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How to Get Fish Smell Off Hands | 30 Ways that Work!

Written by Immanuel Baranov

It’s good to get a great catch after a day spent fishing, although the next step is cleaning your catches out once you have finished. I always have a problem with my hands after I’ve cleaned dozens of fish.

The smell of the fish lingers a long time on my hands, even after I clean them.

Throughout this article, we’ll examine the best method for removing the fish odor from your skin, plus a few other methods that have proven effective.

Fishing enthusiasts have devised many practical ways to handle what appears to be a permanent smell associated with their favorite pastime. Unfortunately, many of these items are likely to already be in your home.

Why do fish smell anyways?

Some fish smell worse than others. Living fish smell better than dead ones.  The best way to remove it from your hands is to understand why it is there.

A mucous layer is deposited on fish scales, protecting them from bacteria and other waterborne hazards.  Fish are slippery because of this.

Trimethylamine oxide or TMAO is the compound responsible for the “fishy” odor.  Underwater, TMAO is primarily responsible for maintaining the balance between fluids and salts that their cells require.

Freshwater fish tend to have a milder smell because saltwater fish contain higher levels of TMAO. But once a fish is dead, it smells worse. Also, after a fish is removed from the water, bacteria and enzymes convert TMAO to trimethylamine (TMA).

Prevent the smell in the first place

Use a net

Nets can be useful for landing your catch quickly and easily.  Make use of knotless nets to make the project safer for the fish. Using a net can reduce the amount of contact you have with the fish.

Use a net

Catch then let the fish go

Wet your hands before touching the fish to avoid getting fishy hands when catching and releasing fish.  You’ll have a barrier between your skin and the slime on the scales.  After the fish is in the water, use pliers to remove the hook.

Use barbless hooks, so you don’t have to handle it too much.  Gently hold up the fish while keeping them submerged when you’re ready. They will swim away when they are ready to.

Rinse hands in the water

Rinse your hands in the water after the fish has swum away. After some practice, you will become more confident with this that you will soon be able to let the fish go without even needing to touch them.

Rinse hands in the water

Put on gloves when preparing the fish

Put on a pair of nitrile or latex gloves when you are ready to clean and prepare the fish.  If you are allergic to latex, use nitrile gloves instead.  Gloves can keep the smell at bay a great deal.

Put on gloves when preparing the fish

Take pictures of the fish when still alive

It will start to smell worse by the minute after being taken out of the water.  While it is still alive, snap some photos of it. You can take better photos of live fish than dead ones because they are more colorful.

If you want to consume the fish, don’t touch it again until you’ve taken your photo. Then, put the fish in a cooler with ice.

How to get fish smell off hands?

  • Cold water

Wash your hands with cold water first to remove scales and fish particles

  • Lemon or vinegar

Rub lemon or vinegar into your hands which will kill the chemicals and stop the odor

  • Stainless steel

Wash your hands with stainless steel such as a stainless steel odor bar

  • Toothpaste

Rub your hands with toothpaste

  • Abrasive cleaners

Use abrasive cleaners such as baking soda as it exfoliates

  • Ground coffee beans

Rub your hands with ground coffee beans

  • Baby wipes

Wipe your hands over with baby wipes to neutralize the odor

  • Ketchup

Rub your hands with ketchup

  • GOJO industrial hand cleaner

This helps get rid of most of the smell the first time. The second application gets rid of the rest and leaves your hands with a nice orange scent.

  • Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol gives instant results!

  • Soap and saltine crackers

The soap and pretzels together give you a crushed, moist solution that will help soak in the fish odor that can be washed off easily

  • Soap stones and pumice

They have a rough surface that helps wash the fish oil from your skin

  • Activated charcoal

This is great for lowering odor when rubbed into wet hands

  • Herbs

Strong Herbs such as parsley and coriander can help mask the smell

  • Bacon grease

It has such a strong scent that it can take out the fish smell

  • Vanilla extract

Just add a few drops to your hands after washing and then rinse

  • Hydrogen peroxide

Wipe your hands over with this but make sure you rinse since it can burn when left on the skin for too long

  • Pickled juice

Rub the brine into your hands and rinse

  • Tomato juice

The acid-base will degrade odors on the hands rub in and rinse

  • Mouthwash

A mouthwash is full of alcohol and minty freshness, both of which can help remove the fish odor.

