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What to Do If There’s a Burning Plastic Smell in Your Home

What to Do If There’s a Burning Plastic Smell in Your Home

Woke up to the smell of burning plastic? There’s nothing more unpleasant. 

Inhaling large amounts of the smoke is also dangerous and toxic. 

What’s more, the smell tends to stick to clothes and other surfaces of your house, lingering on for much longer than you would expect.

burning plastic smell in your house

So what measures do you take to tackle this?

The first thing to do would be to check the electrical panel because something is probably broken. 

But with all of the circuitry and appliances in the house, how do you know which one is causing the trouble?

You may be wondering:

  • Where is this smell coming from?
  • How can I get rid of the smell?
  • How can I prevent this from happening in the future?

Whether you’re new to a homeowner’s duties or experienced, I’m here to help you out with a few tips that I’ve found handy. 

I’m going to begin by sharing some foolproof ways you can identify the causes of burnt plastic smell in the house. 

I’ll also show you how to get rid of the smell later in the article, so stay tuned!

Find the Source: Check Everything Electric!

You may think that the faint smell of burning plastic in the household is normal when using multiple appliances at once. 

This can be a potentially deadly assumption that can make you and your family inhale harmful toxins.

Start by checking everything that’s electrically powered. 

Electricity produces heat, and heat can turn into smoke, and worse, flames! But how can we narrow down our search?

appliances with burned plastic smell

Here are a few essential things you need to look out for:

The Heater Is Overworking

House heaters are usually the number one source of that burning plastic smell, especially in the colder seasons. 

Heaters and your HVAC systems are appliances that are composed of many electrical components, many of which can be overused. 

Wirings and parts get worn out or broken because they are ill-maintained. 

I recommend that you regularly check your HVAC systems for any faulty wiring. 

These faulty wirings can cause flames, burning their plastic covers and parts. This may be the source of the foul stench.

Your HVAC’s motor system can also blow out and start to overheat. This heat may also burn the plastic surrounding the system. 

It can even explode in worst-case scenarios. Yikes!

So if your heater smells like burning plastic for a long period of time, it’s best to turn it off as soon as possible.

Home’s Electrical Wirings Are Shot

Most electrical wires are covered in insulation. 

Wire insulation serves a very important role—it prevents the wires from being exposed to other good conductors of electricity so that you’re safe when you handle them.

frayed old wiring

Electrical wires can become old and their components may experience natural degradation over time. 

Also, if your home is over 40 years old, and you’re using modern-day appliances, you’ve got a mismatch. 

This might cause electric fires because of sheer incompatibility.

Your Appliances Are Overused

Using many appliances with outdated wiring and sockets is a recipe for disaster. 

Over time, this excessive use of appliances can cause frayed wiring.

This stresses not just the conductors of the electricity but also the circuit breaker itself. 

This is unlikely to happen in newer houses, but a good rule of thumb is never to overload sockets! 

Your Water Heater Is Malfunctioning

Similar to how HVAC systems can overheat, water heaters have components that are flammable. 

Apart from the electrical wiring encased in plastic insulation, the plastic surrounding the electrical components of the appliance and the buttons can overheat too.

Faulty Light Fixtures

A very common problem with faulty light fixtures is that they can spark. 

When not installed properly, these fixtures can definitely heat up and cause fires.

This is especially likely when they are close to cloth or plastic. 

Always check if your bulbs are installed properly. Also, ensure that they’re the proper wattage for your lighting fixtures.

The Burning Question: How Do We Get Rid of the Smell?

Preparation Phase for DIY

I always make sure that I quickly turn off the circuit breaker or the appliances that I think are causing the problem.

It can potentially be dangerous for everyone in the house to be inhaling the fumes.

Inspection Phase

For the inspection phase, you’ll need:

  • A flashlight
  • A pair of gloves

You’ll need cleaning materials too:

  • A clean cloth or rag
  • Scented candles
  • Room sprays or disinfectant sprays

Solving the Burning Problem

looking for burning plastic smell

The first thing to do is to observe and use your nose.

If you smell burning plastic from a certain direction, then follow it and immediately turn off the appliance or system. 

You must wear gloves for this portion as you can get electrocuted if there are exposed wires. 

If the outside portion of the appliance is heated, you may get burned.

So take safety measures!

If the Heater Is the Culprit

burning plastic smell comes from the heater

If the heater or furnace is the culprit of the smell, then it’s likely these two reasons:

  • It’s been collecting dust since you haven’t been using it.
  • The wires have eroded throughout the years.

If it’s the first case, then here’s what you need to do:

  • Turn off your furnace, boiler or radiator and let it cool down enough to touch.
  • Try cleaning the heating system with a rag. 

