A dishwasher open to reveal smelly glasses on the top rack

Here Is Why Glasses Smell Bad after Dishwashing and the Simple Fix

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Do your glasses smell bad after washing? Maybe they come out of the dishwasher smelling like a wet dog, or you dishes smell like fish? It’s bad enough when you’re thirsty and get a whiff of something not right. When guests notice that odor, it can be embarrassing.

I tried everything I could think of, but that smell kept returning. It was worse on warm days, especially when I left the windows open. Other times, my glasses were fine when I put them in the cabinet but that smell returned when I got them out to use. So, I investigated.

Why Glasses Smell Bad After Washing

Bacteria left behind by your detergent or poorly-performing dishwasher breed on your glasses, sometimes trapped by rinse aids, and breeding bacteria stink.

Part of the Problem is Detergent Changes

Glasses stink more now because the EPA made detergent manufacturers remove phosphates that softened water. Softer water lets detergents work better. Without the softener, things don’t get as clean. But that softener did more than just boost the detergent.

Hard Water Does Not Help

Softeners also keep the minerals in hard water from causing buildup and leaving microscopic scratches in glasses and dishes. Those scratches become breeding grounds for bacteria, and breeding bacteria cause odors.

Then there’s the Rinse Aid Problem

Many of us turn to rinse aids to help leave glasses clean and shiny. Rinse aids work like wax on a car, creating a slick layer that helps water bead and roll off. But that layer is also to blame for glasses smelling bad, because it traps those odor-causing bacteria.

Now Add in Humidity or Open Windows

Okay, picture it: you’ve got a less than effective detergent plus hard water, or a dishwasher that’s not working well. So all those little bacteria get left behind in the microscopic grooves I mentioned, maybe even trapped in place with a rinse aid.

So, guess what happens as soon as they get a whiff of warm, moist air coming through your windows? They start breeding like crazy, making that bacterial odor, and you don’t even have to put on Barry White.

How to Fix Smelly Glasses and Dishes

I’ve found two ways to get rid of the wet dog odor, and they both come down to using vinegar to remove that haze and eliminate the bacteria behind the smell.

In the Sink

To get rid of the smell on your glasses in the sink, soak them in equal parts white vinegar and hot water for 20-30 minutes. Then scrub them well in soapy water, rinse, and dry them with a towel.

In the Dishwasher

You can also use your dishwasher to get rid of that wet dog smell. For this, you’re not going to wash silverware or any plastic—load only the smelly glasses and dishes. Also, skip the detergent for now.

  1. Turn two glasses upright on the top rack and fill them to the brim with white vinegar.
  2. Start the dishwasher but stick close by. When you hear the detergent door pop open, pause the machine.
  3. The vinegar will have splashed around onto your other dishes, so now give it 20-30 minutes to work
  4. Continue the dishwashing cycle.

And, hey, it’s not a bad idea to deep clean your dishwasher once you’re done so you know there aren’t bacteria lurking in there.

Tips To Keep the Smell from Returning

Nothing involving cleaning is ever a one-and-done task, is it? So, let’s go over some ways to keep your glasses and dishes from smelling again.

Don’t overfill your dishwasher’s soap dispenser. If you use powdered detergent, measure it. Or switch to pods.

Keep your dishwasher clean. Follow the deep cleaning steps I mentioned, or use a dishwasher cleaning tablet once a month.

Put vinegar in your rinse aid dispenser. Remember what I said about rinse aid trapping bacteria? Vinegar helps dishes dry quickly while preventing the haze and bacterial buildup that makes glasses and dishes stink.

Liked that? Now let me tell you how to get your dish cloth to stop smelling, too!

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32 Comments

  1. Third stinky dishes have been driving me insane!
    Thank you for these tips. Thoughts on eco vs heat dry and open door right after the DW runs or wait?
    Thanks, Martha

    1. Katie Berry says:

      There are pros and cons to each. If your dishes have a film on them, popping open the door will make them smell bad faster.

  2. Bettina Whippie says:

    Hi, Katie! Thank you so much for all your terrific advice! We all love you! When my glasses get a bit cloudy, I give them a swipe over with a wet Magic Eraser, inside and out, then wash by hand. Works great! ❤️

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Bettina! Aren’t those Magic Erasers fantastic? I’d never thought about using them to tackle this problem. Thanks for sharing that! ❤️

  3. Can confirm the windows open is a real phenomenon to exacerbating the fish dish smell. For us, it is the metal silverware, ceramic plates, and glassware. Plastics are unaffected.
    We are on pre-softened city water in Bloomington MN. Newer water heater, drained annually. PEX plumbing from supply to tap.
    We have used powders, pods, gels, dish soap, no soap, bleach, vinegar, you name it. I’ve taken the dishwasher apart and cleaned it as much as possible without pulling it out of the cabinet. The smell always returns.
    The only solution that seems like it might work is the vinegar for rinse aid option. I will try that today and try and rememeber to report back.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Thank you for the details on your setup, since that will help all of us narrow down the solution. Looking forward to learning if vinegar did the trick for you as it did for me.

