Why Does My Furnace Smell Like Burning?

Not sure why your furnace gives off a burnt smell? No worries, we will help you figure this out!

When you start sensing a burning smell from your furnace, for most of us it is a warning sign that something might be wrong with the heating appliance. Of course, people mostly think there is something literally burning in their furnace or that some parts of it are malfunctioning. But is it always like that?

In this article, we will explain what may cause your furnace to give off an unpleasant burning smell. You will learn the most common reasons and get a detailed explanation of each of them. Also, we will tell you how to troubleshoot such issues should they appear.

Why Does My Heater Smell Like Burning?

The very first question people ask when their furnace starts giving off a pronounced burning smell is: is it normal for a furnace to smell like burning? Well, actually, this is normal for a furnace to smell like burning, but only in some cases.

What's That Burning Heater Smell From My Heater?What’s That Burning Heater Smell From My Heater?

For example, while your furnace is not working, it will be accumulating layers of dust on its internal elements, such as the heat exchanger. The dust will also be collected in and around the burners.

So when you finally heat the furnace back up, it will start burning this dust off! As a result, you may sense the burning smell. In this case, it is normal and is not considered to be a safety hazard.

However, there might be situations when a furnace that smells like smoke can be a sign of a potential concern! This is why finding the source of the smell is mandatory and extremely important.

When you know for sure what is causing this smell, you can figure out whether you need to take further action. For example, except for dust accumulation that might be the culprit, your furnace may give off a burnt smell due to burning plastic or an overheated blower motor.

Below, you can take a look at the most common reasons your furnace could smell like it’s burning. In addition, we will explain what you should do in each case to fix the issue.

Why Does My Heater Smell Like Burning
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Burning Dust Could Be the Culprit

As we have already said, when your furnace is not running, it will accumulate dust on its internal parts. So when to turn the heating appliance back on, all that dust will start burning, producing a noticeable burn smell.

The vents connected to your home’s heating system will usually transfer and spread this smell all around the entire home. In this case, you may notice that a burning smell comes from the furnace when you turn it on for the first time each year.

Should dust buildup be a culprit, there is no need to worry. A few minutes after the furnace is turned on, the smell will dissipate on its own. However, if it doesn’t go away, you should contact an HVAC specialist to find the problem and manage it.

Check Your Furnace For a Clogged Air Filter

Clogged air filters often become another cause for the unpleasant burnt smell that your furnace is producing. A clogged filter makes dirt accumulate on the furnace, which will burn off and produce a burning odor when the furnace heats up. In this case, the solution is very simple: just change the air filter on a furnace to keep it from giving off a burning smell.

See, when the air filter gets clogged, it makes the work of the blower motor much harder. As a result, the blower motor gets overheated. And because of the overheating, a burning smell starts to develop since the motor is trying to keep pushing air through the clogged filter.

Check Your Furnace For a Clogged Air Filter
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The Smell May Come From Electrical Burning

Normally, a furnace will shut itself down in case it starts to overheat. However, if this option is not working or malfunctioning, the appliance may not shut off when it’s needed! This means the safety feature on the unit is broken and needs to be fixed.

If this safety feature is not functioning properly, there is a high risk of an electrical fire, presenting a great safety hazard for you and your family! You should invite an HVAC specialist to check for burning electrical components if you notice a burning electrical smell.

It Could Be a Piece of Burning Plastic That Causes Your Furnace to Smell

If your furnace is producing a noticeable smell of burnt plastic, it can indicate that a foreign object has made its way into your heating unit. This could be anything small like a plastic bottle cap, or it could even be one of your children’s plastic toys!

As the furnace is getting hotter, the plastic starts burning and melting, emitting that noticeable burnt odor. The bad thing about those fumes is that they are harmful to your health when released into your home.

So should you notice your furnace giving off the smell of burning plastic, turn off the system and contact an HVAC professional as soon as possible!

It Could Be a Piece of Burning Plastic That Causes Your Furnace to Smell
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What If Your Furnace Gives Off a Smell of Gunpowder?

Homeowners often get freaked out when their furnace suddenly starts giving off odors that smell like gunpowder. People start thinking that the appliance may explode! However, everything might not be that bad.

See, this odor may appear when the circuit board gets overheated in your furnace. As a result, it will start giving off a smell that is similar to the smell of gunpowder. The same happens when a fan motor becomes overheated, by the way.

Should you sense this smell, shut off the furnace immediately and have a professional HVAC contractor visit your home to repair it. Don’t turn the furnace back on until the HVAC professional allows you to do that!

What Causes the Smell of Oil or Smoke In Your Furnace?