  • Cream cleansers

Use cream cleansers as they contain ingredients like baking soda that is abrasive and stops odors

  • Fresh green pine needles

They have a strong scent. They can remove the smell of fish when rubbed between the hands

  • Milk

A substance in milk called casein bonds with the chemical that causes they fishy odor and eliminates it

  • Gasoline

It can remove the fish smell but be careful because your hands may dry out and sting if you have cuts

  • Corn Starch, turmeric, and salt

Mix them together with some water and rub on your hands

  • Ginger

Ginger can be crushed and rubbed on the hands or use the brine from pickled ginger. You can also add ginger to the fish for 30 mins before handling

  • Mechanics hand cleaner

It works well to remove odors like oil and gasoline from the hands, so it may work for fishy odors as well

  • Sugar

Just mix a tablespoon in with some regular washing soap and give your hands a good wash

  • Skunk oil

Skunk oil rubbed on your hands is an option but make sure the oil is odorless, or you will stink like a skunk

  • Wipe your hands on a piece of cloth

Wipe your hands on your pants or a towel to remove the water, which will help with the smell. But this is not really a good idea!

What not to use for fishy odors

  • Vinegar and bleach work well to eliminate fish odors on their own. These two must be used separately. Once bleach and vinegar are mixed together, they create a dangerous gas that can be lethal
  • Saliva has been known to get rid of odors but licking your hands clean to get rid of the smell is impractical and not to mention unhygienic
  • You will see some fisherman wipe their hands on their pants. This is not a good idea to remove the fish scent as your just wiping it onto your pants and spreading the odor further. It can be harder to get the nasty smell out of clothing.

How to protect your hands from the fish smell

Get a fish cooler

If you are keeping fish in the refrigerator, always place it in a closed container to prevent the spread of fishy smells. Baking soda can also be used to absorb foul odors from the fridge in a small bowl.

Get a fish cooler

Wear gloves

Whenever you are dealing with fish, it is ideal for wearing gloves to help eliminate the smell from reaching your hands. There are many types available from your local fishing store.

Wear gloves

Keep your boat clean

Your boat needs fresh air, so open all the doors, hatches, and compartments. Proper ventilation is always a priority when maintaining a boat.

Boat odors are generally caused by ventilation issues, which can typically be fixed relatively easily. Always rinse anything that has come into contact with the fish and remove all particles of fish.

Keep your boat clean

Wash your hands right away

As soon as you handle fish, make sure you wash them right away. The more time fish has to linger on your hands, the harder it will be to remove. So always wash your hands right after handling fish or anything that may have the fish odor on it.

Wash your hands right away

How to stop fish smell when throwing fish away

Freeze the fish

You can do this when you are discarding out-of-date fish to reduce the smell. Simply freeze it. No one wants dead, raw fish in their garbage bin stinking it up.  Just freeze the fish and then throw it in the bin frozen on the day of bin pick up. This will avoid any unpleasant smells.

Freeze the fish

Use your fish up, so there’s no waste

If you have leftover fish, it can be fed to pets like cats or dogs instead of throwing it out. If the fish is still good, it can be added to other recipes so it won’t be wasted. This will avoid throwing fish away and dealing with the smell inside the bin.

Use your fish up, so there’s no waste

About the author

Immanuel Baranov

My life is pretty much defined by my avid outdoor activities. I’m generally obsessed with fishing, skiing and occasional hunting and whitewater paddling. I’ve been active since my early years. I inherited my passion for fishing from my father who made frequent family trips to the banks of Sacramento River. Growing up, I did a lot of fishing in the vicinity. Now that I have two sons, our weekends are full of fishing activities. I would say, you need good spots where you can go out a lot for the thing you love. I had the privilege to grow up near numerous water bodies and I’m proud to say that I made good use of them. It’s also great to do something with kids that helps them learn patience, endurance and preciseness.

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