  4. kelly m prince says:

    We got a new set of dishes for Christmas, used 3 plates once, hand washed, had doors/windows closed….no smell. The next day used the same 3 dishes for ham sandwiches, hand washed, same everything except the windows and doors were opened (sc it was 75 on dec 29), rinsed the dishes ( had like 4 crumbs so no I didn’t use soap….the whole house smelled like wet dog.
    no dish washer, no soap, no eggs, no foggy build up, literally brand new plates. It HAS to be the city water mixing with the open air….But I had this exact same smell in VA. I just don’t get it.

  5. ron cummings says:

    before reading these comments i had tried all the things listed right down to a new stainless steel dishwasher–then I read that the outside air created the problem- and i laughed at that, a few days later I checked the dishes all was well I left a dish on the counter, one that had no smell, opened the window sat down to work on comp. and a breeze came across the room, I smelled something picked up the clean plate and could not even tolerate the stink! so I’m agreeing with the outside air hitting the dishes and creating the smell……have no idea how it happens but I hope someone can tell me…. Thank you, Ron

  6. Sometimes it’s just good to buy new glasses too.

    1. Yes I finally bought new glasses and have had them for a week. They are starting to smell bed now too!

  7. Hi everyone. I too had a problem with a smelly dishwasher. I was using Finish Powerball detergent and everything was fine. One day, I bought the Finish tablets that were in a biodegradable wrapper that you are just supposed to put the whole thing in the dispenser. Not sure why, but my dishwasher really started to stink with these things. I switched back to the Powerballs with the throw-away wrapper, and the smell was immediately gone. If you are using the tablets with the biodegradable wrapper, get rid of those if your dishwasher smells.

  8. Hi. I may have the answer, well I have for me anyway. I followed the advice to do a ‘Superwash’ as opposed to ‘Normal’ wash and ok it uses a bit more water and power but it ALMOST completely worked ie not quite. Here is the simple process I added to COMPLETELY fix it-
    Once the cycle has finished, I empty ASAP and with a single sheet of kitchen roll, I quickly wipe around the rims of glasses and cups as I put them away. I wonder if being upside down some traces of water/bacteria run down and dry on the rims if left in the machine for too long.
    As I said, it’s a 100% fix for me. Good luck.

  9. Katherine says:

    I live in hard water area and struggling with cleaning the dishwasher. I must clean the machine every second week, otherwise dishes come out stinking. Is there a way or filter that I can use to prevent so much cleaning?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Katherine,
      You could look into a whole-home water softener, but that’s a pretty big expense. You could also try installing a water filter for the line running to your dishwasher. Or just rinse the dishwasher filter every few days under the tap — it’s not hard — and run an Affresh pod through it weekly. Then you probably won’t need to deep clean more than once a season.

  10. I really haven’t noticed the smell, but it seems when I touch my tongue to the inside of a clean glass, there is a terrible taste that apparently comes from the rinse aid, and I feel this can’t be healthy. If it’s on the glasses, it’s on everything that came out of the dishwasher. My Bosch dishwasher will not operate without a rinse aid. Suggestions?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I put white vinegar into my rinse aid dispenser. It helps dissolve any lingering detergent film and speeds up evaporation, so things come out spot free.

  11. The smell is terrible! We tried everything to fiix this dead fish smell. We even tried a whole new dishwasher! It ONLY happens when the windows/screen doors are open. This is maddening! I ended up purchasing Melamine products for the summer, which are much better. Glassware and plates are just gross! Where is the outrage and the scientific explanation about the new detergents and this smell!!!????

  12. Pauline Coady says:

    I noticed this problem a few years ago when I was served a sandwich on a plate in a brand new restaurant and the smell nearly knocked me over. After that, I noticed it with my brand new dishwasher and have tried everything. I have scrubbed the inside of my dishwasher, cleaned out my sink SBend in case water was held there to no avail.

    I was running and rerunning my dishwasher to try and remove the smell – now, I just put the cycle through. I put the dishes away and each time I take a dish I run it under cold water and dry it with paper towel – no smell. It’s a pain but it works.

    I agree about plastic water bottles. I noticed the smell today on a Starbucks Frappuccino bottle from the fridge, ugh!

  13. I am soooooo happy I’m not the only one who deals with this. I have this happen at least once a week with my dishes in the dishwasher. I have also had this happen for years. All three dishwashers, brand new in new homes. It’s hit and miss. No rhyme or reason. I just cannot figure it out. It’s always a ”Let’s see what this load smells like” after every load. Sometimes everything stinks, sometimes nothing stinks. If they stink, they’re in for another wash. Most times, they do not smell after that second cycle. I have pre-washed, pre-rinsed and neither of the two, for ‘test cases’ for loads. Again….no rhyme or reason. Sometimes they stink and others they don’t. I about barf with this wet dog smell. Sometimes, the dishes will smell fine out of the dishwasher, then after sitting in the cupboard for a few days, there’s that smell. It’s so frustrating for me. It’s mainly on the flatware, glasses, plates and bowls. Nothing plastic. Although……at times, I can smell that same odor coming from water bottles that I drink out of. It’s so gross. For what I have experienced, it has nothing to do with having windows opened. Most of the time, I open the dishwasher and pow! There’s the odor. —I do clean my dishwasher once a month with bleach. I run my dishwasher on hot wash and sanitizer rinse even. This odor is so disgusting!

