A burning smell belongs outside on a grill or campfire, not in your kitchen. If you detect a dishwasher burning smell coming during the drying cycle, the source could be the heating element. The smell could also be due to trapped plastic. If you see your dishwasher smoking during wash cycle, the problem could be with the dishwasher motor. Regardless of which cycle causes a dishwasher burning smell, or which part of the dishwasher it's coming from, you should investigate as soon as possible and make any necessary repairs.
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Dishwasher Burning Smell Electrical Safety
If you think you detect a burning smell coming from any appliance, the first thing you should do — before even attempting to work on it — is to turn off the electricity. Unless you have a portable unit, the wiring for a dishwasher is connected beneath the cabinet at the electrical panel. In order to cut off the electric supply for these type of appliances, you'll need to cut the circuit for the dishwasher at the main circuit breaker.
A portable dishwasher is typically plugged into the nearest outlet. Power for a portable dishwasher can be cut by pulling the plug out of the socket. Make sure your hands are not wet before pulling the plug to prevent electrical shock.
How Dishwashers Work
Dishwashers have three main connections to the utilities in your house: the water, sewer and electricity. When a dishwasher starts, it pulls in water from the water supply into the unit. It mixes the water with soap inside the machine and then sprays this around the cabinet by pumping the water through a spray arm. The dishes are then rinsed with a stream of fresh water.
In between the wash and rinse cycles, the dirty dishwater is pumped out by the dishwasher pump through the drain hose. An electric heating element then starts inside the dishwasher cabinet. This provides the heat that air dries the dishes.
The Heating Element
The heating element is usually located at the rear of the cabinet, just a few inches above the dishwasher floor. It looks similar to an electric heating element in an oven. The top of the heating element is waterproof and runs through the cabinet to where it connects to the electrical system of the washer below.
Dishwasher Smells Like Smoke
A dishwasher burning smell during a drying cycle typically means that there is something amiss with the heating element. This could be something inside the dishwasher that's trapped up against the element, such as a plastic food container or plastic utensil.
If that is not the source of the smell, it may be a sign that the heating element is failing. Another, less obvious reason for the smell, may be due to the fact that the motor is failing, and the smell is detected during the heating cycle. If your dishwasher smells like smoke, be sure to have the motor checked by a qualified technician.
Nathan McGinty started writing in 1995. He has a Bachelor of Science in communications from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master of Arts in international journalism from City University, London. He has worked in the technology industry for more than 20 years, in positions ranging from tech support to marketing.