expert and owner of Ace of Maids. ‘Cleaning a dishwasher with vinegar monthly can work wonders in eliminating odors and mineral deposits. Running a hot water cycle with a cup of white vinegar on the top rack helps break down grease and remove lingering odors.'

'But you should avoid using bleach,' adds Ron. 'Bleach can damage the rubber seals and components of you dishwasher.'

Cleaning Vinegar | View at Target

Cleaning Vinegar | View at Target
Keep a container of cleaning vinegar in your cleaning cabinet to tackle all kinds of household chores.

6. Clean seals and gaskets

‘You might not realize it, but your dishwasher’s seals and gaskets are often forgotten during a cleaning session,’ points out cleaning expert Jade Piper. ‘These are the areas where the door closes tightly to prevent any water from leaking out. But, they can also trap moisture and food particles, which can lead to mold and mildew growth, and nasty odors,’ she explains. 

After each use, Jade recommends wiping the seals down with a damp cloth or sponge, making sure to get into all the nooks and crannies. ‘If there are any stubborn bits of food or mold, mix some warm water and mild dish soap, and use a soft-bristled brush or toothbrush to gently scrub the seals and gaskets.’

7. Run regular maintenance

As with any home appliance, running dishwasher maintenance is a must if you want to stop odors and extend the lifespan of your dishwasher, reminds cleaning expert Vanessa Bossart. This includes inspecting for clogs in the drain hose, ensuring the spray arms are blockage-free, and running maintenance cycles with dishwasher cleaner to remove built-up residue and odors,’ she highlights. 

‘Using a rinse aid, such as Finish Jet-Dry available at Walmart, can also aid in effective drying and prevent water spots, which can contribute to odors if left unaddressed.’ 


What causes dishwashers to smell?  

A bad odor from your dishwasher can be caused for a few reasons. A dirty or clogged filter is the most common culprit, followed by food residue clinging to the racks or interior of the appliance and mold growth in the inner gasket. Luckily, all of these issues are easy to fix with a deep clean, albeit a bit messy or disgusting.  

Why do my dishes smell after being washed in a dishwasher?  

If your dishes are coming out of your dishwasher with a bad odor, it is likely that your dishwasher needs deep cleaning. Over time, your dishwasher will be coated in old food particles that will dry on and cling to jets and racks, these are then thrown onto your plates during the wash cycle, leading to bad smells and unclean dishes. Deep cleaning of the appliance is usually enough to resolve this issue.  

'Homeowners should reach out to an expert if deep cleaning efforts don't remove the odors, if there are leaks or performance issues, or if unusual noises occur during operation,' urges Ron Shimek, President at Mr. Appliance.

Even the best dishwashers can develop nasty odors if they are left for too long without proper maintenance. It might not be fun, but acting quickly on bad smells, or cleaning regularly to prevent them altogether, is the best way to stay on top of this irritating chore, preventing it from building up and getting worse.  

Chiana Dickson
Content Editor

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for two years, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.