Electrical Tips

What to Do When You Smell Burning Plastic

What to Do About a Plastic Burning Smell in Your House

The smell of burning is never a good sign, especially when you’re at home. But what does it mean when you smell burning plastic? Is this a serious problem, or does it have a quick fix?

Learn everything you need to know about what to do when you smell burning plastic at home.

Why Does My House Smell Like Burning Plastic?

There are lots of reasons your home could smell like burning plastic, including:

  • An electrical fire

  • A fire in your HVAC system

  • A malfunctioning or overheating appliance

  • Unattended cooking

  • Old or outdated wiring

  • An overworked heater

  • Faulty light fixtures or outlets

It all comes down to something heating up that shouldn’t be. It can be anything from two pieces of an appliance rubbing together and generating friction to an electrical current not passing correctly through a wire.

What to Do When You Smell Plastic Burning

First, stop what you’re doing and check for signs of a fire. If you see small flames, use a fire extinguisher to put out the blaze, then call the fire department to check that everything’s properly out. If you see a large or hard-to-reach fire or suspect a fire hidden in your walls, evacuate the house and call 911.

Remember to check the kitchen for signs of cooking that someone left unattended. (It could be a melting spatula or plastic ladle!)

If there’s no obvious source of the smell, hunt around your home until you find where it’s the strongest. Your next steps depend on what’s causing the odor.

Here’s what to do when …

  • … there’s an electrical burning smell. Check the walls, outlets, switches, and lighting fixtures for signs of heat. If the walls and/or multiple fixtures feel warm, turn off the power at your electrical box. You likely have old or faulty wiring or poorly installed equipment behind the wall. Contact an electrician for home wiring replacement.

You may also notice additional signs of bad, overheating wiring: humming or buzzing, flickering lights, discoloration around outlets, constantly tripped GFCI outlets, and sparks from electrical fixtures.

  • … one specific outlet is the source. The outlet is likely faulty and could cause a fire or shock you when touched. Turn off the power to this outlet’s circuit breaker, then call an electrician to install a new GFCI outlet.

  • … the smell is coming from your electrical panel. Your circuit breakers are a vital part of your home’s defense against fire. If they’re non-functional, you’re at serious risk of a house fire. Never attempt a DIY solution for your electrical panel, and don’t touch it in case there are loose wires that could electrify the metal. Instead, call an electrician for emergency repairs and turn off/unplug as many devices and appliances as possible. If you see visible smoke or the smell is overbearing, evacuate your home and call 911.

  • … the oven smells like burning plastic. First, check that the oven and stove are both off and empty. Someone may have left flammable plastic on or near a hot surface, causing the smell. Use a fire blanket or fire extinguisher on minor flames. Remove burning food or utensils from the heat source if it is safe to do so. If not, turn off any heat and wait for things to cool.

  • … the AC or furnace smells like burning plastic. Your HVAC system can overheat, or a part may have worn out, causing friction. Heaters and furnaces are more likely to emit a burning plastic smell, especially if they’re overworked by a frigid Denver winter. If you smell burning from your HVAC or vents, turn off the system and call a trusted expert for emergency HVAC repairs.

How to Get Rid of the Burning Plastic Smell in Your House

Once the actual problem is identified and solved, you’re still left with the lingering smell of burning plastic. Start with a deodorizing or disinfectant spray on fabric surfaces to make your home feel fresh. Place bowls of white vinegar in the worst-affected rooms and sprinkle carpets with baking soda to absorb the smell overnight. Vacuum the baking soda the next day. Ventilate as much as possible; open your windows if the weather permits, or run an exhaust fan. You can also try lighting scented candles, wax melters, or incense.

Minimize the Risk of Fire with an Annual Professional Inspection: Call Today

How long has it been since you had a regular professional wiring inspection to catch problems early? If an issue does arise, the skilled electricians at Mister Sparky of Denver can get your system working safely again before it becomes a hazard. We recommend annual electrical inspections in all homes, especially older homes, to keep your system safe and catch potential problems. Call us at (303) 747-4279 or book online today to schedule a repair or inspection.