4 Reasons Your Dishwasher Smells Like It’s Burning4 min read

A dishwasher generally makes life a lot easier by saving you from having to face countless dirty dishes. But sometimes this device has some unsavory problems. For example, what causes a dishwasher to give off a burning smell?

A burning smell coming from your dishwasher could be: A layer of grease forming inside the dishwasher, a clogged filter, burning plastic placed too close to the heating agent, or a faulty motor. Fixing this issue right away is important in order to prevent further damage.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these potential causes and how to address them so that you can get your dishwasher back in tip-top shape.

This article has been expert reviewed by Andy Fulenchek, a professional appliance repairman with over 10 years experience. He also owns Grace Appliance and this YouTube channel.

top 5 Causes of Burning Smells in Your Dishwasher

Burned wires or control boards can cause a plastic burning smell. Common places to find burned wires on a dishwasher would be at the control board, heater terminals, or cord junction box which usually contains wire nuts to connect the wire. Loose connections cause additional resistance to the electrical path, creates excessive heat, and eventually burns or catches fire…nothing good.

Andy Fulenchek

Unfortunately, there’s not just one clear cause behind a burning smell coming from your dishwasher. Let’s go through some of the most common causes of this burning smell so that you can try to determine which one is the culprit in your case.

1. Grease

Something a lot of dishwasher owners don’t think about is the fact that their dishwasher itself needs to be regularly cleaned. If you don’t clean your dishwasher, then a layer of grease may begin to build up on the inside of the appliance.

When your dishwasher heats up to clean your dishes, it also heats up this layer of grease. This can give off a burning smell.

It’s important to clear away this layer of grease and debris because if it gets bad enough, it could result in noxious fumes coming from your dishwasher.

2. Faulty Motor

This is a rare occurrence, but it’s still entirely possible that you could run into it. If your dishwasher’s motor were to fail, the washer would probably smell fine during the regular wash cycle, but it would begin to produce an awful burning smell during the drying cycle. This would be because the vent fan runs and blows the burning smell towards the room.

Typically, a faulty motor that’s failing in a way in which it’s producing a smell is going to quickly fail in another way: it’s going to heat up and overload the circuit it’s on and trip a breaker. So, if you smell something, then you trip a breaker, this is more likely the issue.

3. Dirty Filter

Another potential issue that could cause a burning smell from your dishwasher is a dirty filter. Although you may not be aware of it, your dishwasher actually has a filter at the bottom that serves to keep smaller dishes from going down the drain.

Sometimes though, food and other debris can get trapped in this filter, clogging it and preventing the dishwasher from cleaning itself properly. The drain pump running while starved of water can produce a burning smell. 

4. Burning Plastic

This is perhaps one of the simplest potential causes of the burning smell coming from your dishwasher. If a plastic utensil like a fork or a piece of plastic Tupperware were to end up next to your dishwasher’s heating element, then it might begin to melt. This will produce a burning smell coming from your dishwasher.

In fact, i’ve seen heaters become dislodged from their metal supports and come in contact with the plastic housing/tub of the dishwasher! It creates a hole and thus leaks during the cycle. Obviously this destroys the dishwasher and might be a strong case made for purchasing metal tubs on a dishwasher. Certainly it’s a benefit in this scenario.

Andy Fulenchek

5. Loose Connections

Other culprits of burning plastic smell could be coming from the power cord and/or connections where it hooks up to power the dishwasher. Loose connections cause excessive heat build up and eventually melt or catch fire. 

Similarly, loose connections at the control board can present the same symptoms.

How to Stop the Smell

Now that we know what causes it, let’s move on to how to stop the smell. We’ll go through how to fix each of the issues in order to stop the smell and keep your house odor free.

Clean the Dishwasher

As we mentioned earlier, one of the most common sources of a burning smell coming from your dishwasher is a thin layer of grease and grime that accumulates in your dishwasher as you use it.

Clean Dishwasher

This will cause a burning smell when your dishwasher is heated up for the drying cycle, causing this layer of grease to burn slightly. Thankfully, this issue is very easy to fix.

All you have to do is clean the inside of your dishwasher every once in a while. To do this, just empty out your dishwasher and add about a cup of white vinegar (on Amazon) to the base of the machine. Then, run the dishwasher while empty and the machine will essentially clean itself.

What to Do If You Have a Faulty Motor

The first thing to do in this situation is to check for a recall on your dishwasher. You may not be the only one having this issue, and if it’s very common there may be a recall. The best part is, if you find that there’s a recall for your dishwasher, you can likely get it fixed or replaced for free.

However, if there’s no recall for your dishwasher, then it’s generally recommended to call a professional repairperson to handle this issue rather than trying to fix it yourself unless you have previous experience with similar appliances.

How to Clean Your Filter

If your dishwasher filter is the issue, then it’s time for a good cleaning. The exact steps to do this will vary a little depending on which dishwasher you have, so check the manual for guidance.

Dirty Dishwasher Filter
  1. Find your dishwasher filter: Usually, the filter is located at the bottom of the dishwasher, under the bottom rack. You may need to remove the rack to gain access.
  2. Remove the filter: In some dishwashers, you may need to unscrew the filter, while in most you can simply twist it out by rotating it counter-clockwise. Some dishwashers may even have multiple filters to pull out at this step.
  3. Fill the sink with soap and water: Fill your kitchen sink with hot water and add a few drops of dishwashing soap to create a cleaning solution.
  4. Soak the filter: All you have to do in this step is place the filter in your cleaning solution and leave it to soak for a couple of minutes. This will loosen any debris that may be stuck in your filter.
  5. Scrub off any remaining debris: Once your filter has soaked for a bit, the debris should be relatively loose and ready to come off. Just use a soft brush to lightly scrape off any debris. Be careful, as anything rough could damage the filter.
  6. Rinse and replace the filter: Finally, you just need to rinse the filter off with water and put it back where it goes. Try running your dishwasher again, and the only smell you should encounter is that of freshly cleaned dishes.
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Hi, I'm Ed, and I run BuildFanatic! I enjoy providing the best possible information on a range of home improvement topics.

Andy Fulenchek
Owner at Grace Appliance | Website | + posts

Andy is a professional appliance repairman and business owner with years of hands-on experience. He co-authors and reviews appliance articles, ensuring accuracy and top-notch information for readers.

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