Dishwasher Smells Like Burning? (here’s why & what to do)

If you can smell a burning smell when your dishwasher is running, it can be worrying because it could be an indication of something serious. With that said, sometimes although it seems pretty serious, this issue can often be solved quite easily.

In this article we look at all of the reasons why your dishwasher might smell like burning and offer practical ways to fix this worrying problem.

Why Does The Dishwasher Smell Like Burning?

If your dishwasher smells like burning it could be caused by something as simple as an overloaded tub or it could be a serious mechanical or electrical fault. There are a number of reasons why your dishwasher might smell like burning which include;

Probable CauseSolution
Overloaded RacksEnsure the dishes have enough space to facilitate sufficient water and air flow
Clogged FilterClean the filter and remove any food particles or debris
Clogged PumpInspect and clean the pump
Hard Water DepositsUse a commercial descaler or white vinegar to remove limescale
Melted Plastic ItemsRefrain from putting plastic items that are not dishwasher safe in the dishwasher
Defective SolenoidInspect and replace the solenoid if necessary
Defective ThermostatReplace the thermostat
Defective Heating ElementReplace the heating element
Wiring IssuesGet the wiring inspected
Defective MotorReplace/repair the motor
Defective Control BoardReplace the control board

Let’s take a closer look at each of these issues;

Overloaded Racks

loading a dishwasher

If the dishwasher is overloaded to more than its recommended capacity, it can cause some issues that will hinder its performance. If the racks are overloaded, it can prevent the spray arms from rotating correctly which can mean not enough water gets spread around the tub.

If the spray arms aren’t rotating properly, it means the motor and pump have to work that much harder. It’s that extra workload that causes extra heat which can lead to that burning smell.

To remedy this, all you need to do is always stack your dishes allowing enough space around them for water and hot air to flow freely. Ensuring that the spray arms are not restricted in any way. 

If the racks are overloaded or the dishes are stacked incorrectly, it can restrict the circulation of water, cause added strain on the components of the dishwasher and cause those components to overheat.

Clogged Filter

The filter on the dishwasher is designed to trap any food particles or other debris that is washed away from the dishes and prevent them returning to dirty the now clean dishes. If the filter becomes clogged, it restricts the water flow through the appliance which can cause overheating of the drain pump or other components.

If there is a build up of trapped food or debris, it can cause a burning smell. 

To solve this, simply remove the filter and wash it under running water. Any stubborn bits can be removed using a toothbrush and for really greasy or fatty areas, you can soak the filter in a white vinegar and water solution.

Clogged Pump

The pump is responsible for sending water around the dishwasher. If the pump gets clogged with food, debris or broken glass/china, the pump cannot operate as it should.

This causes the pump and other components to have to work harder which increases the amount of heat generated. This can all cause the dishwasher to smell like burning.

To solve this, you will need to locate the pump and inspect it for any obstructions. Pay particular attention to the impeller and remove any obstructions using a pair of long nose pliers.

This task can be performed by a competent DIYer, but if you’re not sure, we recommend getting a technician to do this for you.

Hard Water Deposits


If you live in a hard water area (and more than 60% of the UK has hard water), the high mineral content can cause a build up of limescale which can harm the dishwasher.

Over time, limescale deposits can build up on the heating element and pipes. The limescale build up insulates the heating element which means it has to work harder to produce sufficient heat to wash and dry the dishes.

It can also cause the pipes to become clogged which impedes the flow of water. This means the pump has to work harder to push the water all around the appliance. All of which can cause a burning smell.

If you live in a hard water area, you will need to descale your dishwasher to remove limescale build up. You can use a commercial dishwasher descaler and follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to use it.

Alternatively, you can use a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and water. Which should be poured into a bowl and placed on the lower rack of an empty dishwasher. Run the hottest cycle on your dishwasher to remove limescale and other potential blockages.

Regardless of whether you use a commercial dishwasher cleaner or a white vinegar solution, you should run a hot service wash in an empty dishwasher at least once a month.

