Cleaning Tips, Guides & Resources

The Top 5 Reasons Why Your Dishwasher Smells

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The thing about kitchens is that a lot of food and water moves around in it. Between cooking, spillages, and the eventual clean-up, there can be a plethora of smells that emanate from your kitchen on a daily basis. Now, while most of these are actually pleasant, appetising smells, there are the occasional unpleasant odours one must find and get rid of. 

If you’re unfortunate enough to have to deal with bad odours in your kitchen, and don’t know where to look, there’s a good chance the culprit is your dishwasher (if it’s not your garbage bin or garbage disposal). 

There are a number of reasons why your dishwasher smells, and pinpointing the cause is paramount to safely getting rid of it before the smell worsens. Typically, you should be able to remedy the smell fairly easily on your own, however, if there is a mechanical issue or you simply cannot detect the problem area, it’s best to call in a professional. Nevertheless, today we are sharing some of the most common reasons why dishwashers develop a foul odour so that you can address the problem swiftly. Please note that they are in no particular order. 

What Causes Bad Smells in Dishwashers?

Depending on what it smells like, you can zero in on potential problems causing the odour, or you can just test everything to find the underlying issue; for example, if the water isn’t going down, you’re dealing with a clogged drain. So, without wasting any more time, let’s look into what could cause bad smells in your dishwasher.

1. Dirty Drain Filter

This should be the first place you check. We mustn’t forget that this is a dishwasher, and that means food particles will be moving around in it as the wash cycle goes on. The filter inside the washer is designed to trap all of that so that your dishes actually come out clean. 

If your filter isn’t being cleaned as regularly as recommended, there may be build-up. This is obviously going to start breaking down inside the filter at some point, and that is most likely where the smell is coming from. No need to worry, though, removing and cleaning your dishwasher filter is fairly easy.

Begin by locating the filter at the bottom of your dishwasher, beneath the spray arms. Most models have a twist and lift mechanism to take out the filter, however, it’s a good idea to refer to the product manual provided with the machine for further instructions. Once out, clean the filter by soaking it in a warm soapy solution, and use a soft toothbrush to gently dislodge food particles from the mesh. Rinse and dry the filter before placing it back in the machine. 

2. Clogged Drain

Besides the filter, the drainage system on the dishwasher can get clogged too. While some models today will alert you to a drain clog, not all of them will. So, it’s worth checking the drain on a regular basis to ensure everything works and smells fine!

Usually, debris getting caught in the drain is caused by something as simple as the hose having a kink or a fold in it. To detect this, check the drain hose and ensure that it is laid out without any unwanted bends, and that it flows downwards throughout its length. A fold or an upward slope can contribute to a clog rather easily, so it is recommended to make sure the flow isn’t being stopped or slowed by any means. 

If it appears that your drain is not being obstructed but you are sure the smell is coming from the drain system, we advise hiring a professional service to do a thorough inspection to locate the problem.

3. Soap Scum

As with any space that has a lot of soap and water, the build-up of soap scum is definitely a possibility with dishwashers too. Over time, food debris and other particles could get stuck in the dishwasher which promotes bacterial growth. Since the scum keeps debris trapped, with enough time, it will begin to break down and create a horrible odour.

The simplest way around this is by running a wash cycle without detergent or any dishes in the machine; the only thing that should be inside is a bowl of vinegar (placed on the lower rack). The vinegar will get rid of the soap scum, as well as any trapped particles. Once the wash is complete, it is recommended to let the machine air-dry by keeping the door open, as opposed to using the heated drying feature that some dishwashers have.

4. Mouldy Seals

Along with soap scum, the moisture that lingers around the edges of gaskets in your dishwasher can be a bane for the machine too. If you notice a bad odour coming from the appliance while it sits idle, check the gasket for mould. The warm and damp environment of a dishwasher makes it prone to mould development, especially around the gaskets. 

Before the fungus spreads to your clean dishes, or is accidentally inhaled, our experts advise dealing with the problem immediately. While the smell may be bad, the ill effects mould has on our health is worse. To clean the gasket, simply take a damp cloth with soap, wipe down the entire seal, and allow it to air dry. Alternatively, you can use a little vinegar to wipe the material, and you should have no more mould left behind. 

5. Mechanical/Electrical Problems

In the event that the odour you smell isn’t natural, and in fact, seems like burning plastic, or even metallic, then you may have a mechanical or an electrical problem with your dishwasher. 

Between the heating element, the motor and pump assemblies, the drain valve, the timer, and even the control boards that run the machine, there could be a problem that shorted out a part or two, causing the burning smell in your dishwasher. These things can be identified by the machine not working as well as it should primarily, or the plastic/metallic smell emanating during washes. 

Whether that is the case, or whether you’ve accidentally let a plastic container make contact with the heating element, a burning plastic/metallic smell calls for professional assistance immediately. Getting a trained professional to service the machine at this point will be your best bet since they can do a full inspection and ensure all the components are working as they should.


There are quite a few reasons why your dishwasher could have developed a bad smell, and while there are many things you could check, most of the time it really is just a simple fix like cleaning out your drain or filter. The best advice here is to just check the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure you are using the machine properly, as well as following maintenance measures to prevent bad odours and other problems. If you're still having trouble with smells emanating from your dishwasher, grab a free house cleaning quote through our online form or call us today

Adriana Aziz is the operations manager at MaidForYou. With over 6 years of experience managing cleaning operations, she knows all the best hacks when it comes to cleaning residential and commercial buildings. With expert experience in managing house cleaning operations, interior design and logistics. She spends her free time with her family and as a freelance food critic.

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