Why Does My Dishwasher Smell Like Fish? (Get Rid of it!)

Why Does My Dishwasher Smell Like Fish

You start to notice a rather fishy smell that seems to originate from your dishwasher. this smell only comes from the dishwasher and not any other appliance that uses water. You open the dishwasher to expect a pleasant fresh scent, only to find it smells like fish. Even the dishes and utensils have a whiff of fish.

What can cause a dishwasher to smell like fish? This article gives an insight into the strange fishy smell coming out of the dishwasher and what can be done about it.

Why Does My Dishwasher Smell Like Fish?

Your dishwasher may give off a fishy smell due to several reasons. One of the major reasons could be due to a dirty filter. If your dishwasher and all its parts are not cleaned regularly, it will start to smell. Even the cleaned dishes may give off a faint whiff.

What Smell Does Fish Have?

Freshly caught fish does not have a strong smell. Rather, it will smell of the waters you fished from – the ocean or freshwater.

Marine fish contain trimethylamine oxide (TMAO), which protects the fish by preventing water pressure, which distorts vital proteins in the fish.

This trimethylamine oxide gets converted to trimethylamine (TMA) when fish die, by enzymes and gut bacteria present in the fish, which is what gives fish its characteristic smell after a while. The older the fish, the more the smell as the TMA increases.

Why Is the Dishwasher Smell Similar to That of Fish?

The dishwasher can give off a fishy odor due to several reasons:

1- Food particles trapped in the dishwasher filter can cause the dishwasher to smell.

This filter needs to be cleaned regularly to remove the build-up of gunk. Dishwasher filters are of two types

Self-cleaning filters: These act like garbage disposals and grind up the food particles which are then drained out. There is no need to remove and clean them. These filters are found in older models of dishwashers.

Manual filters: These can be removed and need to be regularly cleaned. The dishwasher manual will indicate the type of filter your dishwasher has.

2- Hard water leaves a residue on the insides of a dishwasher.

When you don’t have a water softener installed or use well water for your dishwasher, it leaves residues behind. Over time, this build-up will affect the effectiveness of the dishwasher and can be damaging to certain parts.

Trapped food particles will increase the growth of bacteria which will lead to a bad odor coming from the dishwasher. installing a whole-house water softener will take care of this problem and it will be better for your other appliances that use water as well.

3- Food particles can get stuck in the dishwasher gasket (seal) which can go unnoticed

The gasket is often forgotten to be cleaned and a dirty gasket can be another major reason why the dishwasher smells.

Over time, grease, food particles, and detergent residue form gunk which can be hard to scrub off. Regularly wipe with water and vinegar to remove residue and gently scrub with an old toothbrush if necessary.

4- Food particles can get stuck in the crannies and crevices of the dishwasher.

This causes bacteria to form, causing the dishwasher to smell. Keep the racks, sprayers, and detergent dispenser clean.

5- Not rinsing the dishes or removing the larger food bits can cause the drain to clog up.

These bits of food will start to give off a smell as the bacteria start to form and multiply. If the dishwasher is not used even for a day, mold can start to form on the food particles, adding to the smell.

6- Contaminated water could have flowed back into the dishwasher.

Water from the dishwasher is drained to the garbage disposal. If the air gap or a valve fails, dirty water can flow back into the dishwasher, thus causing a foul smell.

The dishwasher can give off a fishy smell whether you have had fish on the menu or not. It is just similar to the smell of fish due to the bacteria forming, so all the components of the dishwasher should be keenly examined and cleaned thoroughly.

How Do I Get the Fish Smell Out of My Dishwasher?

To get rid of the pungent odor, you will need to investigate certain parts of the dishwasher, and deep clean the dishwasher. The following steps will guide you:

1- Check the Dishwasher Filter

The dishwasher filter prevents the drain from being clogged up. It also prevents the food particles from being redeposited back on the freshly cleaned plates. The manual filter is usually cylindrical in shape and can be removed.

STEP 1: The filter is located at the bottom, just under the dishwasher rack. You will need to remove the bottom rack to remove the filter.

Remove the sprayer arm so it can be cleaned as well. Consult the instruction manual on how to remove the filters. Most can be twisted out.

STEP 2: Gently twist the filter out. Certain models have two filters, so remove both if your dishwasher has two filters.

STEP 3: Soak the filters in warm soapy water and gently scrub clean. Rinse them thoroughly under warm running water and allow them to air dry.

STEP 4: Before replacing the filter, check its location for any food particles and gently wipe it clean. Replace the cleaned filters.

STEP 5: If your filter is worn out, you should replace it with a new one.

2- Check the Dishwasher Hose

The dishwasher hose drains out the dirty water from the dishwasher. If it is kinked, the dirty water can flow back into the dishwasher, causing it to smell.

