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Does your dishwasher smell like burning plastic?
That sucks! There’s nothing worse than opening your dishwasher and being hit with the smell of burned plastic.
While this may seem alarming at first, there are a few simple reasons why this might happen.
If your dishwasher smells like burning plastic, chances are there’s a worn-out connection, a shorted board, or a plastic item has fallen into the heating element.
Keep reading to learn how to solve these issues!
Why trust us? This article was written in collaboration with James Blackford, our appliance repair expert. James has over 16 years of experience as an appliance technician, works as a Master Technician for SquareTrade, and runs his own appliance repair company.
3 Reasons Why Your Dishwasher Has a Burning Smell
It’s not unusual for a dishwasher to emit a chemical smell when you first buy it. After the first wash or two, though, the smell goes away, and you forget about it.
But if the burning or plastic smell persists, you might want to check your dishwasher’s components.
These are the most common reasons why your dishwasher has a burning smell:
#1 Worn-Out Connection
If you detect a burning plastic smell coming from your dishwasher, don’t worry! It’s likely coming from the connection where your household power hooks up to the appliance in the little panel box underneath.
This can happen because the connection has worn out, causing a short circuit. Luckily, fixing this issue is very simple.
Firstly, turn off the circuit breaker to ensure your safety, and remove the access panel by unscrewing it. Inside, you’ll find a small gray metal box that houses the wires.
You’ll notice three wires coming from your household power and three wires that are part of your dishwasher’s wire harness. Typically, these wires are white, black, and green. The potential culprits for the burning smell are usually the white or black wires.
Once you’ve identified the burnt wire, all you have to do is remove the old cap, give the wire a good cleaning, and put a new cap on it. In cases where the wire is really crispy, you may need to trim it back a bit before applying the new cap.
I recommend going the extra mile and wrapping electrical tape around each of those connections to avoid this issue from happening again.
Don’t forget to refer to the manufacturer’s manual. And, if you feel uncomfortable fixing this issue on your own, it’s recommended to call a professional. Electrical repairs can often be tricky, and your safety should be the top priority.
#2 A Shorted Board
If you notice a burning smell coming from the top of the door, there’s a good chance the control board has been shorted. This is particularly common in dishwashers that are 10 years or older.
When this happens, it’s important to unplug your dishwasher from the power source or turn off the circuit breaker.
Then, it’s recommended to call a professional, as fixing the control board can be a bit more challenging.
In my experience, some LG dishwashers have a tendency to smell a little like burnt plastic due to the way they make their boards. If you own an LG and the smell is only a tiny bit noticeable, your dishwasher is probably fine – not to worry!
#3 Issues With the Heating Element
While you may have stacked the dishwasher correctly and put your plastics on the top shelf, agitation during the washing cycle can cause items to move.
If a plastic item falls through the shelves and onto the heating element, it can cause a burning smell.
You see, dishwasher-safe plastics can resist the high temperatures of a dishwashing cycle, but they can’t resist the direct heat of a heating coil. This means they can partially or fully melt with prolonged contact.
Unfortunately, you won’t know this has happened until you open the door – and by then it may be too late. Your child’s drinking cup is a warped mess, and your plates and glasses reek of plastic, too.
If you’ve looked at the heating coil and a melted plastic cup isn’t the culprit, you’ll have to dig deeper and examine the inside of the dishwasher.
Please check the sides for stickers or foam. Make sure these packaging materials are fully removed before you start your next cycle.
Do you see damage or burns on the plastic-coated racks? If this is the case, there might be a problem with the heating element. Stop using your dishwasher and call the manufacturer.
If you find that the smell persists, or if the smell happens out of the blue, there might be a fault with the dishwasher. Check with recalls.gov for a list of defective appliances or contact the manufacturer.
How to Get Rid of the Burning Plastic Smell Coming From Your Dishwasher
Sometimes we don’t take precautions and accidents happen. So, what do you do when plastic melted in the dishwasher and now everything smells?
Here are 5 steps on how to get a burnt plastic smell out of your dishwasher.
Open the windows and ventilate the space. You want to eliminate the smell as quickly as possible.
After you’ve done this, turn off the dishwasher, unplug it from the wall, and wait for it to cool down. Then, when your plates and glasses are cool enough to handle, remove them from the dishwasher and put them aside.
#2 Find the Culprit
Using a pair of heat-resistant gloves, look for the plastic that’s melted in the dishwasher. If you find it, remove the damaged plastic item.
