Why Do Dishes Smell Bad after Hand Washing and How to Fix

I think we’ve all been there: after going through the hurdle of doing the dishes, we realize that they smell bad after washing them.

It’s a smell that most people associate to a wet dog, but no matter how you call it, one thing is certain: it stinks!

In today’s article, we’re going to answer the burning question: why do dishes smell bad after washing them and how to fix this problem and prevent it from happening in the future.

dishes smell bad after washing

We’re talking about all sorts of dishes here – it could be glasses that smell bad, plates or cutlery that smells bad or anything else. And I can tell you one thing: it’s definitely not nice, especially after putting all that work to hand wash them.

Why do dishes smell bad after washing?

There could be various reasons why this is happening and you will have to identify what is causing your problems.

Here are the most common reasons why dishes smell bad after you wash them:

1. Using a dirty kitchen sponge

If you ever washed anything after using the sponge to clean a food that had garlic in it, you know that the smell stays there no matter how much you rinse it. This is why I recommend washing those dishes last.

But it’s not just the garlic smell that bothers us: if the kitchen sponge is not rinsed well or if it is plain dirty, a high quantity of bacteria might be living there and you’re simply transferring it onto your dishes, which smell bad as a result.

How to fix

Clean your dirty kitchen sponge as instructed in our article and wash the dishes again. Sometimes, simply rinsing the sponge well will do the trick, while on other occasions, replacing the kitchen sponge is a must.

Remember that even if you go through the trouble of cleaning a smelly kitchen sponge, they won’t always end up in a pristine condition. Since they are cheap and made to be replaced regularly, if it smells bad – just replace it!

2. The water smells bad

This happens more often than you might think and it could be the water itself that smells bad: the water in our homes is treated with all sorts of chemicals and sometimes they add more of those, and sometimes less, which could have an impact over the smell of your dishes.

Or it could be your water lines: excessive build-up of algae, sulphur or bacteria could result in the same horrible smell.

This is usually more common with the dishwasher, but it could still be the reason why your dishes smell even after hand washing them.

How to fix

If it’s the water treatment, there’s not a lot you can do. Maybe ask a neighbor if they have the same problem: if they do, then you probably found the cause.

You can also call in a specialist to take a look at your water lines and see if the smell persists – or try to wash one dish in a different room (such as in the bathroom) to see if you still have that smell.

For both cases, if you want to be 100% sure, you will have to get the water tested: the lab results will tell you exactly if there is some bad stuff causing the bad smell of your hand washed dishes.

3. The materials your dishes are made of

If your dishes are made of plastic, they can really smell bad and prove to be difficult to fix.

Plastic gets scratched easily and even if the scratches themselves are microscopic, bacteria can still enter those areas and build up there, resulting in a bad smell.

I’ve written an article on how to get the garlic smell out of plastic containers – make sure to check it out, as garlic smell in dishes is one of the least pleasant.

Even glass can be scratched and allow for bacteria to build up. I also found out that my steel-made dishes also have a specific odor sometimes. So there’s really no “perfect” material to go for, although plastic would be the worst.

How to fix

If you’re using plastic, switch to glass or other similar materials. Stainless steel is also a good option.

Also, if your dishes are very old, they might have those scratches that allow for bacteria to build up and result in the wet dog smell: try getting a brand new plate and wash it to see if the smell persists.

4. It can be your sink!

Some people soak their dirty dishes into the sink before washing them (sometimes even washing them with the water in the sink), which could be the culprit for the bad smell.

If you let them soak in the water, you’re basically keeping them in a pool for bacteria since all those tiny bits of food decompose and become breeding places for all sorts of germs. So the longer you soak them, the higher the chance of a bad smell.

But even if you don’t soak them for long, it can be the sink itself that is causing the bad smell: if it is not clean, the smell will transfer to the dishes and the sponge and you’ll find it difficult to get rid of it.

How to fix

First of all, don’t soak all the dishes in the sink and don’t wash them in the same water: always use running water, fresh water to clean them.

Also make sure that the sink is clean at all times: make it a habit to wipe the sink clean with a special detergent made for its material after each round of doing the dishes.

In many cases, I found out that cleaning the sink was the best thing I could do to remove the bad smell on my dishes: I know you can’t wait to call it a day and you don’t feel like washing the sink after you’re done with the dishes… but it’s better to do this than have really bad smelling dishes that you’ll have to wash again anyway later on.


As I said, there could be various reasons for the bad smell of your dishes after washing them but at least now you have some potential causes for your problem and solutions for them.

Hopefully this helps and you won’t have to deal with the bad smell of the dishes any more!

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