1- Make sure the drain hose is straightened out.

2- The drain hose should also be elevated in a loop to prevent the dirty water from flowing back into the dishwasher.

3- You can also consider replacing the hose if it is old.

4- To clean the dishwasher hose mix vinegar and baking soda (2 parts to 1) and pour it down the drain. After 15 minutes or so, pour some hot water down the drain. This should clear up any debris stuck in the hose.

5- You can also disconnect the hose from the dishwasher and run it under a garden hose to remove clogged-up debris.

3- Clean the Garbage Disposal

The garbage disposal can also be one of the reasons why your dishwasher smells.

STEP 1: Switch off the power from the outlet or turn the garbage disposal’s circuit breaker off. Double-check that the power is off by trying to switch it off.

STEP 2: Remove the gasket and clean it thoroughly with soap, warm water, and a scrubber.

STEP 3: Check the disposal and remove any visible food pieces using tongs, to avoid being cut by the blades.

STEP 4: Pour half a cup of baking soda down the disposal, wait for half an hour, and then pour a cup of vinegar. The foam that is caused will remove the debris from the disposal. Pour hot water to clear everything out.

STEP 5: Replace the gasket and switch the garbage disposal back on.

4- Check the Air Gap

An air gap is a device fitted above the sink, to prevent dirty water from re-entering the dishwasher from the drain.

STEP 1: Remove the cover of the air gap.
STEP 2: Remove the plastic cap and check if there is anything that is causing a blockage.
STEP 3: Use an old toothbrush to clean the inside. Also, clean the covers and put them back

5- Deep Clean the Dishwasher

It is essential to deep clean the dishwasher once a month. Food particles that are left behind after running a cycle can cause bacteria to form. The dishwasher itself does not get cleaned when it is running a load.

To deep clean a dishwasher, you will need:

i. Baking soda
ii. Vinegar
iii. A sponge and scrubber
iv. A Cleaning cloth

Take the following steps:

STEP 1: Remove the dishracks and unscrew the sprayers. Soak these in warm soapy water and gently scrub. Let them air dry.

STEP 2: Using the sponge and soap, wipe the insides of the dishwasher as well as the door. Thoroughly clean the gasket and ensure it is still fitting properly.

STEP 3: Place a bowl of vinegar on the bottom of the dishwasher. Run a hot cycle. Vinegar removes grease and dried food particles from the insides of the dishwasher.

STEP 4: After the cycle is over, sprinkle baking soda around the dishwasher and run another cycle on the machine. Baking soda removes any smell from the dishwasher.

STEP 5: Replace the removed parts and let the dishwasher air dry.

STEP 6: You can also use commercial products to clean dishwashers. These are specially formulated to clean, descale, disinfect, and remove odors from dishwashers. Purchase and use as per instruction.

You can alternate vinegar and a commercial cleaner to deep clean the dishwasher. This is because constantly using vinegar can wear out parts like the rubber gasket because of its acidic nature.

6- Use the Copper Hack

This copper hack works quite well in removing odors from the dishwasher.

1- Place a copper wire into the dishwasher overnight. You may leave the door open or closed.
2- Remove the wire the next day (morning and pour vinegar or bleach in the dishwasher.
3- Repeat this for 1-2 weeks.

CAUTION: Never use washing machine cleaner in a dishwasher as it is not designed for cleaning dishwashers and will leave residues on dishes behind.

If after following the above steps the smell persists, consult a plumber for advice. If the dishwasher is quite old, you may consider purchasing a modern one.

How Can I Get Rid of the Fishy Odor from My Dishes?

If your dishes give off a whiff of fish, do the following:

1- Handwash with warm water and a lemon-scented liquid. You can soak them in the tub for half an hour and then rinse them off.
2- Wash the dishes in vinegar to get rid of the smell.
3- Rub a slice of lemon on the dishes and utensils. This will remove the smell.

Prevent Your Dishwasher from Smelling Like Fish!

Once you get rid of the smell from the dishwasher, do the following to prevent it from recurring:

1- Regularly clean the filters.
2- Deep clean the machine once a month.
3- Always let it air dry after a cycle is finished, to prevent the growth of mold.
4- Not using the dishwasher regularly can also cause bacteria to build up.
5- Rinse the dishes and utensils if they are heavily caked with food before putting them in the dishwasher.

Final Thoughts!

It is better to keep the dishwasher and its components clean, rather than to have problems related to a dirty dishwasher. Also, keep the garbage disposer clean. Remember to leave the dishwasher open so it air dries after every cycle and every time it is deep cleaned.

You may have to deep clean the dishwasher a few times before the smell disappears completely. If after checking and cleaning all the parts, the smell persists, consult a plumber.

If need be, handwash the dishes while a solution is found to rectify the fish smell problem.

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