Why Does My Dishwasher Smell Like Burning Plastic: Causes and Solutions

When you open your dishwasher expecting clean and fresh dishes, the last thing you want is to be greeted by a strong odor of burning plastic. This unsettling smell can raise concerns about the safety of your appliance and the cleanliness of your dishes. In this article, we will delve into the possible reasons behind the unpleasant odor and explore effective solutions to resolve this issue.

Understanding the Problem

Identifying the Burning Plastic Odor

Before we dive into the potential causes, it’s important to accurately identify the burning plastic odor. This distinct smell is often likened to the scent of melting or overheating plastic materials. It can be alarming and may make you hesitant to use your dishwasher until the problem is resolved.

Common Causes of the Burning Plastic Smell

Heating Element Malfunction

A malfunctioning heating element is one of the primary culprits behind the burning plastic smell in dishwashers. The heating element is responsible for raising the water temperature during the wash cycle. If it becomes damaged or faulty, it can overheat and cause nearby plastic components to melt or emit the burning odor.

Foreign Object Interference

Sometimes, a small piece of plastic, such as a utensil handle or lid, can inadvertently find its way into the heating element area. When the dishwasher operates and the heating element heats up, it can cause the foreign object to melt or emit the burning plastic smell.

Overloaded Dishwasher

Overloading the dishwasher with too many dishes can impede proper water circulation and heat distribution. This can lead to plastic items coming into contact with the heating element, resulting in melting and the associated odor.

Warped Dishwasher Parts

Continuous exposure to high heat and moisture can cause certain plastic components within the dishwasher to warp or deform. When these parts come into contact with the heating element, the heat can amplify the plastic smell.

Solutions to Eliminate the Odor

Inspect and Replace the Heating Element

If you suspect a malfunctioning heating element, it’s crucial to have it inspected and replaced by a professional technician. This will not only eliminate the burning plastic smell but also ensure the efficient operation of your dishwasher.

Check for Foreign Objects

Inspect the interior of your dishwasher thoroughly to identify any foreign objects that might be causing the odor. Remove any plastic pieces or debris and ensure that all utensils are dishwasher-safe.

Avoid Overloading

Practice proper loading techniques to prevent overcrowding of dishes. Leave enough space between items to allow for adequate water circulation and heat distribution.

Replace Damaged Components

If you notice any warped or damaged plastic parts within your dishwasher, consider replacing them. This will not only help eliminate the odor but also enhance the overall performance of the appliance.


Experiencing a burning plastic smell from your dishwasher can be unsettling, but it’s a problem that can be addressed. By understanding the common causes and following the recommended solutions, you can enjoy a fresh-smelling dishwasher and clean dishes once again.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q: Can I continue using my dishwasher if it smells like burning plastic?

A: It’s best to avoid using the dishwasher until you’ve identified and resolved the underlying issue to prevent potential damage.

Q: Why is the burning plastic smell more noticeable during or after a wash cycle?

A: The heat from the wash cycle can exacerbate the odor by causing plastic components to release the scent more prominently.

Q: Can I repair the heating element myself?

A: Unless you have experience with appliance repair, it’s recommended to seek professional assistance to avoid accidents or further damage.

Q: Are there dishwasher-safe plastics that won’t emit a burning smell?

A: Yes, some plastics are designed to withstand dishwasher heat. Look for items labeled as dishwasher-safe.

Q: How often should I inspect my dishwasher for potential issues?

A: Regularly check your dishwasher for foreign objects and signs of wear, and perform maintenance at least every few months to keep it running smoothly.

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