This Simple Trick Will Make Your Dishwasher Less Gross

updated Nov 13, 2020
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After living in several homes without one, my husband and I were thrilled to have a dishwasher in our kitchen when we bought our house in 2017. But after a few standard dishwashing cycles, we noticed a strong, musty-smelling odor coming from the direction of our prized appliance. Not only did the dishwasher itself smell; so did our actual dishes. Gross, right?

Turns out, our dishwasher just needed a good scrub-down to remove the food particles that were contributing to that nasty smell. Annoyingly, that musty stench returned fairly quickly. We had been so careful not to let bits of food into the dishwasher (or to pull them out when we spotted them). Turns out, the smell was a sign that our dishwasher was holding onto moisture. According to cleaning experts Georgia Dixon and Angela Bell, Grove Guides with Grove Collaborative, there’s one simple fix you can make to your kitchen routine to prevent unwelcome odors: Keep your dishwasher open when you’re not using it. 

Here’s why this is an important maintenance step:  Obviously, a key component for washing dishes is water. But the same thing that cleans your plates can work against you if it sits in your dishwasher. Moisture can hide in the crevices of your appliance, and then in turn, the moisture can harbor bacteria and create bad smells. 

Credit: Cat Meschia

How to Get Rid of (and Prevent!) Stinky Odors in the Dishwasher

If you’re noticing odors coming from your dishwasher, start by killing whatever bacteria are lingering inside. Dixon suggests banishing germs with vinegar-and-water cleaning solution, or a store-bought, vinegar-based cleaner such as Aunt Fannie’s Cleaning Vinegar spray. Remove the racks to clean them in the sink, then wipe down the sides of the dishwasher and the interior of the door with the solution and a microfiber cloth.

Now that you have a clean slate, prevent future bacteria from germinating bad smells on your clean dishes by keeping the door open when you’re not using it. “Germs and bacteria love moist, dark areas like a dishwasher, and when they are in their happy place, they multiply with ease,” Bell says. “Leaving the dishwasher door ajar keeps airflow moving through the unit, which will keep moisture levels down and therefore make a less inviting atmosphere for bad smells.”

Of course, nobody wants to look at a dishwasher half-full of dirty dishes. So keep in mind that even propping the door open just a little bit will keep the air flowing. “If the door won’t stay open just a bit, hang a dish towel over the top to keep it from closing completely,” suggests Dixon. 

Another important step to consider: Because allowing dirty dishes to sit in the dishwasher for too long can also encourage smells and bacteria, always make sure to rinse your dishes well before loading them in.