Dishes being placed in the top rack of a dishwasher

Why Does My Dishwasher Smell?

If you start to notice a funky smell coming from your dishwasher, you may have one or more of the following problems:

  • Dirty drain filter

  • Clogged drain

  • Food particles trapped in soap scum buildup

  • Plastic too close to the heating element

  • Mold and mildew growth in gasket seals

To properly diagnose the potential cause of your dishwasher odor, pay attention to what it smells like. If your dishwasher smells like fish or rotten food, you may have a clogged dishwasher drain or a dirty filter. A sewage or wet dog smell can point to a drainage problem that may need professional inspection. Read more about all the possible causes and the steps you can take to help get rid of the odor in your dishwasher.

Dishwasher filter Dishwasher filter

Is Your Dishwasher’s Drain Filter Dirty?

The most common cause of dishwasher odor is a dirty filter. Food particles get trapped in your dishwasher’s filter, and without regular cleaning, your filter can start smelling foul. Clogged filters can also recirculate dirty water, causing your dishwasher to not clean properly. Follow the steps below to remove, clean and replace a dishwasher filter.

To clean your dishwasher’s filter:

Step 1: Consult your product manual for model-specific filter removal.

Step 2: Remove the bottom rack from your dishwasher to easily access the filter.

Step 3: Unscrew filter and remove.

Step 4: Rinse the filter with hot water.

Step 5: Return the filter to the dishwasher.

Learn more in this guide about cleaning your dishwasher filter.


Dirty dishes being placed in a dishwasher Dirty dishes being placed in a dishwasher

Is Your Dishwasher Drain Clogged?

The odor of a clogged dishwasher drain may become overwhelming and should be resolved as soon as possible to avoid a potential leak. In most newer models, dishwashers sound an alarm if the drain line becomes clogged. 

If your dishwasher drain is clogged, professional help is needed. If you have a Maytag® dishwasher, contact the Maytag customer care team at 800-344-1274.

Close up of dishes on a dishwasher rack being washed Close up of dishes on a dishwasher rack being washed

Are food particles trapped in soap scum or other buildup?

Just like your shower, your dishwasher builds up a layer of soap scum over time. Soap scum acts like a glue trap for food particles, and without regular cleaning, this buildup will make your dishwasher smell bad. The particles cling together with the soap scum instead of rinsing down the drain, which may cause a foul odor in your appliance. Thankfully, you can clean the interior of your dishwasher in a single cleaning cycle with distilled white vinegar. The acidity of white vinegar is an excellent neutralizer for dishwasher odors. You can also use white vinegar to clean glasses that have gotten cloudy from your dishwasher.

To clean your dishwasher using white vinegar:

Step 1: Pour two cups of white vinegar in a dishwasher safe bowl and place it on the bottom rack of your empty dishwasher. Don’t add detergent.

Step 2: Run the empty dishwasher on a normal cycle. 

Step 3: Opt for an air dry rather than a heated dry.

Dirty food storage container being placed inside a dishwasher Dirty food storage container being placed inside a dishwasher

Is There a Burnt Plastic Smell in Your Dishwasher?

Most dishwashers have a heating element that is used to heat up water and to speed up moisture removal from your dishes and your appliance’s interior. If you notice a burning plastic smell coming from your dishwasher while it is in use, it could be the case that plastic has come into contact with the heating element. This typically happens when a loose food container lid or plastic silverware falls through the rack and onto the heater during the drying process. When you notice the smell of burning plastic, stop the cycle and wait for the heating element to cool off, then remove the plastic object.

Closeup of a dishwasher control panel Closeup of a dishwasher control panel

Is Your Gasket Seal Moldy?

With all of the moisture and heat that your dishwasher produces, it can become a breeding ground for mold and mildew without regular cleaning. A common area for mold to grow is inside the lips of the gasket seal. If your dishwasher smells bad, be sure to inspect and clean the door’s seals using a damp cloth and soap.

Clean dishes being removed from the dishwasher Clean dishes being removed from the dishwasher

How to Resolve Dishwasher Odor

The best way to prevent a smelly dishwasher is with regular cleaning. You can save your household from a smelly dishwasher by picking up a few simple cleaning habits.

  • Clean your dishwasher filter regularly to stave off food particle collection.
  • Avoid overstuffing dishwasher racks to ensure water and soap can pass through each dish and break down food debris.
  • Use dishwasher cleaners like these from affresh® to reduce odor causing residues.

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1. affresh® brand products and the recommending brands’ products are all owned and distributed by Whirlpool Corporation.