The Case of the Smelly Dishwasher

My Dishwasher Stinks

In the five years I’ve had my dishwasher, I’ve never cleaned the inside. I mean, it’s self cleaning, right? It gets washed with, like, every single use. So, I never really gave it much thought until it started to smell. Apparently, you’re supposed to clean the inside of your dishwasher once in a while. (I should’ve known. Self cleaning ovens are a big fat lie too.)

So, wtf was causing my dishwasher to smell? To the naked eye, it looked squeaky clean, but something must be causing that odor… It was a mystery, I tell you. (One that could have easily been solved by consulting the user manual, but what fun would that be?) Keep reading to follow my investigation: The Case of the Smelly Dishwasher. (Spoiler alert: I cracked this case wide open and my dishwasher now smells like a freaking meadow.)

Dishwasher with Dirty Magnet Similar Dishwasher Magnet

Meet My Dishwasher

My dishwasher is only 18 inches wide. When I designed my kitchen five years ago, I sacrificed having a full sized (24 inch) dishwasher in order to have a pantry. (This window prevented me from having both.) Since I lived by myself, I didn’t mind a smaller dishwasher in exchange for more storage space. You would think that smaller would mean less expensive, but… does it?

18 inch dishwashers are RIDICULOUSLY over priced and there’s only a handful of models to choose from. After buying (and returning… long story…) three (!) other dishwashers, I ended up with this über expensive Bosch. Guys, I spent over a thousand dollars for eighteen inches of German engineering. Do you blame me for thinking this thing should clean itself?

My First Lead

After five years with my Bosch (which, incidentally, I love), it started to get stinky and our dishes weren’t getting as clean as they used to, so I decided to launch this investigation. My first order of business was to run a wash cycle and empty the dishwasher. I then removed the bottom rack and took a look around inside the tub. Here’s what I observed:

Inside Dishwasher with bottom rack removed

A cursory examination revealed a mysterious plastic cap towards the rear of the dishwasher. My first lead! It was too dark to get a visual, so I dispatched the camera on my mobile device to get a closer look.

Dishwasher mystery cap

Hmm. A series of strange letter groupings embossed on the cap… Some sort of code, perhaps? Or… no, wait! I spotted a word I recognized… “Salt.”

A clue!

Salt. Why salt? Curious, I did a little digging on the interwebs and discovered that some dishwashers have a water softening system built in and special dishwasher salt keeps it functioning properly. Who knew? Armed with this new information, and my keen deductive reasoning skills, I concluded that all of the letter groupings on the cap were likely words that mean “salt” in other languages.

Indubitably.

I had a hunch this lead was a dead end, but I had to know for sure. I removed the cap to take a look.

Dishwasher Salt Recepticle

As I suspected; super clean in there. This was not the culprit.

My Second Lead

I replaced the cap and turned my attention towards the front of the dishwasher tub, where this round, plastic port, resembling a drain hole, caught my eye. My second lead…

Dishwasher filter cover

Close up of dishwasher filter

The arrow, pointing to the right, suggested the piece was moveable, but, in my experience, righty is almost always tighty… On a hunch, I turned it lefty loosey and…

Taking off dishwasher filter cover

I was right! (It was left.) Anyway, the thing came off with minimal effort.

*The following images may be disturbing to some readers. Viewer discretion is advised.*

Removing this assembly exposed the remains of food particles, accumulated over five years of neglect. This discovery was the break in the case I was hoping for.

Dishwasher filter removed

The component itself was quite gruesome, covered in the remnants of decomposed consumables. I quickly identified this as the dishwasher filter assembly (which the user manual would confirm, if we were consulting the manual, which we are not.) This component became my number one suspect.

Mostly, because it was smelly.

Dirty dishwasher filter assembly Sponge Holder

Fortunately, rehabilitation was easy. I removed the filter and rinsed off the screen and plastic thingamabob.

Rinsing off dirty dishwasher filter

Next, I carefully rinsed the filter itself. I could tell the mesh was very delicate, so I made sure to proceed with caution.

Cleaned dishwasher filter

Before reassembly, I scrubbed the scene. I wiped down the filter housing, as well as the hinges and crevices of the dishwasher door.

Cleaning filter area in dishwasher

Cleaning dishwasher crevices

Reinstalling the filter assembly was easy. Righty tighty…

Installing dishwasher filter screen

Making sure the triangles lined up with each other…

Dishwasher screen installed

At this point, I had solved The Case of the Smelly Dishwasher, but I still had to tie up loose ends…

The Loose Ends

Once I disassembled, cleaned, then reassembled the dishwasher’s grody parts, I needed to freshen up the parts that were harder to reach. I filled a glass bowl with white vinegar and placed it securely in my dishwasher’s top rack. I then ran my dishwasher on its hottest cycle. (Warning: If you do this, don’t use detergent, as the chemicals could mix with the vinegar and create something dangerous. Because, science.)