  14. This happens to us when we have the windows open as well. What’s strange is that it never happens when we use a crystal tumbler (which is rare!) but I’m not sure why that is.

  15. Julie Goldstein says:

    I am so happy I have found this blog because I thought I was going wacky from the smell. The fishy wet dog smell is awful but it’s not just limited to our dishes. Strangely the outside of our open plastic bottled water bottles begin to stink just after we started opening up our windows in spring and that is why I’m here because I’m wondering what in the world this odor is caused from. We definitely notice the smell worse when the windows are open, definitely agree. But bottled water has absolutely nothing to do with dishwashing or soaps without phosphates. Which leads me to wonder if it’s the water itself and when it mixes with air it causes this horrible smell. By the way it’s also happening when we drink from our glasses and cups so I’ve got issues with both our bottled water and our dishes.

  16. Pamela Cawthorne says:

    We have dealt with the wet dog smell at times for years. Through 3 dishwashers and many types of detergents and cleaning of the dishwasher with many different cleaners. What we have discovered over time is that the smell occurs mainly in the times of year when you open your windows. We believe it’s humidity interaction with the dishes and glassware. We have even had it happen that they smell fine when you take them out then you open the windows and boom there it is ! I don’t know if it’s because of the lack of phosphates or what but after reading endless stories about maybe it’s your dishes, maybe it’s eggs, maybe it’s your water. Stories from all over the world there was never anything common. As long as we keep our windows shut we’re fine.

  17. Lynn Owen says:

    I get these smells mostly on plates and often when I have had eggs. Sometimes the plates smell ok until I put food on it and then they smell. Drives me mad, I smell the plates everytime I get one out of the cupboard. I will try the white vinegar I bought some the other day. Thanks for the tips.

  18. Jessica Carlton says:

    The too much soap thing is good to know! I throw a pack in the bottom and one in the dispenser during the extra long cycle.
    I have tried everything.. changing detergents, rinse aids, deep cleaning the washer with vinegar, deep cleaning it with a “special made cleaner”, Rinsing prior with cold water, rinsing prior with hot water, pre soaking dishes (we usually load as we cook and wash immediately after eating). I have even tried cutting the load in half and spacing things out more(I am a freak about how things go so I don’t over load it anyway). I have tried all the cycles/lengths. Hand washing our knives they were soooo gross smelling after. If using less detergent does not help then I am beginning to think it is our city water!! I am almost to the point of throwing our dishes away b/c they smell so bad!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I’ve never heard of adding a second pack to an extra long cycle. Since there’s not a rinse midway through, it seems to me like adding more shampoo halfway through washing your hair — I mean, you’ll get more suds but they’re not getting rinsed away before adding more, so maybe the rinse cycle can’t get rid of it all? I think I’d try cutting back to one pack in the dispenser, period. The extra long cycle is about giving the water more time to work on the grime, and that should be enough — with one pack — to get your dishes cleaner.

      But before you toss everything out, give that vinegar soak a chance on your glasses, utensils, and dishes. Good luck!

    2. Rachelle Monchik says:

      We are also going crazy with this horrific odor. We, also find, when our windows are open, everything smells worse. My kids won’t let me serve on anything but paper.

    3. We are there too! Have done all the things and it seems to still happen both with the dishwasher and hand washing….only common denominator is the water…ugh what do we do!?!?!?!?

    4. I’ve already tossed one set of dishes due to the horrible smell. I’ve stopped using the dishwasher completely. We hand wash everything now and dry it right away. Now I’m stuck with a wast of space where my dishwasher sits and sadness that I can no longer use this luxury kitchen item. Did I mention I hate washing dishes. ?

  19. Dean Safris says:

    Thanks for this info. When we opened the cupboard doors the dog smell would just hit you. I made my wife throw away the mat she had on the bottom of the shelf. We rewashed all of them but as you say, they have looked crappy and etched for ages before they started to smell. We can’t wait to soak them and get rid of the wet dog smell that gags me when I drink out of them. We were about ready to buy a new dishwasher.

  20. Hi
    I have the same problem with plates and cups too. I noticed that if I rinse them from washing up liquid with my clean hands and while I’m rubbing them they make that squeaky noise under runny water then I know they won’t smell fishy. But if I don’t rub them while rinsing them they all smell bad. This makes my hands really dry.
    I will try the vinegar soak, hopefully it will help my hands.

  21. This problem is caused by leaving used dishes to soak in lemon detergent for some time wash right away without using too much detergent rinse and air dry.

    1. I use dawnx2 and dishes smell everything smells like wet dog what to do

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