Bad Air: 3 Reasons Your Heater Stinks and How to Fix It

Not only does your heater circulate air all through your house, but it generally does so in an enclosed environment. One of the best ways to keep your heater from smelling is to have it cleaned and serviced regularly. This is particularly true if you live in an area that is warm in the summer and cold in the winter, so both your heater and AC unit will sit unused for several months. Sometimes, however, your heater will stink even in spite of proper care and maintenance. Here are 3 reasons your heater might stink and what to do about it.

Dusty Smell

A dusty smell is the most common type of unpleasant smell coming from a heater. When your heater lays dormant for several months, it tends to accumulate a great deal of dust and small debris. When you turn it on for the first time, these materials all burn up, which causes an unpleasant—but thankfully short-lived—burning smell. If you haven’t used your heater in several months this is no cause for alarm. Let it run through a few cycles and if the smell fades, you are fine. If the smell does not abate, however, it may be a clogged air filter. You can avoid this by simply changing your filter when the weather starts turning colder and every month that you use it. This is very important because running a heater with a clogged air filter can significantly decrease performance as well as potentially spreading toxins through the air. If you have changed the filter and the smell persists, it’s time to call an HVAC professional.

Burning Plastic or Rubber Smell

Sometimes, rubber, plastic or other materials can end up inside of your ductwork for a number of different reasons. If you smell a burning plastic or rubber smell that seems to be isolated to a certain area, try to narrow down where the smell is coming from. When you find the source of the smell, inspect the air vents in the area to see if there is some kind of obstruction. Don’t close off the vents because this can reduce the efficiency of your entire system. If you still can’t find the source of the burning smell, it’s time to call an HVAC technician.

Electrical Burning

While wiring issues are not common with heaters, they can happen. If your heater emits an electrical burning smell that does not disappear after a few cycles, it’s time to call the professionals.
Some smells are simply a normal, natural part of your heating system and will clear rapidly. When smells are persistent, however, it is always best to have them checked out by professionals. Better safe than sorry!