Pouring vinegar into bowl

I’m sure that would’ve been enough, but I know me; I won’t be cleaning my dishwasher again for an embarrassingly long time. I wanted to get it extra clean, so I ran a second hot cycle, this time with baking soda sprinkled into the bottom of the tub.

Baking soda in a measuring cup

Not just clean. Über clean.

My dishwasher is no longer smelly, so I’m officially closing this investigation.

The Case of the Smelly Dishwasher: Solved!

Dishwasher with clean magnet Similar Dishwasher Magnet | Cascade Detergent

My dishwasher now smells as fresh as unicorn breath and our dishes are, once again, über clean. Thanks, Germany. You really know how to make a kick ass dishwasher. Case closed!

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16 Comments

  • Katherine Davies

    We have a Bosch, too. Believe it or not, it is my husband’s job (only because he doesn’t trust me) to keep it clean, degreased, and salted. He does a super job – he should because besides taking out the trash it’s the only cleaning/maintenance chore he does regularly. Glad you’ve figured it out.

    I laughed out loud at the freaking meadow reference.

    • My Crappy House

      Aha! I should put Schmoopy in charge of the maintenance! Good idea… I don’t trust him to load it right, but I would trust him to clean it. I think… #controlfreak

  • Marilyn

    Imagine that, a dish washer with its very own salt water filter, that is AWESOME. We have such hard water where we are and it’s HORRIBLE. You are really smart you discovered this brand, it has to be one of the best. I have cleaned UNDER the washer before, it’s also a fun (🤨) job. I had many clogs when my kids were small and I would watch the repair man pull the bottom panel off where all the tubes are, then hand me a 300 dollar bill!! One time I decided to try to save the repair money and do it myself. I detached that tube and a WATERMELLON seed tumbled out!! I felt great! Bet after your discovery you felt great too! FUN and informative blog to read, LOVED IT!

    • My Crappy House

      Geez, 300 bucks for probably 5 minutes of work. I’m glad you started taking care of the clogs yourself. It DOES feel great to save some money and DIY

  • Barbara H.

    Very illuminating. I’ve been thinking I should attempt to find the filter in the bottom of my dishwasher to check it but for some reason just never seem to find the time. Wonder why? Now I have a little more incentive. Thanks.

    • My Crappy House

      I had been putting it off because I didn’t feel like searching for the manual. Luckily, Bosch makes a great product and it was all very obvious as to what needed to be done. Who needs a manual?

  • Joan

    It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it… While I’ve never done it myself (only ever had one place with a dishwasher and it was fine — but I’m also one of those people who rinse the dishes of the majority of gunk before putting dishe into the dishwasher), I knew some models have those strainers and need to be cleaned. I can imagine how gross that must have smelled! Yuck! But, at least it’s clean now!

    • My Crappy House

      Interesting bit of information I learned whilst writing this post: It’s actually not a great idea to pre-rinse. Yes, do scrape the big food off, but you’re supposed to leave the rest because detergent has enzymes that seek out and bond to the food on your dishes. If there’s no food, there’s nothing for your detergent to bond to and it just floats around doing nothing. Also, most modern dishwashers have a sensor in them to detect how dirty your dishes are and adjust. If your dishes are “clean”, your dishwasher will lower the intensity of the wash. I don’t know about you, but I prefer a full strength wash! Who knew?

  • Ellen Shook

    Bosch is freaking GREAT! We put one in our last house, and it was fabulous. In this house, my husband to his everlasting consternation, insisted on LG. We got LG EVERYTHING, and I HATE every one of them! There is always something wrong with them. So he gets to clean the blooming filter once a week thank you very much. Great tip about the baking soda and vinegar. I have seen stuff on the cleaning aisle which says it is for cleaning dishwashers and washing machines, but I cannot vouch for any of them.

