Dishwasher Smells Bad? Here's How to Fix It

Reeking dishwashers are the worst. Trust me — I lived in a small apartment with one that emanated a disgusting smell for months. When it gets bad enough, you feel embarrassed to have people over and you don't even want to be there yourself.

Fortunately, you don't have to live with a smelly dishwasher. The steps below cured the awful washer in our rental, and they can help yours, too.

Practice Good Dishwasher Hygiene

Sure, everyone knows how to run a dishwasher, but not everyone knows how to do so in such a way that odors are prevented. If your dishwasher keeps developing an odor despite your ongoing attempts to clean it, you may need to change the way you do dishes.

Rinse large food particles off your dishes before you put them in the washer. This prevents them from building up in the food trap. Empty your dishwasher as soon as you can after it runs. This makes sure that your dishwasher isn't sitting there with a bunch of hot air inside, which can cause musty, mildewy smells. And make sure the dishwasher gets a chance to dry after every cycle. Leave it open just a crack to let fresh air in.

If you have the option, think about running your dishwasher on a setting that allows the dishwasher to blow air in order to partially dry the dishes. This usually costs more in electric bills, but having air flow through the washer can reduce odors quite a bit.

Clean the Food Trap

Most dishwashers have a small area where large particles of food that get washed off your dishes are stored. This keeps them from clogging the dishwasher or even the drain. If they sit in there too long, though, they can get nasty and produce a terrible smell.

The food trap will be in a slightly different place in each dishwasher. Usually, they're in a small area on the bottom. Take out your lower washer rack and it's often easy to find. Using a cloth or a pair of rubber gloves to keep you hands out of the muck, scrape it as clean as you can. You may want to use some dishwasher cleaner afterwards, just to make sure it's fresh and sanitized.

Run Various Cleaning Cleansers Through Your Dishwasher

There are several different things that, when ran through your washer alone, can help fix odor problems. You can try a specially formulated dishwasher cleaning solution, vinegar, baking soda, or citric acid (you can even use powdered lemonade if you can't find the acid itself or you don't want to mess with it).

If your substance is a powder, put it in like you would normally put in detergent. If it is a liquid, pour ¼ cup in the bottom of your dishwasher. Then turn it on and run a normal cycle. You may have to do this several times (possibly with several different substances), before you figure out what works for you, but these are all very helpful for odor reduction. In fact, once you've figured out what is best in your dishwasher, run it through once every month or so to keep the odors away for good.

Check Your Air Gap

Depending on where you live, you may or may not have an air gap for your dishwasher (different building codes have different requirements). And air gap sets up the dishwasher so that any overflows will flow into your sink. This keeps waste from your kitchen sink from backing up into your dishwasher, which can cause some really horrible smells.

You can search online for information about checking for and installing an air gap, or you can call your local plumber. It's usually not very hard to do on your own, but it does require some confidence in dealing with plumbing problems and fixtures. If you do need to call a plumber, it will be well worth your time and money when that odor disappears.

You may want to combine the above techniques — and, in fact, I highly suggest doing so — to find a dishwasher deodorizing solution that works for you. You can change your dishwasher hygiene, clean your food trap, and run a cleaning substance through the washer without having to put in much effort. Then, if that doesn't work, you can ponder calling a plumber (or trying to get your landlord to do it!).

Have you dealt with a particularly smelly dishwasher? How did you fix the problem?

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