You open your dishwasher to unload your sparkling clean dishes, when it hits you right in the nostrils: funky dishwasher odor.

But your dishwasher gets cleaned every time you use it, right? Not exactly. And if you don’t give it a once-over once a while, it could start to stink.

The good news: You can freshen your dishwasher in as little time as it takes to wash a few loads of dishes.

Related: When Will Your Appliances Break?

What makes your dishwasher stink?

If your dishwasher smells less than fresh, there could be a number of culprits. These are the most common, according to, the website of home improvement expert Bob Vila:

  • Food scraps. When you wash dishes that have bits of food stuck to them, those scraps get washed off and possibly trapped in the dishwasher’s filter. Over time, they rot, which causes — you guessed it — a rank odor.
  • Grease. Grease from meat and other fatty foods also can build up in your dishwasher, leaving a rancid, smelly coating.
  • Mold. Dark and moist, dishwashers can become mold hotspots.

Related: Guide to Mold Colors and What They Mean

How to clean your dishwasher

No matter what the problem, here are four steps to get your dishwasher squeaky clean and fresh smelling.

1. Clean the filter. Some dishwashers have filters that require manual cleaning, so check the owner’s manual for your machine. If yours needs to be cleaned, take the bottom rack out of your dishwasher, then remove the filter. You might want to wear rubber gloves: If you haven’t cleaned it in a while, you’ll likely find morsels of decomposing food scraps. Put the filter in your kitchen sink and wash it using mild dish detergent and a scrub brush. Each dishwasher is different, but this how-to video from appliance maker Bosch will give you an idea of how cleaning a filter works.

2. Clean the seal. Make a mixture of one part white vinegar to two parts hot water. Take a clean toothbrush, dip it in the solution and scrub the seal around the door to attack fungus.

3. Deodorize. Pour a cup of white vinegar mix into a dishwasher-safe container, place it upright in the top rack of an empty dishwasher, then run the dishwasher on hot. After the cycle finishes, dump one cup of baking soda into the bottom of the dishwasher and run it again — this time a short cycle — also on hot, recommends.

4. Kill mold. If you’ve got a mold issue and your dishwasher does not have a stainless steel interior, put a cup of bleach in the bottom of the machine, then run it through one more cycle. But first, check your dishwasher’s user manual to make sure it doesn’t warn against using bleach in your machine.

Related: 9 Simple Hacks for a Hazard-Free Kitchen

How to keep odors from returning

First, always run the garbage disposal (if you have one) before you run the dishwasher, advises That’s because your sink uses the same drain as the dishwasher, and running both appliances at the same time can cause clogs.

Pre-rinsing before running a load is not the best idea if you’re trying to save water while washing dishes, according to Rainer Stamminger, a professor of appliance technology at the University of Bonn in Germany. “It costs a lot of water,” he says. However, it is a good idea if you want to cut down on the amount of food scraps that end up in your dishwasher drain. In any case, you should use a knife or napkin to scrape food residue into the trash before loading your dishwasher, Stamminger says.

Leave your dishwasher door open between loads to let the interior dry out, which discourages the growth of fungus.

Finally, if your filter must be cleaned manually, do it about once a month, Stamminger says.

Related: SafeBee’s Best Appliance Advice

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Allie Johnson is an award-winning freelance consumer writer with a degree in magazine journalism. She lives in Georgia with her husband and two dogs.