Green Ingredients to Clean a Smelly Dishwasher

Bet you didn't think you'd need to clean your dishwasher, right? Well, occasionally, a good green cleaning is needed to prevent or treat mineral build-up, soap scum, and odors. Several products exist on the market that clean your dishwasher, but unfortunately, not all of them are very green. However, the remedies below are easy, safe, inexpensive, and effective, so give one of them a try, and your dishwasher will be back to smelling like new!

  • 01 of 03
    An economy sized bag of baking soda
    Photo © Karen Peltier

    Baking soda is a sure bet for absorbing smells, especially when it seems like something may have died in your dishwasher!

    To eliminate stains and bad odors, clean the inside of your dishwasher with a baking soda-water paste and let it sit for several minutes to an hour. Then clean off the paste with a damp microfiber cloth soaked in vinegar (or water at least) and run the dishwasher empty for a short cycle to remove any remaining paste. Note: To prevent baking soda from getting "baked on," I don't use the hottest water setting or sanitize option for this treatment. If any residue remains after the cycle is complete, add a cup of vinegar to your top dishwasher rack and run another cycle per the instructions in the "Vinegar" section below.

    To prevent smells from building up, sprinkle a little baking soda or this DIY Aromatherapy Cleanser in the bottom of your dishwasher occasionally between loads and leave the door cracked to allow air movement. What remains will act as a natural detergent booster when you run the next load, which is especially useful if you have hard water.

  • 02 of 03
    A sliced in half lemon, and a full lemon
    André Karwath/Wikimedia CC 2.0

    Citric acid is often used in canning, but it's also great for green cleaning. Naturally found in citrus fruits like lemons, citric acid breaks down mineral build-up, cuts through grease, and zaps soap scum, so it's great for really grungy dishwashers. It also naturally bleaches, so it helps remove tomato- and spice-based stains (think marinara sauce or turmeric). Therefore, if you notice any discoloration or have a filmy or greasy coating on the inside of your dishwasher, or worse yet, clogged sprayer holes, give it a try. It's available in most grocery stores in powder form. And be sure to use it monthly for maintenance.

    To eliminate odors, banish build-up, and brighten your dishwasher, add about 3-4 tablespoons to the bottom. (For particularly dirty dishwashers, you may need to double the amount used.) Run your dishwasher on it's hottest cycle for a few minutes, then pause it before the water drains. Let the mixture sit for a few hours, then resume the cycle. For a quick fix, you can also add some citric acid to the detergent cup and run a cycle to clean your dishwasher.

    Caution! Be careful to not breathe in citric acid when pouring it. It can irritate your eyes and lungs. Should eye contact occur, wash liberally with water. If irritation persists or breathing problems result, contact a physician. Also, wash your skin with water and soap if contact occurs.

    Warning! Don't mix citric acid with chlorine bleach or dish detergent products that contain it, because a deadly and corrosive gas could result.

  • 03 of 03
    An economy size bottle of heinz vinegar
    Photo © Karen Peltier

    Vinegar not only eliminates odors but also disinfects and breaks down that powdery build-up from dishwasher detergents, which is often a problem if you have hard water.

    To disinfect, zap odors, and clean your dishwasher, simply pour one to two cups of vinegar in a glass measuring cup on the top rack of an empty dishwasher. If you'd like to impart a fresh scent, add a drop or two of essential oils, which have antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. Run the dishwasher on its hottest cycle. Repeat this procedure weekly or monthly to keep odors in check and ensure optimal functioning.

    Warning! Never mix vinegar with dish detergent products that contain chlorine bleach. Toxic fumes can result as explained in the article "Mixing Bleach and Vinegar."