What Do I Do When My Dishwasher Smells Bad?

Find out why your dishwasher smells bad and how to fix it with these quick odor-busting solutions.

Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.

Is your dishwasher smelling a little…funky? Odor-causing mold, mildew, food particles and bacteria can get stuck in various parts of your dishwasher; leaving behind an unpleasant stink. It might take a little detective work to find out why your dishwasher smells bad, but the good news is that cleaning a dishwasher is fairly simple.

Find out what might be stinking up your dishwasher, plus a quick guide on how to solve the issue. Nothing but fresh and clean scents soon to come!

How to Fix a Smelly Dishwasher

Clean the Filter

A dirty filter is the most common cause of a stinky dishwasher; but luckily, cleaning the dishwasher filter is an easy fix. Check your dishwasher manual to find the location of the dishwasher filter and the best way to clean it. For most models, it’s located underneath the bottom rack. Look for a circular object near one of the back corners or near the base of the center sprayer. Twist the filter counterclockwise and gently pull it up to remove it.

Rinse the filter under running water to remove any food particles. Use a soft sponge if needed.

Clean the Gasket Seal

The gasket seal is the soft rubber lining that runs along the perimeter of the dishwasher door. If it hasn’t been cleaned in a while—or ever—it could be the source of the funky smell. Because of all the heat and moisture the dishwasher produces, mold and mildew can grow and get trapped inside the seal. Use your fingers to gently push down on the gasket seal and inspect between the layers. Wipe it clean with a cloth dampened with a little soap and water.

Wipe Down the Interior

Over time your dishwasher can build up a layer of soap scum, just like your shower. Food particles and bacteria stick to soap scum, and you guessed it, starts smelling bad. The best way to combat this is to run a cleaning cycle (more on that next), but it’s smart to wipe down the interior by hand first. Remove any food debris sitting in the bottom or stuck to other areas of the dishwasher. Use a soft sponge or cloth and scrub the walls with soapy water.

A dishwasher not draining can also cause some issues—here’s how to fix that.

Run a Deep Clean Cycle

About once a month, run a cleaning cycle using vinegar in an empty dishwasher. The vinegar cleans away soap scum and mineral deposits, and neutralizes any odors. Pour 2 cups of distilled white vinegar into a glass bowl and place it upright in the lower rack. Run a normal cycle with the heat dry option turned off and no detergent. Alternatively, you can use a dishwasher cleaner like Affresh Dishwasher Cleaner—learn more about it here.

How to Prevent a Smelly Dishwasher

Follow these quick tips to avoid stinking up your dishwasher in the future:

  • Scrape dishes thoroughly before loading them into the dishwasher
  • Load your dishwasher properly—avoid overloading so water and soap can freely pass through
  • Check and rinse the filter about every fifth washing cycle
  • Run a deep clean cycle with vinegar or use a dishwasher cleaner once a month

Erica Young
Erica is a cleaning and home décor expert. She knows exactly how to tidy a filthy kitchen and straighten out a mixed-up pantry! When she's not writing you'll find her organizing a closet, buying more bins she doesn't need or bingeing her latest TV show obsession.