Your dishwasher is your daily essential kitchen appliance. A dishwasher makes your life easier unfailingly every night of the week. Available in a number of sizes and budget sections, you may find countertop dishwashers selling for as less as $500. Having a dishwasher translates to effortless cleaning of dishes, pots and pans while saving your the time and hassle for other important activities. After dinner, all your dirty dishes are popped into this magic machine and taken care of while you enjoy a pursuing a hobby or a restful sleep. The next morning you’re welcomed by sparkling clean dishes that are dry too! Everything’s just perfect; perhaps not everything.

Because dirty dishes stay in the dishwasher for the entire cycle it runs through during the cleaning process, the dishwasher smells weird. Just the same way your dirty dishes left over in the kitchen sink overnight start emanating a foul smell the next day. However, this simple and common dishwasher problem has an equally simple solution which we’ll explore in this post all along. But first let’s take a quick look at the problem itself.

Why Does My Dishwasher Smell Like Fish?

Wondering why your dishwasher stinks if the dishes are all clean and fragrant? The answer lies in the food leftovers that remain on your dishes. These tiny food particles get collected either inside the filter of the appliance or its gaps and start producing an odor over time. And more often than not, the stench isn’t any less than stale fish (ew!)

How to Get Rid of Smell in Dishwasher?

So now we know the problem but is there any way out of it? Thankfully, yes! The moment you realize that your dishwasher smells bad, it’s time to consider cleaning it up. And the process is as simple as 1,2,3…and go!

Cleaning the Drain Filter

clean the drain filter

The very first step is to clean the drain filter of your dishwasher. This is the common meeting place for all the food scrap from your dishes. And your job is to prevent the drain from getting blocked due to these food particles. In fact, it’s this food clogging in the drain that’s the root cause of the odor.

This is how you can go about cleaning the drain filter of your dishwasher:

  • First remove the drain filter from the base of the dishwasher.
  • Using hot soapy water, wash the filter clean. You may use a bottle-cleaning brush to reach all the interior surfaces of the filter with ease.
  • Replace the drain filter to its original position once it’s all clear of accumulated food scrap. Use a sponge to wipe off the food particles, if required.

Along with the drain, you must also unclog garbage disposal and clean the air gap as discussed in this article.

Cleaning the Spray Arm

Clean the spray arm

Sometimes food particles blocking the dishwasher’s spray arm make it difficult for the machine to clean the dishes effectively. Besides, the food scrap would also make the dishwasher smelly. This is how you can clean the spray arm:

  • Remove the upper and lower spray arms of the appliance for cleaning.
  • Hold one spray arm in your hand and using a cotton swab, remove all food debris stuck therein.
  • Now place the spray arm under running water to clean all its holes clear.
  • Repeat the same procedure with another spray arm.

Cleaning the Drain Hose

clean the drain hose

You may need to check the drain hose of the dishwasher if, after cleaning the above two parts, the odour continues to linger on. This may also need to be done if the smell tends to keep coming back rather frequently.

There might be some problem with the drain hose if you see standing water at the base of the dishwasher at the end of each wash cycle. This is how you may be able to fix the issue:

  • To check the hose located behind the dishwasher, pull the machine out from under the kitchen counter.
  • You’d first need to ensure that the hose isn’t bent or restricted at any point. This may reduce the water flow, resulting in stagnant water.
  • You might also want to slightly elevate the drain hose loop in case you notice that the wastewater from the kitchen sink is moving back up into the appliance.

Cleaning the Dishwasher Screen

The screen at the base of the machine also tends to accumulate all the food leftovers from dinner, lying around in the smelly dishes from dishwasher. Clean the screen to get rid of the stink from the dishwasher.

How to Prevent the Smell from Coming Again?

To ensure that the machine doesn’t turn smelly again, pour a bottle of dishwasher cleaner and disinfectant into the machine and run a full cycle empty (without dishes/detergent). The smell should not return, so you won’t ever get this question in your mind “Why does my dishwasher smell?”.


Your dishwasher should smell as good as the dishes that come out of it. It’s an important step to maintaining it for longer. Don’t ignore or delay it; try these simple cleaning steps at home and keep your dishwasher odor-free for a long time to come.

Also, a stinking dishwasher is just one of the many problems that you might face! We’ve broken down some of the most frequently observed anomalies in dishwashers and suggested suitable DIY solutions in Dishwasher FAQs write-up.

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One Comment

  1. We did our experimenting too and found not only was it what you say in your article, it was also an issue of soap pods. Something about the plastic-like pouch material not only created a residue that made the smell in the dishwasher, but also in the washing machine, especially front loaders. Once we discontinued using them and used the Finish brick like dishwasher soap or liquid soap in the washing machine, the smell vanished. Seriously.

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