Why do electric space heaters smell when in use?

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I have enjoyed the overwhelming experience of heat from campfires in cold nights, the balminess of bonfires in outdoor parties, the warmth of the fireplace while sitting in my cozy armchair and also spent a couple of anxious moments near an about-to-short-out electric heater. Emitting thick smoke, this heater was going to cause an accident if I hadn’t made a quick move to turn it off!

The strange smell was strange, quite distinct from the ones I experienced earlier. So what’s this smell this from a properly working heater? What causes it?

Let’s explore the issue!

In chilly winters, the central heating system won’t let you go near your electric heater. But, if by any chance, you happen to start your heater, the rancid smell may hit as an unpleasant surprise. You may feel helpless and can’t find a way out of this situation. This article is going to help you sort out this problem whenever it occurs.

The main reason behind this might be accumulating dust. It doesn’t mean you are sluggish because of the dirt and dust build-up on the insides of your unit. This deposited grime and dust can not only cause odours but can also reduce performance and even cause fires. So, it’s vital to pay attention if your electric heater is smelling strange.

Loose or improper electric connections can also lead to odd smells. The broken or burnt cables and wire casings may get too hot, resulting in a burning smell. This article will discuss various types of odours caused by electric heaters and identifies the culprits behind them.

Identifying the smell and troubleshooting:

My heater smells like burning dust: Check the unit for dust

Featured image Dust Heater Smell

Dust buildup is the primary factor contributing to this electric heater dysfunction. When your heater stays dormant for months, dirt and other particles accumulate. It happens when we store our heaters during the summer season. When you turn the heater on after a while, the dust starts burning, which causes the irritating burning smell. You can’t avoid this from happening unless you store the heater at a dust-free spot or use a humidifier in your home.

However, if dust has already gathered in your electric heater, try using a blower or canned air to clear out the vents. If the air does not adequately reach the insides, open the case to clean it by hand. Clean the dust from the heater coil, sensor and the fan, if present. Try to keep the cables away from both the coil and the sensor. Before starting the cleanup, make sure your heater is unplugged. When the heater is free from all dust, you can enjoy the heat without experiencing any unpleasant smells.

Steps to check the heater for dust:

  • Turn the heater off and unplug it. Let it get cold
  • Clean the surface of the heater with a dry and clean duster
  • Use a damp cloth to wipe the surface. Wait till it dries
  • Open the case or cover of the heater. You may need to use a screwdriver for this purpose
  • Spray the insides of the heater with a compressed air duster. It causes dust and debris to fall out
  • You can also vacuum the interior by using a small nozzle and a brush. Focus on the narrow areas that are hard to reach by hand
  • Clean the cover you removed at the start with a vacuum. The brush attachment will do the job
  • Give a final touch by wiping the entire heater with a damp cloth

My heater smells like burning rubber or plastic: Check the internal cabling

Your heater may suddenly start smelling like burnt plastic or rubber. It happens when the internal wire casting or insulation is out of place or damaged. Wires touching the heater coil can also cause a bad smell.

You can call a technician to resolve the issue, but why to spend money when you can do this on your own?

First, check and identify the spot from where the smell is coming. If it is coming from your electric heater, then check if anything is stuck in its vents. The stuck material may be causing the burning smell. If not, the internal wiring may be the cause behind the smell. Incase anything rubber or plastic is stuck in the vents, remove it and clean the outlet.

Steps to check the internal cabling:

  • Open the case of the heater to check for problems
  • If you see any dangling cables near the heater coil, use tape to fix them in place, away from the coil. It prevents the wires from further impairment
  • If the insulation or casting is broken or melted, set it in place with electrical tape. Fix the end of the tape strap with the heat of a lighter
  • Check the vents for any struck material. Remove it, if found
  • After you secure the wires, set up and test the heater

Tip: Keep the vents of your electric heater open when it is in use. Not doing so can cause your system to lose its efficiency.

My heater smells like electric burning: Check for loose connections or burnt circuits.

Burnt circuit smell

An electrical burning smell and smoke coming from a heater indicate the presence of some electrical malfunction. If you don’t observe any reduction in this smell after a few heating cycles, then it means you should take the issue seriously. Many companies sell replacement parts for their products. If some part inside the unit gets damaged, you can get the replacement for it. You can identify and resolve the issue all by yourself by following our guide about troubleshooting. Still, if the case seems dangerous, you should call a professional for help.

When a blower motor gets too hot, it may lead to the electric burning odour. Sometimes, the air filter gets blocked and clogged. If this is the case, you can easily replace the old filter with a new one. Among these three types of smells, this electrical burning smell is the most concerning. You can use a voltage box for testing the circuit.

Steps to check for loose connection:

  • If your blower motor gets overheated, then the problem may be the motor or the auto shut-off function
  • Identify the damaged or burnt parts and get them replaced
  • If you see some frayed electrical wiring, contact a technician to help you

What I can do and what I should not?

Strange smells coming from your heater need special attention. Don’t neglect the smell until your heater starts to smoke. It could be a potential threat to your life. Except for the burning dust smell, all other odors demand immediate action. You can quickly solve the issue of burning dust smell by doing a thorough cleanup of the heating unit.

In the case of a plastic burning odor, you can open the system and manually set the wires away from the coil with a tape. The broken insulation can also be repaired with a tape binding.

However, in case of an electrical burning smell, the issue may get out of your hands. It will be best to call a professional for help. We recommend you don’t take the matter in your hands unless you are trained about repairing electric circuits and motors.

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