    • My Crappy House

      I love my Bosch! It’s soooo quiet and does a great job (when it has a clean filter…) I had first bought a Frigidaire because it was about $600 (which was cheap for the 18″). I had it installed by a plumber and, once the tub filled with water and began the cycle, water poured out the bottom front of the washer. Like, I’m talking waterfall. So, I returned it for a new one of the same model. The SAME THING happened! Like, wtf??? So, I returned that one and ordered a GE. Not the most attractive machine (the control panel was black and not hidden), but it was also around $600. When the installer came, he wanted to drill up into my beautiful quartz counters to mount it. It had no option for side mounting. I didn’t even let him start – I refused the delivery. I then bit the bullet and got the $1000+ Bosch. I installed it myself (so done with plumbers) and it’s worked flawlessly from day one. (OK, well not lately, but we all know why and it’s back to working flawlessly now.) Such an ordeal. I was starting to feel cursed!

      As for the dishwasher cleaners – I’d save my money. Vinegar and baking soda are so cheap and they did a great job. I’m thinking I will do the same with my washing machine. (It doesn’t smell, but I’ve also never cleaned it so I’m sure it’s due.)

  • Em

    After I’m done here luxuriating in my afternoon post yardwork shower, I am going to run right downstairs and check my Bosch dw for a salt bin. We live in the hard water capital of the world, so this is very interesting!

    Fwiw, our glasses and dishes were FILTHY with our then new Bosch until we likewise read the manual and chose the recommended detergent. (And I likewise did a post on it, haha. We ARE somehow related.).

    I thought it was a scam, but nay nay, it made a huge difference! I commend you for your smarticals on the vinegar and baking soda! I bought the $$ cleaner but could’ve just followed your post!

    We’re not quite meadow scented, but we’re definitely no longer cloudy or gummy!

    Great post!

    • My Crappy House

      Twinsies! Dishwashers make great blog post subjects… BOSCH dishwashers, in fact! Man, I hate when it’s user error. I mean, it’s easier to fix the problem, but my ego would much prefer the appliance be the problem. In fact, I’m not entirely convinced your dishwasher is blameless here. I was using Cascade pods in mine, but I heard they can gum up a cesspool real good, so I switched to liquid Cascade. I never had any issues with either one. I think maybe your Bosch is temperamental and it wasn’t your fault. I mean, continue to give it the detergent it wants, but I think maybe it’s manipulating you. Your DW sounds like a diva…

  • Nathalie

    I’ve had this task on my To Do List sinece January, when I bought my 2016 house, and kept on putting it off. Mine is a GE. I have the manual, even read it, but it seemed like more trouble than it ended up being, as it often the case. I didn’t have a smelly dishwasher, but I did notice my dishes weren’t as clean as they should be, so your post prompted me to go check the filter… and it was filthy. I don’t think the previous owner had ever cleaned it. Also, I didn’t even need the manual, I just figured it out on my own, it was super easy (well, even easier after I looked at your photos because it’s pretty much the same set-up or close it it), rinsed the yucky filter and the (plastic for me) larger mesh part and I’m good to go for… I guess a month? I only use the dishwasher once a week, but it was so easy to check the filter, I think I’ll put a monthly reminder on my calendar.

    One last thing, I don’t know if yours has any rubber parts in it or not, but if there are (gaskets around the door or anywhere else or hoses, for instance), don’t use vinegar because it will eat through the rubber, and vinegar might also damage the finish of some metals. Baking soda should be safe, according to Bob Vila: https://www.bobvila.com/slideshow/12-things-you-should-never-ever-clean-with-vinegar-73031

    Thanks for the post!

    • My Crappy House

      Well, THIS is interesting! When I was researching for this post, a lot of blogs suggested using vinegar to clean a dishwasher, including… BOB VILA! I just went to link the article for you and it’s now gone… If you Google “how to clean a smelly dishwasher”, his article is the third result, but clicking on it now just takes you to his home page. So strange! So, thank you for that information. I did some more Googling and found the results to be divided. Some pretty reputable sites (Architectural Digest, HGTV, The Today Show) still recommend vinegar for cleaning the dishwasher, whilst others caution against it. I feel like, since the vinegar is diluted with the water from the dishwasher cycle, it’s probably not all that strong and wouldn’t do damage. However, wtf do I know? The safest thing to do is to buy a cleaner that’s meant for the dishwasher. For gross people like me, who only clean their dishwashers every five years, using vinegar probably wouldn’t do any harm… (OK, I might start cleaning it once a year…) (Or make my husband do it more frequently…)

      Anyway, I’m happy you had the same experience I did. (That it wasn’t hard to figure out and you found a likely culprit for your dishwasher’s slacking.) It’s always a pleasant surprise when a dreaded task turns out to be quick and painless. Thanks for your comment!

  • Maria B.

    Hey, this info was soo helpful. I have a Bosch too and noticed a smell recently. Will check the filter and not I don’t want to find the manual…
    -M

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