Help, my house smells like burning plastic. What can it be? This is a question that people ask me all the time. It is a nightmare to have a burning plastic smell and not know where it is coming from.
Firstly, let’s begin by saying that if you notice a strong electrical burning smell in your home or any sign of smoke, you should call the fire department immediately, as you may have an electrical problem with your wiring system and electrics. It’s always best to get things checked out by a qualified electrician if you are worried you have a problem, rather than leaving it until it’s too late.
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What to check if your house smells like burning plastic
There may be a few places you might like to investigate when you notice a faint burning plastic smell:
- Electric fire
Often when you turn on an electric heater for the first time after the summer, it emits a strong burning dust smell. However, if your electric heater continues to smell of burning, it could potentially be dangerous, so it’s best to get it checked over.
- Water heater
A burning plastic smell coming from your water heater could signify one of the components overheating and should be checked over by a professional.
- Wood burner
A smell of burning dust from your wood burner may mean you need to have your chimney swept. A smell of burning may also indicate that there is too much moisture in the wood you are burning.
- Heating system
You may find that the first time you put the heating on, there will be a slight smell of burning dust. This is perfectly normal and should stop after a short while.
- Air conditioning system
It may be that something in your air conditioning system is overheating, but it is always wise to remember that there could be a fire elsewhere in your home, and it is recirculating the smoke. Always double-check!
Our new house was regarded as unsafe to live in until we had it completely rewired. If you think your wiring is dangerous, have an electrician look over it for you.
- Old appliances
Get an electrician to check over any TVs, computers, dishwashers, washing machines, tumble driers, fridge freezers, and lamps to ensure they are in good working order. Often things like elements can overheat, causing a burning plastic smell.
If your house smells like burning plastic, you should always keep investigating until you have found the source of the smell; there will always be a reason for it.
Try to think about which appliances you have on in the house or which lights. Try to narrow it down and establish which room it is coming from. If you find the source of the problem, switch it off immediately and call an expert, do not try to fix the problem yourself unless you are fully qualified to do so. Double-check problem isn’t coming from an unattended candle or something burning in the oven or on the hob.
What was causing the burning plastic smell in my home?
I know what it’s like to have this problem: our house smelt rank! We had a horrific burning plastic smell and had no idea what was causing it. It only smelt strongly of burning at certain times of the day, and sometimes it was more potent than at other times.
The stench was disgusting. It was the strangest smell ever and smelt like a cross between a dead animal and stinking bishops’ cheese with a hint of dead fish!
We pulled up all the carpets, disinfected everything, checked for moldy food, and cleaned all the rooms from top to bottom, but the smell still came back just as strong.
Some days it wasn’t there at all, which was very odd.
After investigating thoroughly, we noticed that the smell was mainly in my 12-year-old daughter’s room.
At first, I thought it was my daughter that stank and encouraged a better personal hygiene routine, but the smell still lingered!
I then deep cleaned the whole room to make sure she’d not left anything to stagnate in her bedroom (even though my kids aren’t allowed to eat upstairs!).
I checked book bags and rucksacks to ensure nothing was lurking, as I’ve made that mistake before with a moldy lunchbox during the summer holidays!
I ripped up carpets and checked everywhere for cat pee. There was nothing to be found. I eventually decided that something had probably died inside the wall cavity, which was causing the smell.
In the end, I began to notice that the smell was worse in winter and in the evenings, which I thought was very strange.
Then I discovered exactly where the fishy burning smell was coming from!
I was changing the bedsheets on the top bunk of my daughter’s bed. I noticed that the lampshade had scorched on the inside, and on closer inspection, I noticed that the plastic pendant casing which holds the lightbulb into place was melted entirely into a fudge-like lump.
Then I remembered my lovely 72-year-old mum had visited with a massive box of 100-watt light bulbs. She went around all the rooms exchanging all the lightbulbs for 100-watt bulbs,
I then checked all the other bulbs in each room, and they were all well on their way to melting the light fitting and lampshades. My daughter’s room was by far the worst and gave off the most rotten smell of them all.
The burning plastic smell was more pungent in the winter because my daughter often had the light on in from early evening on dull days and nights.
You’ll be pleased to know that the second I changed to 40-watt bulbs, the smell disappeared completely and has never returned since.
I was lucky to discover that my burning smell was pretty simple to fix and had not yet caused the house to set on fire. However, if you smell burning and can’t discover where it is coming from, call an emergency electrician immediately. If you notice smoke or flames, call the fire brigade.
When I was little, our house caught fire, and it was when the fire brigade was on strike. It was the most frightening experience anyone could go through.
There was a lot of damage because the army had to come to put the fire out, and we lived in a remote rural village at the time. Even though an electrical fault did not cause the fire, I would reiterate if you smell burning, ring the fire brigade straight away!
If you think you can smell gas, call 999 straight away and do not return to the property until it has been declared safe.
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Smelling burning plastic in a car can be a worry, and a few different factors may cause it. The first place it may be coming from is the car heater. If the heater has a leak and antifreeze is leaking into it, that can cause the car to smell of burning.
You may also like to check that there isn’t a plastic bag caught in the engine which may have melted and is causing a burning smell.
Other places to check are the clutch to make sure that it hasn’t worn and causing a burning smell, and the brake pads may also be worn down and can cause a smell of burning, or it may be an electrical fault. Get your car checked over by a qualified technician if you are unsure where the burning smell is coming from.
When lightning occurs, the chemical change in the air causes a particular type of burning smell. However, it should not smell strongly of burning, so if it smells potent, it might be best to call an electrician to see if they can determine the cause of the problem.
If your house smells like burning rubber, it may be coming from an appliance that is overheating and melting the rubber insulation on the wires. The most likely candidate would be a tumble drier or a washing machine. You should note when your house smells and work by process of elimination to find the smell. If you still can’t find the culprit call an electrician to check your appliances or wiring.
Poor electrical connections can cause the coatings on electrical wires to melt, and this can cause the burning plastic smell you may be experiencing. Get your heater checked over by an electrician before you use it again, just to be on the safe side. If it’s the first time you’ve turned your heater on this winter it may be just burning, dust that makes you think your house smells like burning plastic should subside after a short time.
Check your furnace motor to make sure it isn’t overheating. This is a job for a professional!
If you smell burning from your HVAC system, I would call your HVAC technician as soon as you can to get it checked over. I would advise you to turn off your air conditioner until you have had a safety check on the unit. Check out this post about air conditioning smells!
Now you’ve learned what to do if your house smells like burning plastic, you might like to read about how to deal with a stinky washing machine!
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