Water Heater Burning Smell: Different Smells Mean Different Causes

What should you do when your water heater burning smell? Most people may likely freak out, thinking that the burning smell is an actual sign that something is burning inside their heater. Well, a burning smell may indicate something wrong with your heater, but it doesn’t always mean that your heater is caught on fire.

In fact, there are some logical explanations for why the burning smell happens – along with the solutions to do in case you encounter such a thing.

Why Does My Water Heater Smell Like It’s Burning?

One of the most common reasons is debris or dust burning. When you haven’t used your heater for a long time or have never cleaned it, it’s easy for the dirt and dust to pile up. When it happens, the dust would be engulfed in flames, creating the burning smell of dust.

This is a relatively safe situation, meaning that you are not in a fire-hazard situation. The smell should dissipate not long after, and you can perform a regular cleaning routine to make sure that the water heater’s burning smell won’t happen again.

water heater burning smell

Another possible reason is the high pressure. This is common when you smell the plastic-burnt stench. The water heater produces vapors that should be released via the already provided exhaust pipe. However, when the air pressure isn’t optimized, the vapors may create an odd smell similar to burnt plastic.

However, beyond the smell of burnt plastic, homeowners should also be vigilant about gas leaks, especially in tank water heaters, as they can pose significant risks. Electrical issues, such as faulty electrical contacts, can also lead to an electrical burning scent reminiscent of burning plastic. If the burning smell is accompanied by cold water output, it could indicate a deeper issue with the water heater’s electrical contacts or heating elements.

These electrical problems often stem from worn-out or loose electrical contacts, which can overheat, producing an electrical burning smell. Such odors are a clear sign of underlying electrical problems that require immediate professional attention. Addressing these problems promptly can prevent the distinct and concerning scent of electrical burning in your home.

If so, you must call a plumber or professional HVAC technician. Don’t try to solve it independently as you aren’t trained.

What does it mean when a new gas water heater smells like burning? Again, first of all, there is probably fine dust or dirt within the system. This is possible when the heater has been kept in the store or warehouse for a while.

Read also: Is Gas Water Heater Exhaust Dangerous? Getting Your Facts Straight

If it smells like dust and has gone after a while, you have nothing to worry about. But then again, there is always a possibility that something is stuck or trapped within the system. That’s why you must have the technician check the system entirely before the installation.

Is It Safe if My Heater Smells Like Burning?

Well, it can be a yes and a no. If the burning smell dissipates after a few minutes, then you should be fine. However, you may notice some of these smells, which may require different approaches and quick thinking.

  • Plastic burning smell. If your heater smells like this, there may be a foreign item within the ductwork of the HVAC system. It can either be a small object or (unnoticed) spill. You can try turning off the heater and removing the registers. Check the system to remove or clean the culprit responsible for the smell.
  • Rubber burning smell. If you smell this, turn your system off and call the electrician. It may be dangerous to smell or inhale. There is probably a foreign item that is trapped within the system. There is also a possibility that one of the parts is malfunctioning. It’s also possible that an electrical fault burns something within the heater.
  • Smoke-burning smell. After you make sure that the smell comes from the heater, contact the HVAC technician right away. There may be something blocked in the system and you want to address it right away.

Read also: How to Remove Sulfur Smell From Hot Water Heater


In short, if you aren’t sure about the heater’s condition and you are worried about your (and family) safety, it’s better to be safe than sorry. You should contact a professional expert and ask for their assistance. Never underestimate water heater burning smell and contact an expert right away for your own safety.

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Heater Technician is a skilled author and water heater expert with years of experience in the field. He has authored several articles and books on various aspects of water heater installation, maintenance, and repair.