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How to Get Rid of Fish Smell After Cooking

Cooking Fish in a Pan

If you are on the fence about cooking fish at home because you are worried about the smell, don’t be. The taste of a well-cooked fish, along with its nutritional benefits, is well worth it! Here are some tips and tricks to help limit and remove fish odors.

Which Type of Fish Smell the Least?

If you love seafood, but don’t love some of the odors that are associated with it, you can buy fish that are less likely to have that unique fish odor.

Here are a few things to consider when purchasing a fish, if you are looking to avoid the fishy odor altogether:

  • Fresh fish will smell and taste the least fishy.
  • Freshwater and anadromous fish smell less fishy than 100% saltwater fish due to the absence of TMA (trimethylamine).
  • Bypass bottom feeders, like catfish, to avoid a “muddy” odor.

Therefore, a fresh anadromous or freshwater fish that is a non-bottom feeder will be the best option for those looking to avoid a fish odor. Fish like arctic char or tilapia are great options as they have a mild flavor and still provide several nutritional benefits.

However, we love to experiment with different types of seafood. No matter what type of seafood you are preparing, here are some tips to reduce and remove fishy odors.

How to Get Fish Smell Out of the House

A lot of people enjoy fish with the flavors of seafood, but don’t want the smell of fish lingering in their house. There are a few steps that you can take to keep your house from smelling like fish. The best, and most important, first step is to buy fresh fish. The best tasting fish that will have the least odor is a fish you catch yourself. If that's not possible, we recommend you buy your fish close to the source, like The shorter the supply chain, the fresher the fish will be.

Get Rid of Fish Smell During Prep

There are a few things that you can do to prevent a fish from smelling before you start cooking.

Keep the fish in its original packaging until you are ready to cook it. This will help keep the fish fresh and prevent the spread of any odor it may have. Keeping a box of baking soda, activated charcoal, or another odor absorber in your fridge while storing the fish can also help absorb any odors that may come through the packaging.

When you are ready to cook it there are a few steps you can take to reduce the smell:

  • Rinse the fish using tap water. This will wash off any TMA on the fish’s skin.
  • Soak the fish in milk for approximately 20 minutes and then rinse it off in cold tap water.
  • Rub an acidic ingredient like lime, lemon, tomato, or vinegar on top of the fish. As a bonus, this will add bright flavors to the fish when cooking.

Acids and milk are both great odor absorbents. They work similarly to baking soda and charcoal, only you can apply them directly to the fish. If you eat fish often, it’s good to have lemon juice or vinegar on hand for some of those stronger-smelling fish.

But, how does lemon juice remove the fishy odor? The citric acid from lemons neutralizes the amines from fish by converting them into perfectly healthy salts that will not be airborne like the amines.

If you purchase fresh seafood and don’t plan on cooking it within three days of purchase, you should freeze it. This will maintain the freshness of the seafood and keep it from developing a fishy odor.

Keep Fish from Smelling While Cooking

Applying heat to fish will release its odors. Inevitably, cooking with fish is going to cause your kitchen to smell a little fishy. However, there are a few cooking techniques that you can use to help keep the smell from spreading.

  • Make a pouch. Wrapping your fish in parchment paper or foil will help seal in the smell and prevent it from enveloping your entire house. Additionally, it will help infuse the fish with whatever other ingredients you included in your pouch.
  • Try poaching your fish. Cooking your fish in boiling water will help trap the TMA in the liquid. Using milk as the liquid of choice is especially beneficial as it's great for trapping the smells and leaves you with a flaky, creamy fish.
  • Grill your fish. Cooking your fish outside will prevent the fishy smell from ever entering your house.

No matter what you do, your house will have a little hint of fish smell after cooking with it. If you use the above methods, the smell should dissipate quickly.

Clean-Up and Lingering Fish Smells

Sometimes you just have to have pan-seared cod or you forget to store your leftovers in an airtight container, thus leaving your house with a unique odor. While some people enjoy the smell of seafood, if you are not one of those people, there are some fairly easy ways to help the eliminate smell quickly.

Here are a few tips:

  • Air out your house. Open the windows and turn on ceiling fans. An influx of fresh air will help get rid of the smell.
  • Remove fish trimmings and discarded leftovers as soon as possible. If you plan on having fish for dinner, plan on taking the trash out that evening.
  • Mask the smell with a strongly scented candle.
  • Simmer citrus like lemons, grapefruit, or lime for about twenty minutes. This will absorb any of the lingering odors.
  • Tightly seal any leftovers and do not leave them in the refrigerator for more than a day or two.

While one of the suggestions above may not be enough to get rid of a fish smell, a combination of them should do the trick. At the longest, lingering fish smells will diminish within 12 hours as long as the source of the smell has been removed from the house.

Why Does Fish Smell?

If you notice that your fish does smell, it does not necessarily mean that your fish has gone bad. In fact, the unique fish smell is completely natural and explained by the process of carboxylation.

Fish rely on the amine trimethylamine oxide (TMAO) to maintain homeostasis in saltwater. The absorption of this amine helps them counteract the extreme saltiness of the water.

The process of carboxylation begins as soon as a dead fish is exposed to air. This process converts TMAO into trimethylamine (TMA), which is the amine that gives off the fishy odor. The longer a fish is dead, the more TMAO converts into TMA, which results in an even fishier smell.

Since salt is the reason for the accumulation of TMAO, freshwater fish don’t accumulate TMAO. However, some freshwater fish can give off more of a “muddy” smell, rather than a “fishy” smell.

This is particularly true in bottom feeders. These types of fish get their smell from geosmin and methylisoborneol, a compound produced by blue-green algae that is concentrated on their skin and dark muscle tissue.

While fish can sometimes have a unique odor, the tips and tricks provided above should help mask or remove any unwanted odors leaving you to enjoy a delicious and nutritious meal worry-free.

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