Melted Plastic Items

Not all plastic is dishwasher safe and if you put plastic items that are not designed for dishwasher use in your appliance, there is the potential for them to melt. Melting plastic could find its way onto the heating element and cause a burning smell.

The best way to prevent this from happening is to never put plastic items that are not dishwasher safe in the appliance. If you have accidentally placed any plastics in the dishwasher and they have melted, you will need to remove them as soon as possible.

Take care because melted plastic is extremely hot and should not be removed using a naked hand. You should use tongs or heat resistant gloves to handle any melting plastic.

How To Remove A Burning Plastic Smell From The Dishwasher

To remove any melted plastic from your dishwasher, you should run the dishwasher through the shortest cycle that includes drying. After the drying cycle has been running for a few minutes, cancel the cycle.

You can then scrape the melted plastic off the dishwasher using a wooden spoon or non-metallic utensil.

Defective Solenoid

Dishwashers have a water inlet valve (or solenoid) as well as a drain solenoid. These solenoids are electrical components which can short out which can produce a burning smell.

You can visibly inspect the solenoids for any damage or burn marks. If you notice any issues, you should get the solenoid(s) replaced.

Defective Thermostat

The thermostat in a dishwasher controls the water temperature for the duration of each and every cycle. If the thermostat becomes defective, it can cause the water to overheat which will cause the dishes to not be cleaned properly, damage many components and cause a burning smell.

If you are a competent DIYer you can test the thermostat and replace it if it proves to be defective. However, we recommend getting a technician to do this for you as it involves dismantling the panels of the dishwasher.

Defective Heating Element


All modern dishwashers take in cold water which is heated up onboard by using a heating element. It is also responsible for creating the hot air that is used to dry the clean dishes after the wash cycle has completed.

If the heating element is defective or develops a fault, it can cause the dishwasher to smell of burning. A defective heating element can either not create enough heat to wash and dry the dishes effectively, or create too much heat which can be even more detrimental to the dishwasher.

You can inspect and test the heating element yourself, but it’s another part that is best left to an expert. A technician will be able to identify whether the heating element is faulty and also be able to identify and source the correct replacement part.

Wiring Issues

All of the electrical components on the dishwasher are connected by a myriad of electrical wires. Any one of these wires or connections can be susceptible to faults.

From short circuits to loose connections, the wiring in your dishwasher can cause an electrical problem which will smell like burning. If you suspect the wiring is the cause of the problem, we recommend getting a technician to investigate and repair/replace any faulty wires or connectors.

Loose Power Cord

Whilst on the subject of wiring, you should also inspect the power cord for any fraying or loose connections. Any electrical wiring fault can create a burning smell.

Defective Motor

Dishwasher motors are responsible for powering all of the moving parts in your dishwasher including the spray arms and pump. There are several reasons why the motor could overheat which include;

  • Limescale Buildup
  • Clogged Pump
  • Faulty Wiring
  • Age Related Wear And Tear

If the motor overheats it can cause a burning smell and cause serious problems with your dishwasher. Other issues that can be related to the motor include burnt out wiring or other components. 

Accessing the motor involves dismantling some of the dishwasher’s panelling. Which is why we recommend getting a technician to check on the motor if you suspect this is the problem.

Defective Control Board

The control board controls every function of the dishwasher. Over time, the control board can develop a short or other fault which can smell like burning.

We recommend getting a technician to check the control board and replace it if necessary.

SEE ALSO: How To Clean & Sanitise A Dishwasher (to remove smells & dirt)

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my dishwasher smell like burning?

If your dishwasher smells of burning it is likely to be caused by; an overloaded rack, a clogged filter or pump, limescale buildup, melted plastic items, defective solenoid, defective thermostat, defective heating element, wiring faults, defective motor or a defective control board.

Is it normal for a new dishwasher to smell like burning plastic?

All new appliances have unusual smells which can be like burning plastic. The best way to clear this smell is to run a few wash cycles using detergent to wash the newness smells away.

How does a clogged filter cause a burning smell in a dishwasher?

If the filter on the dishwasher is clogged, it puts extra pressure on the motor and pump to move water around the appliance. This can cause the motor and pump to overheat which can cause a smell of burning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *