Wondering how to clean a smelly dishwasher? Easily eliminate bacteria and make your stinky dishwasher shine with just two household ingredients you already have in your pantry…
Your dishwasher works hard day in and day out to keep your dishes clean. But what about the washer itself? Over time, grease and grime can build up inside your dishwasher, leading to foul odors.
If your dishwasher is starting to stink, don’t despair! With just a little TLC and two common household ingredients, you can get rid of that stench for good.
Now that I’m in my second trimester, smells seem to really bother me.
Oh, yeah, if you haven’t heard/read the news yet, I’m pregnant!
This is my third pregnancy, and for some reason, this time around my nose is very sensitive.
It was sensitive to smells during the first 9 weeks of pregnancy, which always quickly snowballed into morning all-day sickness.
Now, apparently, that same lovely symptom has returned.
I suddenly can’t stand the smell of the trash can in our kitchen, the dishes in the sink for more than an hour or the smell I’ve been avoiding the longest and haven’t felt up to tackling until now…the dishwasher.
We have one smelly dishwasher. There’s no nice way to say it, the dishwasher smells bad.
And if I’m being honest, it’s been several months since I’ve cleaned out the dishwasher filter or cleaned the actual dishwasher.
And while I’ve recruited my 9-year-old to wash dishes as his chore during summer break (seriously, with how much he eats and the amount of dishes he accumulates each day just by himself, I don’t feel bad about that one bit), I can’t really ask him to clean the dishwasher for me.
I mean, it’s super easy to do, and I’m sure he could manage, but I think that’s something I can teach him further on down the road.
How To Clean a Dishwasher with Vinegar
Today, I’m opening up my smelly dishwasher for you guys and showing you how to easily clean your dishwasher without using a special dishwasher cleaner, but instead using vinegar and baking soda.
Vinegar makes a great natural cleaner because it’s antibacterial, a great odor neutralizer, and works to cut through grease, grime, germs, and even limescale buildup.
*This post contains affiliate links, however, all opinions are my own, as always.
Cleaning With Vinegar
First, I want to share why I choose to clean with vinegar instead of other cleaners, detergents, or toxic alternatives like bleach.
Although, if you choose to use bleach to clean your dishwasher, I have that option featured at the very bottom of this post…
It kills about 80% of bacteria it comes into contact with, including “…salmonella, E. coli and other “gram-negative” bacteria with vinegar. Gram-negative bacteria can cause pneumonia, meningitis and bloodstream, wound or surgical site infections.” (source)
It’s the greenest choice for cleaning your dishwasher while still being super effective.
What You Need To Clean Your Dishwasher
Here’s everything you’ll need to get your dishwasher from being smelly to not smelling like anything:
Now that we know what we’ll be cleaning with, let’s dive into how to clean your dishwasher…
How To Clean A Smelly Dishwasher
Here’s a quick list of how to clean your dishwasher with baking soda and vinegar:
- Start off with an empty dishwasher. You want all the cleaning power from the vinegar and baking soda to be focused on and applied to your dishwasher, not your dishes.
- Remove any gunk from the bottom door seal
- Remove your dishwasher’s filter which is more than likely located on the floor of your dishwasher. Just turn it clockwise, and lift it out.
- Dump anything caught in the filter.
- Wipe the dishwasher blades and wheels with vinegar.
- Run the dishwasher on the hottest setting with a bowl of vinegar in the top rack.
- Remove the bowl & run the dishwasher on hot again.
Cleaning The Dishwasher Filter
Depending on the model, your filter may require removal using a different method.
You can always Google your dishwasher’s model number to see if there are different instructions for filter removal.
If you’re lucky like me, the bottom part of your dishwasher has a few separate parts that can be easily removed and need to be rinsed and wiped down to get all the food particles.
*For my particular dishwasher, all three of these parts I’ve drawn arrows pointing to need to come out and be cleaned as they all hold onto food.
It’s super simple to do though. I just pull up on the plastic tab (this holds the spinning arm with the blue water jet circle up), lift the spinning arm up and out, and then lift up the bottom netted filter (which is HUGE).
That’s right, my dishwasher’s filter is the giant circle piece that the bottom arrow in the picture above is pointing to.
The actual ‘filter’ portion dips down into where the water drains and all three parts connect.
I hope your dishwasher model is simpler than mine, but I’m happy that mine is a tad bit more complicated so I can show you some differences to expect if this is your first dishwasher-filter-removal rodeo.
I always recommend consulting your dishwasher manual before disassembling your filter and taking a video of how you took it out (like I did in the Instagram post below!) so you can remember how to put it back in.
View this post on Instagram
Dump out all the extra bits and food that have been caught in the filter (and other dishwasher pieces) into the trash.
Gently rinse the filter in the sink with warm water.
If you have a lot of stuck-on food or a nasty film, gently rub soap onto the filter to clean it and rinse thoroughly.
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Cleaning The Dishwasher With Vinegar And Baking Soda
Reassemble your dishwasher filter (and any extra parts you may have needed to remove).
Pour some white distilled vinegar into a small dishwasher-safe bowl.
With a clean rag, dip the rag into the vinegar and wipe down the dishwasher blades and rolling wheels.
If your spinning blades have holes in them, use a straw cleaner like this one to clean them.
Place the bowl with the vinegar into the top rack of your dishwasher, towards the back.
If you have hard water, add an extra bowl of vinegar, but this time put it on the bottom rack, towards the back.
Run your dishwasher on the HOTTEST cycle available with the bowls of vinegar inside.
To help neutralize odors even more, remove vinegar bowls carefully (they may still be hot), sprinkle baking soda liberally along the floor of your dishwasher, and run a HOT rinse cycle.
*If your dishwasher is holding onto some super smelly smells, allow the baking soda to sit on your dishwasher floor overnight, and then run a hot wash cycle first thing in the morning.
Allow your dishwasher to fully dry before starting a new load of dirty dishes.
Maintaining A Clean Dishwasher
Now that you’ve cleaned your dishwasher and restored its non-smelly glory, there are a couple of simple tips you can adopt into your cleaning schedule to prevent yourself from having to deep clean your dishwasher like this for several months.
I’m not a lazy person, but I spend enough time cleaning and disinfecting that I try to clean smarter. So here’s what I do…
Once every two weeks, add 2 tbsp. white distilled vinegar to the ‘rinse’ department of your dishwasher.
You can do this with dishes present in the washer because vinegar actually acts as a rinse aid when used in this fashion.
Clean the dishwasher filter once a month…there’s no way around it.
Food and bacteria collect in the forgotten filter at the bottom of your dishwasher and wreak smelly havoc on your dishes and kitchen.
Even if you’re a rinsing pro when it comes to loading your dishwasher and pre-clean your dishes prior to washing them, you are missing tons of bacteria and small bits of food that your trusty filter is capturing and holding for you.
Can I Clean My Dishwasher With Bleach?
Yes, you can, but it can be a little more tricky than using vinegar and baking soda.
If your dishwasher has a stainless steel interior, you should avoid using bleach on it or within it.
After cleaning out the filter, follow the same steps as mentioned above with the vinegar, but substitute the vinegar for bleach.
If using this method, carefully remove the bowl of bleach and run another HOT rinse cycle to ensure no bleach remains.
I hope this helps you get rid of the nasty smells and food that are lingering in your kitchen from your dishwasher!
*Post originally published August 2019, last updated May 2022.