How to Clean a Smelly Dishwasher

Dishwashers are full of nooks and crannies just waiting to trap food particles. Each time you run the appliance, more particles can accumulate, creating a layer of gunk and eventually leaving your dishwasher stinking of particles from rotting vegetables, old fish and other sour substances. To freshen your dishwasher and remove the stink, clean the parts of the machine that the wash cycle itself doesn't always reach.

Step 1 Clean the dishwasher racks.

Remove the racks from the dishwasher. Wet a soft cloth with distilled white vinegar. Wipe down the racks to remove any food particles. Use a nylon scrub brush or a toothbrush dipped in vinegar to clean any hard-to-access areas or corners of the racks. Set the racks aside.

Step 2 Clean the drain and screen.

Locate the drain at the bottom of the dishwasher. It may be covered by a screen; if so, remove the screen. If you can access it, wipe around the inside of the drain with the vinegar-soaked cloth, removing any debris or gunk you find. If the drain is blocked by a grille, remove any residue or solids from the grille by hand and clean the holes with the cloth or toothbrush.

If you removed a screen, hold it under a running tap or submerge it in soapy water, and scrub it gently with the nylon brush until the mesh is completely free of food particles. If the mesh is too fine to clean with a nylon brush, make a paste of baking soda and a few drops of water. Coat a toothbrush with it, and use the toothbrush to clean the screen. Rinse it thoroughly, and then place it back over the drain.

Step 3 Clean the sprayers.

The holes in the spinning arms at the bottom of the dishwasher, which spray water into the appliance during a wash cycle, can clog with debris. Scoop out any particles caught in the holes with a toothpick.

Step 4 Wipe around the bottom of the door.

Open the dishwasher door all the way and check for gunk along the lip at the bottom. Wipe the area with the vinegar-soaked rag, being sure to remove all the grime. If vinegar alone doesn't do the trick, coat stubborn gunk with the baking soda paste and let it sit for a few minutes before gently scrubbing it off with the cloth or toothbrush.

Step 5 Run the dishwasher.

  • If the dishwasher still looks dirty inside, pour a cup of baking soda into the bottom. Then replace the racks, and run the appliance with hot water to leave the inside sparkling clean.
  • If the dishwasher still smells sour or of sewage, place in the bottom. Replace the racks, and run the dishwasher with hot water to remove any lingering odors.
  • If you see a buildup of soap scum or hard water deposits inside the dishwasher, pour 2 cups of distilled white vinegar into the bottom. Replace the racks, and run the appliance on a medium setting to dissolve deposits. For best results, pause the cycle in the middle and let the vinegar sit inside for 20 minutes before completing the wash.