If it has fallen on the coil, scrape it off with a wooden spoon and throw it away. Don’t be tempted to reuse it, even if it’s only slightly damaged.
Melted plastics can leach chemicals into your food and pose a risk to your family’s health.
#3 Added Tactics
If the plastic is stuck on the element, a nifty trick is to use a hair dryer to soften it. Apply heat to the plastic until it’s soft enough to be dislodged without damaging the coil.
Remove as much as you can and brush away dust or particles that have fallen on the base. Any residue will continue to smell when you use the dishwasher (or clog up the filter), so be thorough.
#4 Use Baking Soda
Fill the detergent compartment with a cup of baking soda and set it for a normal wash. Repeat with a second wash to make sure that the smell is completely gone.
You can also place a bowl of baking soda in the bottom of the dishwasher and leave it overnight. This should absorb any residual odors.
#5 Use Vinegar
If the burned smell was particularly bad, and it’s still there in the morning, repeat the steps above with white vinegar.
Like baking soda, it can sanitize and deodorize your dishwasher without harming the interior. However, check your manual to make sure that vinegar can be used on your model. Some dishwasher manufacturers don’t recommend the use of vinegar-based cleaning products.
How to Remove the Plastic Smell From Plates and Glasses?
While it might be tempting to throw your smelly dishes away and start again, a cheaper solution is to soak them in a sink of hot water with a cup of baking soda. Leave them for a couple of hours and then rinse.
If the baking soda leaves your glasses gritty or streaked, use four parts of water and one-part white vinegar and let them soak for at least an hour. Rinse and dry naturally, or wipe with a microfiber cloth. And don’t worry, the vinegar smell dissipates as soon as it dries!
Do not reuse plastic dishes that have been burnt or melted by the heating element, as they typically release harmful chemicals and pose a health threat to you and your family.
How to Prevent Plastic Smells in the Future
The easiest way to avoid burned plastic in your dishwasher is to wash your plastics by hand. Let’s face it, no matter how carefully you load your dishwasher, a small lid or plastic peeler is bound to make its way to the heating element.
Another tip is to put plastic on the top rack, as far away from the heating element as you can (varies per model). Alternatively, make sure the heat-dry option isn’t selected (if your machine has this) when washing plastic dishes.
If you don’t have the time to handwash, you could invest in a dishwashing basket that prevents pacifiers, baby bottle parts, and peelers from moving around during the washing cycle.
But even if your plastics stay put, research shows that polycarbonates in plastic can deteriorate if they’re repeatedly exposed to high temperatures and water pressure. This is why you should alternate handwashing with dishwashing, or replace your plastics after a few years. Alternatively, you could buy tempered glass or ceramic, which perform better in dishwashers – and last a lot longer too.
Is the Smell Dangerous?
The smell of burned plastic can be overpowering, and you might worry about its effects on your health.
If you inhale burnt plastic for a short period time, it’s unlikely to pose any long-term health risks.
While it can cause coughing, shortness of breath, and discomfort, the symptoms will pass as soon as you open a few windows and ventilate the kitchen.
To help disperse the smell, turn on ceiling fans, light candles or use room deodorizers. If you have children or family members with asthma or smell sensitivities, keep them out of the room until the smell has cleared.
Can a Dishwasher Melt Plastic?
In general, dishwasher-safe plastic containers shouldn’t melt when they are used correctly. After all, they’ve been designed to resist the pressure and temperatures of dishwashers, which can be as high as 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
But, as mentioned above, some plastic containers have a heat limit for ovens or dishwashers, so check this before use. If they can withstand the heat of your dishwasher, place them on the top shelf away from the heating coil.
On the other hand, if you have thin or flimsy plastic containers that aren’t dishwasher-safe, don’t put them in the dishwasher. There’s a risk they may melt or warp. Not only will you lose valuable containers, but it’s also unsafe for your washer.
If you’ve got kids and you wash a lot of reusable, dishwasher-safe plastics, try to avoid dry temperatures or the “sanitize” cycle. This may expose the plastics to higher temperatures than they can handle.
If you’re not sure about how heat-resistant your plastic plate or utensil is, check the brand’s home page or packaging. Or simply wash it by hand.
That about covers it!
Remember, if your dishwasher has a burning smell, you need to check the connection where your household power hooks up to the appliance in the little panel box underneath, the board, and heating element.
If an item has fallen on the heating element, try using a cup of baking soda or vinegar to get rid of the odor. And, if you’re after a more permanent solution, try to wash plastics by hand, buy glass containers, or use a custom dishwashing basket to keep small parts from moving around.
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