Getting Rid of Fish Smells
A guide on why fish smells and how to get rid of the fish odour after cooking.
We are often told by people that they don’t like cooking or eating fish because they don’t like the smell.
We have provided a selection here for you. Although we haven’t tried all of them and therefore can not endorse any in particular, we have provided a selection of the ones that seem feasible.
We can not take responsibility for any damage or loss as a result of following any of these suggestions.
Download our PDF document with all the suggestions on this page plus lots more on eliminating the smell of fish on fabrics, hands, carpets, in cars, microwaves, fridges, in kitchens, during and after cooking and also some tips on preventing fish smells in the first place.
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Why does fish smell?
In order to counteract the saltiness of seawater, the cells of ocean creatures are full of amino acids and amines. Trimethylamine oxide is the main one (also known as TMAO).
When a fish or shellfish dies bacterial enzymes attack the flesh. The muscles of the fish containing the trimethylamine oxide (TMAO) start to decompose causing it to break down into trimethylamine (TMA) which results in the fishy smell we know so well.
The fresher the fish the less it smells so if a fish smells particularly bad do not buy it as it is probably quite old.
Getting rid of the smell of fish while preparing and cooking
If your fish is only a day or two old and the flesh is still firm it is possible to reduce the smell by soaking it in milk for about 20 minutes. The casein in the milk bonds with the trimethylamine and thus extracts some of it reducing the fish odour.
Soak the raw fish in a little bit of vinegar mixed with a lot of water. This apparently does not affect the flavour.
Trimethylamine can be rinsed off the surface of the fish with tap water.
Treating the fish with acidic ingredients such as vinegar or lemon juice can cause the trimethylamine to bind with the water which should reduce the smell of fish.
Baking powder can also work in the same way as the vinegar or lemon juice reducing the fish odour.
Getting rid of the smell of fish from your hands
Steel soap bars are great – you simply rub the bar against your skin under cool running water for 30 seconds to have odour free hands. The bars are chemical free so are kind on your hands and the environment. They are also good for getting rid of the smell of onions and garlic from your hands.
Rinse hands in water which has had lemons soaking it in. Watch out for cuts and grazes though as it will sting! Wash hands with surgical spirit and rinse. Wash hands in white vinegar and then rinse thoroughly. Again be careful as it will sting if used on cuts and open wounds.
Immediately after preparing fish, wash and rinse hands and then pour some salt into your palm (approx 1 tablespoon). Use the salt as a body scrub and then rinse. Warning – the salt will sting if you apply it to cuts or very dry skin.
Getting rid of the smell of fish in your home after cooking
to remove the smell of fish from bowls, containers or pans cut a couple of potatoes in half and sprinkle them with table salt and put in the container for 2 hours (preferably with lid on). Wash thoroughly. Brewing tea in pans for 15 minutes also works well.
To mask the smell rather than eliminate it there are several options:
You can burn a scented candle after cooking fish – vanilla is a good choice.
Cut a lemon in half and boil in a little water for 10 minutes. The steam disperses the aroma helping to neutralise the aroma.
Leave a bowl of white vinegar in kitchen overnight
Simmer water with a couple of cloves in it for 30 minutes.
Simmer water with a little white vinegar in.
Warm a little olive oil in a pan and add cinnamon.
Simmer water with an onion in it
For Microwaves: We have read that you can put a few drops of washing up liquid on a wet dishcloth and ‘cook’ for 2 minutes. Please check with microwave manufacturer if you are in any doubt as we can’t be held responsible!
Where fishy water has leaked onto carpets it is possible to absorb the liquid and smell using newspaper – leave newspaper down as it could take a while.