Quite often my dishes after washing have a rather unpleasant smell that I can only compare to the smell of a wet dog. For a longer while I thought it's just me, until I Googled "wet dog smell dishwasher" and realized that this is actually a pretty common complaint. At the same time, there are tons of different possible causes listed online (a common one having to do with egg residue on dishes), but nothing more credible than a bunch of forum posts of people having the same problem. Also, like some other people, I noticed that the smell intensifies if the dishes are left to dry with the window open. I used a dishwasher, but others noticed the problem also appears when hand washing the dishes.

Now that I know that I'm not alone, I wanted to ask here if this phenomenon has some proper "scientific" explanation? Does it pose any health risks? Only then, based on that explanation, I would love to see some solutions.

  • 1
    What did all the forum posts state about the problem, and potential solutions?
    – holroy
    Jul 6, 2015 at 19:20
  • Run a sink of really hot water. Does the water (or hand-washed dishes, for that matter) also have that same characteristic smell? Jul 6, 2015 at 21:11
  • I read various threads your link led me to - I'm highly intrigued! I've never had this problem with hand washed dishes, and I'm pretty old you know, so a lot of years of washing dishes.Ive also never had any friends with dishwashers mention this. Any explanation re dishwasher filters being dirty causing it doesn't make sense if it occurs with hand washed dishes too. Maybe the water itself and whatever's in it?.
    – Bamboo
    Jul 7, 2015 at 11:35
  • It is intriguing indeed, and I certainly did notice that the smell intensifies if dishes had egg residues on them. Still, the smell is present without eggs too.
    – user7382
    Jul 10, 2015 at 4:24

3 Answers 3


Most likely the smell arises from slightly contaminated water which when dried off leaves that smell. This water could either be on the dishes, or in the dish washer. The contamination is either based on the washing cycle, or due to left overs from earlier runs of the dishwasher (in which case it is somehow stored within the dish washer (i.e. filter, hoses, etc.)).

Is it a health risk? That is not for me to decide, but most likely not since the dishes have been washed in high temperatures and with detergents to help clean the dishes. It is however still not wanted.

Some alternate solutions to reduce/remove the issue:

  • Add a little bleach to the tub below the dishes after the dishwasher completes the cycle, return the bottom rack with the dishes still in. After an hour or so, remove dishes.
  • Make sure that hosing/plumbing of the dish washer is as it supposed to be. That is that drain pipes are installed according to instructions, and maybe you need to incorporate a high loop or dishwasher air gap
  • Ensure that the dish washer works properly, and has the needed fluids. On some dish washers you need to refill salt and rinse aids regularly
  • Do a thorough rinse of your dish washer using suitable detergents. Cleanse all the filters and hoses as you see fit
  • As a prevention mechanism, rinse your dishes before putting them into the dish washer (Preferrably with cold water)
  • Don't leave the dish washer closed after running a cycle. Open it up, and let the heat help the drying process

Hopefully this would help you get rid of the smelly dishes.You might need to clean your dishwasher at regular intervals, but that interval should be in the time span of weeks/months, and not after each run.

  • In fact, opening the door early will worsen the situation. Leaving it closed until completely cold will help prevent the smell from arising in the first place - though will do little to alleviate it once it's started to build up.
    – Tetsujin
    May 19, 2016 at 18:04
  • 1
    @Tetsujin, In my experience leaving it closed will make it a lot more smelly, as that prolongs the drying period and leaves everything in a humid environment.
    – holroy
    May 19, 2016 at 18:26
  • Interesting... Mine dries in a fraction of the time if closed. If opened early the temperature drops & everything can then remain wet for the rest of the day. Maybe models have changed over the years; tbh I don't remember how my last machine behaved. My current one is definitely best left to go cold without opening, especially in summer, to prevent 'wet dog'.... but this definitely presents a 'your mileage may vary' scenario that people may have to experiment with.
    – Tetsujin
    May 19, 2016 at 18:32
  • @Tetsujin, I'm of course talking about letting it complete its program, and only opening after completion. Just to make that clear. If left closed, it surely will smell in my experience. But as always in or around sites like this, one needs to test the different options and see what works best.
    – holroy
    May 19, 2016 at 18:36
  • Of course - I am in total agreement. On a matter such as this, different models may be designed differently & give differing results for the same user 'input'. I had probably not considered that fully before my first comment, my apologies. The user guide on my model [a perhaps 5 year old Bosch] actually says to leave it closed after it's finished, 'for at least 15 minutes', though I've discovered empirically that far longer, 2 hours or more [or just overnight] until it's completely cold, works best for me.
    – Tetsujin
    May 19, 2016 at 18:43

Bacteria is breeding in the microscopic holes and cracks in the dishware. Water that is exposed is also getting trapped in these crevices. Super heating the water and using bleach-based detergent will kill the bacteria.

Allow them to soak for several hours before washing them and then afterward, rinse them with as heated water as you can stand. Allow them to dry standing apart so that the water can fully evaporate and the mildew won't have a place to properly regrow. It is also a good idea to re-rinse them right after you've used them, as there is brand-new bacteria present that will quite happily grow while sitting in your sink.

Bleaching the sink, itself, is an added safeguard.

  1. Run the dishes through the dishwasher, don't let dry
  2. With a good amount of bleach (1/2 cup) in a sink filled with water, let the dishes soak for a couple of hours.
  3. Rinse the dishes and place on dish rack to dry
  4. Do the dishes smell bad still? If yes, then it is your water lines. Maybe you have some excessive sulfur or algae or bacteria in the lines and or your well (if not on a municipal water supply). You will probably want to get your water tested. If no, continue.
  5. Since we were a "no" on the last step, the dishes smell okay now. We know it was either bacteria in/on the dishes or the dishwasher. Run the dishes through the dishwasher.
  6. If the dishes smell bad, the bad smell is getting put onto the dishes by the dishwasher. Follow your manufacturer's instructions on cleaning the dishwasher. If the dishes smell okay, then it was bacteria on the dishes themselves.