Dishwasher Burning Smell: Causes and Solutions


The last thing that you would expect from an appliance that uses water is for it to smell as if something was burning. If you are using your dishwasher, and it puts off a burning smell, it is vital to stop the dishwasher right away to determine the cause.

The dishwasher burning smell might be a result of:

  1. packaging of new dishwasher on the heating element
  2. plastic on the heating element
  3. Faulty dishwasher heater assembly or motor
  4. Faulty dishwasher that has been recalled

In most cases, the cause for the smell is nothing serious and is easy to fix. However, the smell may be a problem with the dishwasher itself. The following steps will help you find what is causing your dishwasher to smell like it is burning.

Is It A Brand New Machine?

If your dishwasher has just been installed and you have a burning smell, the most likely cause for this is that there is a plastic wrap around your heating element. Many manufacturers cover the element so that it does not get knicked or chipped during shipping.

Does The Heating Element Appear Fine?

If the dishwasher is not new and the burning smell is an issue that has appeared lately you will want to see if there is melted plastic on the element. Sometimes the dishwasher can malfunction and the heater will start melting the different components.

If there is nothing melted on the heating element, the element itself may be going bad. If the element is going bad, you will need to replace the piece before the bad element causes damage to your entire unit.

The burning smell may also be coming from the motor of the dishwasher. The reason that you only smell it during the drying cycle is that when the water is active, it blocks the smell. It is unusual for the motor to burn out on a dishwasher, but it is not impossible.

Has the Machine Been Recalled

It is not uncommon for a person not to think that one of their appliances has been recalled. It is, however, very common for appliances to be recalled for defective parts. Check the make and model of your machine to see if there is a recall. If there is, you should be able to schedule a repair to have the part replaced through the manufacturer.

You can check to see if your machine has been recalled by entering your dishwasher in the search bar of the following website: https://www.cpsc.gov/Recalls

How a Dishwasher Works

In order to understand the issue of why your dishwasher has a burning smell it helps to understand how a dishwasher works.

Dishwashers are very basic appliances. They work with three different utilities in your home—electricity to power the unit, water supply, and the sewer system.

When you run your dishwasher, the washer fills with water and mixes with the added soap. The dishwasher recirculates the water for a period of time until the dishes are clean.

The heating element kicks in to heat the water which helps in getting the food particles off of the dishes (Not all dishwashers heating element heats the water so you will need to check your manual). In some cases the dishwasher is hooked up to a hot water line. Typically the water entering the dishwasher is around 120 degrees. The heater may heat this water up to anywhere from 130 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal performance.

The washer then drains the used water and turns on the heating element again to dry the dishes. Once the heating element turns off and cools, the dishwasher will unlock, and the cycle is complete.

The Function of the Heating Element

The heating element in a dishwasher generally serves several different purposes. The reason why I used the word generally is because the heating element may have more capabilities in certain dishwashers.

The first function of the dishwasher heating element is to increase the temperature of the water. Water will enter the dishwasher via a water line at around a temperature of 120 degree Fahrenheit. In order to safely kill the bacteria on the dishes the water needs to be around 130-170 degrees. There fore the heater can act as a bacteria killer.

The second major function of a dishwasher heater is to increase the rate at which the dishes dry. The heat that is radiated from the element evaporates the moisture on the newly washed dishes. Not that it will not create enough heat to evaporate puddles but it still does a solid job.

Types of Heating Elements

The model of your fridge will dictate which type of heater your dishwasher has. You will want to search your serial number or model on google to find the manual to see which type of heater your unit has.

Radiant Heating Element

The radiant heating element is a tube that sits in the bottom of your dishwasher that gets sent power and heats up. It can come in many different shapes and sizes but typically it will be in the shape of a horse shoe.

It will heat up periodically through the dishwasher cycles to keep the water at a certain temperature and will also heat up during the drying cycle.

Pass Through Heating Element

Also known as an inline heater is a dishwasher heater that heats up water as it passes through the hose during the cycle. the actual heating element within these hidden heaters is in the shape of an “O”.

In the drying process the water is heated up really hot in the rinse cycle to help the dishes dry. This is why when the dishes are done and you open the door condensation comes out of the dishwasher.

The benefit of having a pass through dishwasher heater is that plastic will not melt on it like the radiant heating element because it is in an enclosed casing.

Where the Heating Element is Located

The heating element sets about an inch off of the bottom of the dishwasher floor. It looks very similar to other heating coils you may have seen in your appliances. The element is generally located at the bottom of the dishwasher below the rack and wash arm.

How to Test Dishwasher Heating Element

There are two main ways you can test to see if your dishwasher heating element is functioning properly.

The first way is by visibly looking and feeling the element with your hands (make sure the power is off). If the element has a break in the metal tube, or there is blistering your element is broken.

The second way you can check to see if your heating element is working is by performing a continuity test. A continuity test checks to see if there is a continuous electrical path. In order to perform a continuity test you need a multimeter.

Here are the steps to checking the continuity of your heating element with a multi meter:

  1. Remove the heating element from your dishwasher
  2. Turn your multimeter on and turn the dial to Ohms
  3. Use one probe to touch one of the elements terminals (the end piece that hooks into the dishwasher)
  4. Touch the second probe to the other terminal
  5. If the meter shows an ohms resistance between 0-50 then the heating element has continuity which means it is functional.
  6. If the display does not move then there is no continuity and the element needs to be replaced.

You might also want to check the plugs continuity that the heater elements terminals plug into. These can burn out and will not allow your element to turn on.

Steps for Removing Dishwasher Heating Element

Depending on the type of element you have the steps might be slightly different. The list below give you general guidelines regardless of which element you have.

In order to perform a continuity test on the element you will need to know how to remove the dishwasher heating element:

  1. Turn the power off of the dishwasher
  2. Unhook the power cable and wiring (if your dishwasher is hardwired into the junction box)
  3. Unhook the water supply line and drain hose.
  4. Remove the top cover and back panel
  5. Remove the front kick plate (you might need to open the door to access the screws)
  6. Turn the dishwasher over onto its back and remove the base panel
  7. Turn the dishwasher back standing and remove the side panels
  8. From the sides or bottom of the dishwasher remove the plug that the heating terminals are plugged into
  9. Using the access space on the sides or bottom unscrew the nuts that are securing the heating element in place. You may need to remove other pieces if you can’t access the bolts. Typically that means you will need to detach clips
  10. You can then open the dish wash door remove the the drawer and washer arm and pull the element out

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