7 Bad Dishwasher Smell Types And Solutions

Although a dishwasher is intended to clean your dishes to sparkly clean and fresh smelling perfection, some errors can occur and cause a dishwasher smells bad.

You can actually identify what’s wrong with what kind of smell it’s emitting and where so here’s how to fix the issues with the power of smells.

What Causes A Smelly Dishwasher?

What’s most likely to cause a bad-smelling dishwasher is food debris stuck in any part of your dishwasher and clogs. Irregular maintenance that includes cleaning the dishwasher on a regular basis can both cause the two problems.

Smell Location

Sometimes, you won’t be able to locate the smell origin so you’ll have to check all of the possible components but these are the most common ones

Air Gap – We often ignore our air gap once it’s installed but it too can get clogged or leak. It’s more so a problem with your clogged garbage disposal though. The air gap is located below the sink

Filter – Located below the dishwasher. If you see visible food debris on your filter or it looks clogged, it’s likely to need cleaning

Drain – The drain is located below the filter so you might mistake the smell that’s coming from the drain with the smell coming from the filter. It’s good to check and really, all there is to it is that it’ll need unclogging.

Filter and Sprayarms

Spray Arms – This one is hard to notice but if your dishwasher isn’t spraying the water properly, the holes that spray the dishes with pressured water might have food debris in them.

Rubber Gasket And Door Seals – What you’re looking for here is mold. Luckily, mold has a specific smell so it’ll be easy to identify the smell.

7 Smell Types And Solutions

Rotten Eggs/Sulfur/Fishy/Sewer Smell/Metallic Smell – built-up food particles on any part of the dishwasher will cause the smell. Another reason for the smell could be that the dishwasher is not draining properly due to the drain hose or air gap blockage.

  • To solve the issue check the spray arm holes, filter, drain, drain hose, and air gap. They’re likely to be clogged so simply locating the clog and then unclogging it with a 2:1 ratio of vinegar and baking soda should resolve the issue. Let the mixture sit for at least 20 minutes and then rinse with hot water and run a cycle. The spray arms and filter can be soaked in a vinegar and water mixture and then cleaned and rinsed.

Mold – mold usually accumulates on the rubber areas of a dishwasher and where there is constant humidity present.

  • To solve the issue you can use both bleach and/or vinegar. Mix 1 part bleach/vinegar with 4 parts water and place in a spray bottle. Spray down the rubber seals and let them sit. Then, wipe clean with a cloth. You can also place 1 cup of bleach in the top rack of an empty dishwasher and run the full cycle but skip the drying part. This will get rid of the smell even better.

Mold Close Up

Dead Animal – Chances are, a rodent has died somewhere underneath or behind your dishwasher. It’s less likely but if you scrubbed your dishwasher clean and it still smells,  check underneath or behind it.

Wet Dog Smell – Food debris or recycled water that has been leftover and stagnant. The cause is the bacteria that’s leftover that eventually dries.

  • Your dishes are likely to also smell of wet dog so run a cleaning cycle with a cup of distilled white vinegar inside and that should do it. You can do it with bleach as well if your dishwasher inside walls aren’t stainless steel made as stainless steel will get damaged with bleach.

Chemical Smell – A part of the dishwasher might be getting too hot so refer back to the burnt plastic smell to solve the issue.

  • In other instances, any new dishwasher cheap, or high end can smell chemicals which is completely okay and safe. Your water quality can cause it to smell like chlorine as some areas add it to kill bacteria. Your dish detergent can also be the cause of the smell. None of those are alarming.

Cat Pee Smell – caused by the hose not draining the water smoothly. Water might start building up, stagnate, and cause the smell. Another sign that the hose is clogged will be built-up water in the dishwasher.

  • To unclog the drain hose turn off the dishwasher and garbage disposal, detach the drain hose from the disposal and pour some water into it. If there’s no water going to the dishwasher it’s clogged. Then. access the panel below the dishwasher door and detach the drain hose first making sure to get all the water out of the dishwasher. take a coat hanger and poke through the hose to unclog it. Then you can use a water and vinegar mixture to deodorize.


Burnt Plastic Smell – this usually means that a plastic utensil has found its way into the heating element. If this happens, you’re likely to need a heating element replacement. If that’s not the case, inspect the racks and see if any part has melted. If so, the heating element is not working properly.

  • You’ll have to access the heating element and remove the plastic so it doesn’t happen anymore. To actually get rid of the smell, you can place a cup of baking soda in the detergent compartment and run a normal wash. Repeat again.

How To Remove Bad Smells?


Use with precaution, wear protective gear, don’t mix with other cleaners, and air out the room you’re using bleach in. Do not use it if your dishwasher is made with stainless steel since bleach can damage it.



Practically harmless and no, your dishwasher won’t have a vinegary smell afterward. Don’t use the vinegar in water gaskets.

Baking Soda

Effectively absorbs odors. Can be combined with vinegar for even better results but shouldn’t be sealed as the mixture can explode.

Essential Oils

You won’t clean anything with them but you can add them to your other natural cleaners and cleaner alternatives. They can also be used in making natural rinse aids.

Essential Oil Drops

Citrus Fruits

Lemon is the most commonly used one as it is the most acidic with a 2.3 pH level. You’ll leave your dishwasher with a faint lemony smell by simply placing a wedge inside and running a regular cycle

To Wrap It Up

There’s a lot that smells can tell you about your dishwasher and what’s wrong with it. If you follow the smell you’re easily going to get to the root cause although most of the time, your dishwasher just needs a good cleaning. Other times, your components can be clogged or broken. Some are easy fixes you can do on your own, others.

As an English major student at the time, Petra was stuck at home with online classes when the lockdown started. Soon enough, Petra discovered a passion for cooking and making pastries to pass the time. She started small with some experimenting and trying out new techniques inspired by French, Italian, and Asian cuisine. Since then, she has become a full-blown “little chef”, making dinner parties for her friends and expanding her knowledge with cooking classes.