Last Updated on January 27, 2023
When you handle fish while fishing or preparing for a meal, the fishy odor that lingers on surfaces, knives, cooking utensils, and your hands is unmistakable.
While there are many suggestions about how to get rid of the stink, few solutions are failsafe, and most only partially remove the fishy smell.
The following is a rundown on why fish have such strong odors and how to remove fish smell.
You can include some of the products mentioned as fishing gifts for the anglers in your life.
At least, the people that live with them will thank you after each fishing trip.
If YouTube videos are more your speed, check out this quick video Anglers.com Community Coordinator Wesley Littlefield made for getting the fish smell from your hands.
Why do Fish Smell?
Anglers and chefs know all too well that, with few exceptions, fish smell. Why, however, depends on the type of fish you are handling.
There are different reasons freshwater and saltwater fish smell.
Freshwater Fish Odor
Freshwater fish smell because of the humus that occurs naturally in the environment.
Humus is the product of broken-down organic matter, usually by microorganisms (Actinomycetes) in the soil and water (with fish, these are bacteria and fungi.)
These microorganisms break organic matter down, and the microorganisms and humus enter the fish through their gills. Together, each causes fish odor.
Saltwater Fish Smells
Trimethylamine oxide causes the odor of saltwater fish.
Trimethylamine happens when microorganisms digest decomposing fish flesh. The trimethylamine causes a strong odor that permeates decomposing fish flesh, which is why fish aroma increases as the dead fish ages.
How to Get Fish Smell off of Hands: 12 Methods
While it’s not always unpleasant, getting the smell of fish off your hands, out of a creel, livewell, tacklebox, or the surface you prepared a fish on is difficult.
You can try scrubbing and hand washing, using dish soap and warm water from the faucet, implementing one of several folk remedies, or using commercial products like baby wipes, hand sanitizers, or GoJo hand cleaner.
Still, your chances of completely removing fish odor the first time are slim.
Here are a few ways to lessen and remove the strong smell in the most effective way possible.
Remember, though, that fish are smelly and leave their scent on whatever they touch, so you might have to apply these remedies more than once to remove the odors of fish for good.
Salt and Vinegar
Both salt and vinegar break down some forms of organic matter. Mix them in a bowl and use a sponge to soak up the mixture.
Wipe down the affected area with the sponge and let it set for one minute. Then rinse the area with hot water.
You can also use this method to get the fish scent off your hands, but be careful. If you have sensitive skin, skip this method altogether.
Undiluted vinegar can harm your skin and even cause minor burns. So, look for a less abrasive solution if you easily get rashes or skin irritation.
The baking soda’s pH effectively removes the smell of fish from hands and surfaces. Mix baking soda with warm water to create a paste.
Apply the paste to your hands or a surface and let it set. Rinse off the paste with water after a few minutes. Your unwanted aroma should be gone, or at least extremely reduced.
If the smell is partially gone, repeat this process as needed. You may have to do this process a few times with fish that have a powerful odor.
Be careful to do it sparingly because too much scrubbing mixed with the pH of baking soda can damage some surfaces and dry out your skin.
Toothpaste is an excellent cleaner that neutralizes many odors from your mouth. It also works well on the odor of fish flesh.
Apply toothpaste like any cleaner and scrub the surface with the smell. You can also use toothpaste on your hands and do not have to worry about drying out your skin unless you repeat the process several times.
Once you have lathered up the surface or your hands, rinse off with cool water.
If the scent is not entirely gone, you can repeat this process as much as you need to, as it is nonabrasive and noncorrosive, which is why you can put it in your mouth and not worry about damaging the tissues in there.
Lemon juice also possesses a great pH for cleaning. It is acidic enough to break down many compounds that cause odor but not so acidic it will damage surfaces unless you leave it on a surface for an extended period.
Mix one-quarter water with three-quarters lemon juice to start.
The one-quarter to three-quarters concoction will give you cleaning power without risking damaging any surface.
Test the solution on a small portion of the surface you are cleaning or on your skin. Leave it set for a few moments, and then rinse it off with water.
Repeat the process if the smell is not completely gone from your external surface or skin. Only implement this method on a surface, or your skin, once. If you or the surface still smell, look at a different solution.
Cilantro neutralizes the aroma of fish but does not break down the causes of the smell. Nonetheless, it will eradicate all traces of the odor effectively. Mash up the herb and rub it on a surface or your hands.
Let it set for about a minute, and rinse it off. If the odor is not gone, repeat the process. The aroma of cilantro will eventually overpower the smell fish flesh causes.
You can repeat this process as much as you want on both surfaces and your skin.
Peppermint oil is also an effective masker of most odors, the aroma of fish flesh included.
The essential oil also contains menthol, which breaks down trimethylamine. The combination of masking fish aroma and breaking down the cause of the smell is very effective, even on surfaces saturated in a fish stink.
Put a few drops of peppermint oil on a cotton ball or paper towel and rub it over the affected surfaces, including your skin. Let it sit on the surfaces for a few seconds, and wipe it off.
You can repeat this process without worrying about damaging your skin or surfaces.
In a pinch, baby or makeup wipes can help rid you of the aroma of dead fish. Moisten a wipe with water and scrub the affected area with the wipe.
All but the toughest fish scent will be almost instantly gone. The downside is that baby wipes contain chemicals that break down trimethylamine, which means that overuse can cause skin irritation.
Baby and makeup wipes can be used on any surface, but you should also rinse any surface that food gets set or prepared on to ensure no chemicals remain to get on other foods.
Dedicated Fish Cleanser
Amazon sells several hand soaps that vary in effectiveness, although they will lessen the aroma of fish flesh, and most will eradicate it if applied more than once.
Some fish scent soaps have powerful chemicals, so you must follow the instructions and ensure that you protect your eyes and other skin.
For most people, washing their skin repeatedly with fish hand soap is safe and poses no risk. If you have sensitive skin, however, you want to be careful.
Only use as directed and if you develop a rash or excessively dried skin, stop using it immediately.
Stainless Steel Bar
Stainless steel is known as an effective neutralizer of fish aroma. It also works with other foods like garlic. Rub your hands on a stainless steel sink or bar for a few seconds.
Then, wash your hands using hand soap. All but the toughest smells will be gone. If you want to double up on getting rid of the smell, wash your hands with fish scent soap afterward.
Ketchup works the same way the pH level in a tomato bath works to neutralize odors. Rub ketchup on your hands and let it sit for a few moments. Rinse it off with soap and warm water.
Wash your hands normally and rub some crushed saltine crackers over them while they are still wet. Rinse your hands, and the scent will be reduced. Repeat to remove the smell altogether.
You can use the same approach with unused coffee grounds as saltine crackers and get the same result.
Everyone agrees that fish stink, no matter if the fish is from fresh or saltwater. As good as the fish is to eat, most people find its odor undesirable.
Luckily, these approaches will help you know to get the fish smell off of your hands after your next fishing trip.
If you fail using one method, persevere and try another.
Once you get the unpleasant smell out of your house and off your fishing equipment, you will have a better experience, or at least the people around you will have a better time!
If you have a remedy that works, tell us about it in the comment section!