How to Clean a Smelly Dishwasher (in 4 Steps)

Fred's Appliance Academy
March 7, 2022
Dishwasher Training

The humble dishwasher is one of the most used appliances people have in their homes but what a lot of people don’t realize or forget is they need a regular clean.

The good news is it’s very easy to clean your dishwasher. All you need is a few basic cleaning products and then follow these 4 steps and your machine will be smelling like new in no time.

Although there is no set number of times you should clean your dishwasher, if you clean it every 3 months, then you’ll probably avoid any bad smells and build-up of grease and grime that will stop your dishes from being able to clean properly.

Let’s get cleaning!

Step 1 – Remove the spray arms

Start by removing the spray arms from your dishwasher and giving them a good clean. The spray arms, if you’re not aware, are the components in your dishwasher that help to distribute water around the dishwasher during a wash cycle. Even though water gets pumped out of them, sometimes loose debris or grime can build up inside of them which causes a bad smell.

Here’s the best way to clean the spray arms:

  1. Open your dishwasher door and remove the spray arms. They should just pop out of position as they are not attached with any screws.
  2. Once removed, give each of the spray arms a thorough clean with hot soapy water making sure you get all of the built-up grime off. You can then rinse them off and place them back into your dishwasher.

Step 2 – Clean the Dishwasher Filter

Once the spray arms have been cleaned, locate the drain filter (it’s at the bottom of the dishwasher) and remove it so you can give it a good clean. The drain filter picks up all of the loose debris during the wash cycle. To stop your dishwasher from smelling, it’s a good idea to empty it and clean it from time to time.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Open your dishwasher door and remove the bottom rack.
  2. Remove the upper part of the filter by turning it counterclockwise and at the same time pulling it up.
  3. Remove the other part of the filter by following the same process as the upper part.
  4. Once the filter has been fully removed, empty any loose debris into the rubbish or down the food disposal unit, and then give the whole filter unit a good clean with hot soapy water.
  5. Once cleaned, place it back into your dishwasher the same way you took it out.

 Step 3 – Put your dishwasher on a wash cycle

Once the spray arms and filter have been cleaned, put your dishwasher on a wash cycle without any dishes in it. This allows the detergent and hot water to give the inside of the dishwasher a good clean.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Place a cleaning tablet into the detergent dispenser or fill it up with dishwashing powder. If you’d prefer to use a natural cleaning agent, you can place 2 cups of white vinegar into a container and place it sitting upright on the top rack.
  2. Next, for best results, place a second cleaning tablet on the bottom of the dishwasher or a couple of spoons of powder. If you’re using natural cleaning ingredients simply pour a cup of vinegar into the bottom part of the dishwasher. 
  3. Put your dishwasher onto a heavy-duty cycle at the hottest setting possible and turn it on.
  4. When the cycle has finished, open the dishwasher up and give the inside and door gaskets a good clean with hot soapy water. 
  5. Finally, leave the door open for a couple of hours to dry.

Step 3 – Clean the drain

While the dishwasher is drying out after the wash cycle, the final step is to clean and flush the dishwasher drain out. This isn’t always necessary, but it’s a good idea to clean the drain out once a year at least to ensure no smells come out through the drain or garbage disposal unit.

Here’s how to clean the drain and disposal unit: 

  1. If your dishwasher drains out via the disposal unit, it’s a good idea to give the disposal unit a good clean with hot soapy water or a stronger commercial cleaning agent if you prefer.
  2. Next, locate the air gap and give it a good clean.
  3. Finally, flush out the drain with hot soapy water or a mixture of baking soda and white vinegar (about ½ cup of each). Simply pour it down the disposal unit drain, and your drain should be nice and clean and free of unwanted odors. Your dishwasher and drain should now be sparkling clean and free of any bad odors!
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