Smells like oil or smoke may develop if you have an oil furnace. To fix the smell in this type of the furnace, you will need to change the oil filter. Usually, it helps, but if the smell still lingers, you should contact an HVAC professional to check it and deal with the problem.

Before the HVAC technician arrives, turn the furnace off and don’t turn it back on until necessary repairs have been made. The unit could catch on fire if you continue running it!

Now you know what may cause your furnace to emit burnt smells. As you can see, not all causes are serious and can be potentially hazardous. However, if you try to address the problem yourself according to the tips we give and it doesn’t work (meaning your furnace is still smelling smoke), the only solution is to invite an HVAC professional to cope with the issue.

What Causes the Smell of Oil or Smoke In Your Furnace
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What to Do If Your Gas Heater Smells Like Burning?

If your gas furnace smells like burning, you need to pinpoint the cause of the odor first of all. If it is something harmless like dust buildup or a clogged filter, you may want to try and deal with it yourself. However, as you are now aware, there might be more serious issues that should be addressed by professionals only!

This is how you can fix the burning smell coming from the furnace if the cause is not very critical and can be managed without professional help. Depending on the cause of the smell, you will need to take different actions.

My Furnace Smells Like Something Is BurningMy Furnace Smells Like Something Is Burning
  • If your furnace smells because of the dust accumulation, you don’t have to do anything to it. Just let the heater operate for ten minutes or so, and the smell should vanish on its own
  • In case of clogged filters or dirty vents, replace the filters and clean the vents out, otherwise, they can grow mold and mildew inside your ductwork, causing a musty odor
  • If there is something plastic or rubber stuck in your heating system that makes it smell like burning, you need to locate the thing first. Then, open the vent and try to remove any items that don’t belong there
  • In case of any electrical issues, turn off your HVAC system immediately and contact an HVAC technician to safely handle and repair the system

With these simple life hacks, you will be able to keep your furnace in a decent and well-working state longer. Make sure you keep the heating appliance clean, remove the dust from it regularly and remember to change the filters to prevent clogging.

These easy steps will help you avoid any smelly issues with your furnace in the future!

What to Do If Your Gas Heater Smells Like Burning
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Easy Furnace Maintenance Tips For Average Homeowners

In order to make your furnace work properly and not bother you with strange odors and annoying noises, you should keep the appliance in a decent condition. Luckily, there is nothing difficult about it.

Any homeowner can follow a few simple steps to maintain their heating appliance and make it last longer without causing trouble.

  • Make sure you change your filters regularly. Ideally, this should be done once every three months
  • Check the furnace for any strange noises like scraping, screeching, or banging/slapping. They may indicate the unit is not working properly
  • Keep your vents clean. Ideally, you should have a professional duct cleaning done every few years
  • Clean your furnace both inside and around by regular sweeping and vacuuming
  • Remember to clean and clear around the outdoor units as well
  • If you have a natural gas furnace, change the batteries in your CO detectors every six months
  • If you have a gas furnace, check its pilot light regularly. If your pilot light is burning blue, the furnace is doing well
  • Schedule a twice-yearly checkup for keeping your furnace in a good condition and pinpointing problems before they become worse

Now you know what factors may cause your furnace to smell like it’s burning or give off burnt plastic or rubber odors that are lingering around your home. Now you know that it’s not always a cause for serious concern since quite often, the cause for the smell is a clogged filter or some old dust that should be removed.

But there might be cases when you need to ask a professional to come and check your furnace to make sure it’s not posing a potential danger to you and your family!

Easy Furnace Maintenance Tips For Average Homeowner
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Frequently Asked Questions

⭐How dangerous is burning smell coming from furnace?

It depends on what produces it. If it’s just burnt dust, it’s not dangerous. But if it’s a rubber/plastic item stuck in your unit that’s overheated, those fumes can be toxic!

⭐What to do if my furnace making humming noise and smells like burning?

Perhaps, your furnace needs proper cleaning! You need to make sure it’s not broken and if you realize you can’t manage it yourself, call for an HVAC specialist to come and address the issue.

⭐How often do I have to change the furnace filters?

To maximize its performance and prevent burning odors, replace the filters regularly. Change the air filters in your heat system every three months .

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Melinda worked as an art consultant and Home Designer for eight years in total. As an art consultant, she was first employed in a local art gallery in San Francisco where she was responsible for picking the most suitable artwork for her clients depending on their goals and budget. At this job, Melinda showed herself as a confident specialist and a true art lover with exceptional taste and artistic sense. Melinda is a passionate author of Housekeeping Bay and we are really happy that she is our Expert.
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