Smell of Success: How to Get the Fish Smell off Your Hands

From the minute you handle your first fish of the day to the last one you release, that iconic smell is present on your hands. Fish smell, for many, is a sign of success and nostalgia. After all, the smellier your hands, the more fish you’ve caught. You may take pride in that stinky smell so why hide it? Well, your family might not share your same enthusiasm when you return home.

Like many anglers before you, you’ve likely scrubbed your hands with soap multiple times, yet that smell still lingers. Even after so many washes it’s still distinct. So how do you get your hands to smell normal again? In this article we’ll cover some easy methods and common sense home remedies to get the fish smell off your hands.

Why do Fish Smell Anyways?

All fish including bass, bream, and crappie have natural outer “slime” or mucus coatings that act as protective barriers in their watery environment. It keeps them safe from bacteria and other infections. Some fish are so slippery they can’t be grabbed by humans or predators. Unfortunately for our hands, the fish slime comes with an odor that doesn’t come off easily.

Using smaller fish as bait is another source of fishy smell. They too have a coating, and what’s worse: Dead fish contain bacteria in the flesh that breaks down a chemical called trimethylamine oxide as soon as the fish is exposed to air. That’s also the reason dead fish stink so much faster and worse than other animals.

Method 1: Stainless Steel

Surprisingly, stainless steel has a natural way of removing many strong odors. The chemicals responsible for unpleasant smell such as sulfur form compounds with the metals in stainless steel, neutralizing the bad smell. This ability to bind and eliminate is also what makes stainless steel resist rust.

Though a stainless steel kitchen knife works in a pinch, it’s better if you have something portable to get that fish smell off on the go. We recommend the Amco Rub-A-Way Bar, a bar of stainless steel for washing the fish smell off. You just rub it on all over your hands like you would a regular bar of soap. It works with or without water and it’s even dishwasher safe for when you cover it in fish. This is the easiest most renewable way to keep your hands free of fish smell for years to come.

Method 2: Chemically Neutralize the Smell

Many products have their own strong smell or odor-fighting capabilities. Not all of them work on fish smell but some do! You don’t have to search far on the internet to find fellow anglers having success with products such as:

  • Lemon juice
  • Vinegar
  • Mineral oil
  • Baking soda
  • Baby wipes

Lemon juice and vinegar work by dissolving the slime and replacing the fish smell with their own strong scent. These are great, cheap products you may already have around the house. Unlike stainless steel, these products will dry out your hands in the process, but that’s nothing a little time and moisturizer can’t fix. Mineral oil and baking soda both work great at removing any tough smell, though they’re notorious for being a slow deodorizer. They bind to the fish oils and neutralize the smell completely. Mineral oil is fantastic for cleaning a fishy cutting board, so keep that in mind after you fillet your dinner.

Last but certainly not least, baby wipes are cheap and effective. If you have kids, you probably used baby wipes for everything long after diaper years. They clean most surfaces and neutralize many odors — it’s practically a parenting miracle. Baby wipes work great for hands, rods and whatever else you had to touch while covered in fish scent. Using baby wipes as you go also eliminates other harmful smells that keep fish from taking the bait.

Cobia - Catch of the Day

MyFWCmedia/Flickr

Method 3: Use Abrasive Cleaners

The reason regular soap won’t work on fish smell is because the smell transfers from the slime into your skin. That top layer of skin on your hands is now responsible for producing the odor. Removing this surface layer of skin through by using abrasive cleaners can rid yourself of the stinky oils contained within. Some great abrasive cleaners that work well on your hands include:

  • Liquid pumice style soap
  • Gojo Orange soap
  • Soap stones
  • Toothpaste

Toothpaste does great and you definitely have it in your house. Since toothpaste cleans your teeth by rubbing off the bacteria, it works great to rub off skin cells too. Using a toothpaste with baking soda works even better for the reasons we already talked about under Method 2. Just rinse the toothpaste off after a good scrub, just like you’d use soap, and your hands should be smelling fresh again.

Getting that fishy smell out is a challenge that your family probably struggles with worse than you do. whether you need clean hands to drive or prefer to clean up at home, these tips should get your hands smelling fresh and free of any fish smell.

Main Photo Credit: “Kiser Lake Crappie” by J C/Flickr


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