I spoke with fire and home experts to learn about the potential causes and the best way to clear that smell from your home.
Is That Burning Plastic Smell Harmful?
Yes. That’s why you need to deal with it ASAP.
“The smell of burnt plastic is unpleasant and can indicate the presence of potentially harmful substances in the air,” says Hubert Miles, a certified master inspector and owner of Patriot Home Inspections,
“When plastic burns, it releases toxic fumes, including carbon monoxide, dioxins and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Inhaling these fumes can have adverse health effects, such as respiratory irritation, headaches, nausea, and dizziness.”
Common Sources of Burning Plastic Smell
According to Miles, here are the common sources:
Faulty wiring can overheat or cause flames, melting plastic sheathing, covers and electrical connectors.
Overloading an electrical outlet can cause the wall receptacle to overheat or arc, melting plastic components. This is a common source of electrical fires.
Overheated appliances when there’s a heavy dust buildup on motors or a clogged air filter.
An overheated blower motor in the HVAC system, often due to heavy dust buildup or a clogged air filter.
Space heaters, especially if they’re old or weren’t maintained properly.
Plastic utensils or containers that melt on a hot stove. Also, anything plastic tossed around in the dishwasher that lands on the bottom heating element.
Plastic toys left near a heat source like a space heater or fireplace.
What To Do if You Smell Burning Plastic
“If you’re picking up a scent of burning plastic in your home, it’s important to pinpoint its source quickly,” says Diana Rodriguez-Zaba, a certified fire damage restorer and founder of ServiceMaster of Lake Shore. “When plastic burns, it tends to churn out heavy smoke that carries a sticky residue, which can spread fast. Trust your nose to lead the way.
“Is the smell possibly coming from an electrical outlet, or could there be something in the oven with plastic on it? Once you’ve found where it’s coming from, play it safe. Turn off any involved appliance and hit the circuit breaker for that part of your house.”
Rodriguez-Zaba says if you can’t find the source but the smell is getting stronger, treat it as an emergency. “Call 911 immediately,” she says.
Miles says once you’ve determined you’re safe, open windows and doors to allow fresh air to circulate and dissipate the smell. Then you can:
Unplug any malfunctioning or overheating electrical appliances. Have a qualified appliance repair technician check them before further use, or replace them.
Clean or replace the air filters if the smell came from your HVAC system. If the smell persists, turn off the system and have an HVAC technician check it.
If you still can’t pinpoint the source of the smell or if it persists after taking initial steps, contact a certified home inspector or a licensed electrician to conduct a thorough inspection.
How To Get Rid of Burning Plastic Smell in Your House
It’s essential to remove that toxic smell from your home as quickly as possible. Grab the following supplies and use these expert tips to clear the air quickly:
Mild dishwashing liquid;
Plastic cleaning bucket;
Air purifiers like the Eureka Instant Clear or ventilation fans with activated charcoal filters.
How to Proceed
Once you’ve identified the source of the burning plastic smell, remove it from the premises, if possible.
Ventilate by opening windows and doors to allow fresh air in.
Prepare a cleaning solution by mixing one tablespoon of dishwashing liquid per gallon of water in a bucket of water.
Put on cleaning gloves and a chemical respirator to reduce exposure to toxins. Then wipe down hard surfaces like countertops, appliances and floors.
Wipe away the cleaning solution from surfaces with a damp cloth and dry with a clean towel.
Use air purifiers or ventilation fans with activated charcoal filters to neutralize odors and improve air quality.
“Remember, the smell had a source,” says Rodriguez-Zaba. “If it was an electrical hiccup, you’ll want to call in an electrician to sort it out. If it was due to a fire, you’re going to need a fire damage restoration company to help properly clean up the damage.
“Bottom line: If the smell had anything to do with your electrical service, get a pro in there to evaluate the situation, fix the issue and ensure it won’t be a repeat occurrence.”