Heaters and HVAC systems can collect debris and dust if they’re not used frequently. 

Electrical Wiring Malfunction

burning plastic smell comes from electrical wire malfunction

If the odor seemingly comes from within the walls, a nearby plug, or a switch, then it’s probable that the wiring of your house has eroded.

This is common in older homes that use modern appliances.

In these cases, I recommend that you turn off your breaker and call your electrician to assess the extent of the damage. 

Faulty and exposed wiring can be a fire hazard, especially if it’s within your walls, as wood is highly flammable.

Lighting Fixtures Malfunction

burning plastic smell comes from lighting fixtures malfunction

Similar to electrical wiring malfunction, lighting fixtures may have plastic inside or surrounding them that are flammable when they overheat.

Here’s what you’ll need to do in this case:

  • First, turn off the lighting fixture.
  • Inspect the light sockets as well as the electrical socket where it’s plugged. 

If there is black discoloration around the sockets, this means it has been overloaded.

If it still turns on, then there is a minor problem with the wiring inside of the fixture.

Most lighting fixtures are DIY repair friendly, so if you know your way around lamps and light fixtures, you can try and repair them yourself.

Overused Appliances

burning plastic smell comes from overused appliances

Older appliances are susceptible to burning simply because of their age. 

And if they’re made of plastic components, when they heat up there’s going to be the smell of hot plastic!

It is unlikely for newer appliances to burn unless an electrical socket is overloaded with numerous appliances. 

In my experience, this usually happens in the kitchen where you use many appliances at once.

If the appliance in question is overheating, switch it off, let it cool, and clean the inside with a clean cloth. 

Dust may have built up in appliances such as toasters and coffee makers if they haven’t been used in a while, so cleaning it would solve the problem.

However, if the problem of burning plastic still persists, then the electric wiring inside might be shot. 

In these cases, have it repaired by a professional so that the appliance can still be used!

Electrical Outlets Burning Out

Sometimes, old outlets can start to heat up if wired incorrectly or the wires are giving out. 

If this happens, you should see signs like the outlet giving out, a GFCI plug tripping or even an entire wall of outlets not working.

Water Heater Malfunction

burning plastic smell comes from water heater malfunction

So you’ve realized the burning smell is emanating from your water heater.

It’s likely that water has gone inside of it and damaged its electrical components. 

These components are now overheating and causing the plastic coverings and buttons around them to burn.

What to do?

  • The best thing to do is turn it off from the breaker as you might get electrocuted if you do this by hand. 
  • After it has cooled down a bit, try to open it with a screwdriver to inspect whether the wires are shot.

Getting Rid of the Odor

How to get rid of the burning plastic smell in the house? 

By the time you’ve inspected your appliances and wirings, the smell may have latched on to your furniture and curtains. 

The simplest way to get rid of the lasting smell is to light scented candles to fill the area with a pleasant aroma. 

You can also try applying disinfectant cleaning spray to your curtains and furniture to counter the smell of burnt plastic.

Prevention Is Better Than a Fire

Your home is supposed to be a safe place. 

By regularly inspecting your HVAC systems, appliances, and light fixtures even when they’re not in use, you prevent overheating. 

Always clean these devices as they are prone to dust build-up, which is a fire hazard.

Lastly, perform a routine check-up of the electrical wirings in your house. 

You might want to call an electrician if you live in an old house, so they can be fitted properly with newer and safer electrical components.

Dust Is Your Enemy

dust in the vent

I talked about dust and how it’s a fire hazard in your homes. 

Check out this video to find out how unhealthy dust build-up can be for your health. 

You’ll also see how much dust can accumulate in your house’s vents:

Frequently Asked Questions

What if my HVAC smells like burning dust?

  • Burning debris and dust may be the source of the burning plastic smell problem; this may go away after a few minutes. 
  • If it doesn’t, then it’s likely that the wires of your system have eroded.

What if I’ve been inhaling toxic burnt plastic fumes for a long period of time?

  • Burnt plastic may release toxic chemicals and gases that can potentially harm your respiratory system.

    If you think you have been exposed to these fumes for a long time, check for symptoms and see a doctor as soon as possible.

Summary

The smell of burning plastic can arise from different electronic appliances, fixtures, and HVAC systems that haven’t been well maintained. 

Prevent this problem by always making sure they’re cleaned and properly serviced so that they do not accumulate dust. 

Have an electrician inspect your wirings every year so that you can avoid a potential fire.

With a little sleuthing and a bit of elbow grease, you can definitely make your home a safer place to live in!