Stacy Randall is a wife, mother, and freelance writer from NOLA that has always had a love for DIY projects, home organization, and making spaces beautiful. Together with her husband, she has been spending the last several years lovingly renovating her grandparent’s former home, making it their own and learning a lot about life along the way.
House Smells Like Burning Plastic? (Possible Causes and Fixes)
While plastic may occupy every corner of our households, from trash cans to Tupperware🄬, its smell shouldn’t. One whiff of fire is enough to offend, but if that flame makes contact with plastic, it’s putrid. More important than the pungent aroma is the danger it poses to our homes.
If you detect the scent of burning plastic, identify its source and remove the melting object immediately. This scent can come from plastic caught in dishwashers, microwaves, and vents – or from a malfunctioning air conditioner. Once you’ve disposed of the source, ventilate and eliminate all lingering odors.
The cause of burning plastic could be common, but its effects are catastrophic. Don’t underestimate the smell – seek it out. Even the slightest stench could cause damage or require professional intervention.
Table of Contents
- Where to Check If Your House Smells Like Burning Plastic
- How to Get Rid of the Burning Plastic Smell in Your House
- What Are the Dangers of Burning Plastic?
- Related Questions
Where to Check If Your House Smells Like Burning Plastic
With plastic coming in all forms and functions, discerning which is currently making a disgusting smell can take time. Follow these steps to ensure a speedy investigation.
Cookware and Kitchens
Plastic can easily be kindled in the kitchen. Utensils and various containers meet open flames or microwaves all too often. Best to start your inspection with the most common culprit.
Begin your investigation by checking all cooking-related appliances. Ovens, stovetops, and toasters could all hold or hide plastic therein.
If you discover plastic in these places, turn off its adjacent appliance and unplug it from its power source. Carefully dispose of the plastic in the nearest recyclable bin. Be wary not to make direct contact, as the melted material could burn bare skin.
Should this have produced the scent, educate your housemates on proper cooking protocols. Consider relocating plastic utensils and containers or creating a sign to display what can and cannot be heated.
Object Burning in Furnace
As easily as a spoon could slip into a toaster, so too could a toy duck into the ductwork.
Vents fill often overlooked spaces of our homes. Tiny items, such as a child’s or pet’s toy, could occupy these places with ease. While ordinarily not harmful, any object caught inside could melt through prolonged exposure to heat.
Should you suspect this is the case, turn off the furnace first. Then identify the room with the strongest stench and unscrew all registers. Remove recovered valuables with delicacy, as they have endured significant heating.
Once you remove the item, the smell should soon dissipate.
Dishwasher Melting Contents
Dishwashers present a unique danger: their contents could slip between the racks and plummet to their base. That base channels heat into the machine that could melt any plastic it touches without a problem.
If the plastic scent originates from your kitchen, but not from the cookware, inspect the dishwasher instead. Remove the bottom rack and retrieve any utensils that have sunk underneath. Dispose of all melted instruments and secure future utensils before starting the machine.
The scent of burnt plastic can be particularly difficult to remove from your machine. Thankfully, there are a multitude of methods for purging the putridness.
Air conditioning units use plastic casings to contain the internal wires. Overheated HVACs run the risk of melting these casings – and the wires inside.
These units come equipped with a number of other parts that could be set aflame as they fail. Between belts, motor bearings, and control boards, one internal failure could spell external fire.
Whatever has ailed your air condition, leave the alleviation to a professional. Contact a trained HVAC technician to cure your unit.
How to Get Rid of the Burning Plastic Smell in Your House
Once you have rid your residence of the odor’s source, it’s time to refresh its fragrance. Two simple steps will leave your house smelling sweet as a flower within the hour.
Step One: Ventilate the House
Combat the smell by welcoming the breeze. Open all available windows throughout the affected area. The influx of fresh air should dilute the scent and allow lingering smoke to escape.
Fire up any fans on hand to expedite the process. Use both floor and ceiling fans in tandem to speed up the exit process.
However, avoid utilizing air conditioners for dispersal purposes. Smoke from the plastic can creep into the vents and be distributed through the system if turned on. Provide time for the smoke to skedaddle on its own before pressing the on button.
Step Two: Eliminate the Odors
While the wind will eventually work its magic, that process requires patience. There’s no need to suffer in the meantime if you eliminate the odor altogether.
Air fresheners and scented candles can provide temporary respite from the smell. However, these only cover aromas with one of their own. Once these makeshift solutions subside, the stench remains.
If you want to eradicate the aroma, rely on an odor eliminator. These products cause a chemical reaction that binds or breaks the molecules creating that burning scent. Such a solution might sound costly, but it’s quite affordable.
Mix Up Your Own Odor Eliminator
Believe it or not, household variants exist in abundance. The most frequent ingredients needed: baking soda and white vinegar.
Should the smell have stayed contained to a small area, one bowl full of either ingredient should suffice. Consider substituting in citrus fruits, coffee grounds, or activated charcoal to diversify the leftover scent. Leave this bowl in the center of the room overnight and return to a rejuvenated room in the morning.
Once the aroma expands its radius, it will require greater firepower.
Pour half a cup of white vinegar and an equal amount of warm water into an empty spray bottle. Use this as ammunition to spritz each afflicted corner of the house. This should evaporate the scent over time.
Remember: each of these solutions replaces one pungent smell with another. Take care in selecting the correct one for your personal preferences. Any of these options is still exceedingly short-lived than smoke – and inarguably less dangerous.
What Are the Dangers of Burning Plastic?
You might assume that plastic would be the only casualty involved in this incident. However, the repercussions of unaddressed burning plastic are not so easily resolved.
Burning Plastic Can Be a Fire Hazard
Any product made of petroleum is susceptible to flammability – plastic included. Despite its plethora of manifestations, you can melt plastic in any form at 320º Fahrenheit (or 160º Celsius).
If left at this temperature for too long, the plastic could catch on fire. This has the potential of spreading to any nearby appliances, people, or even the entire property.
You should douse any minor fires with a fire extinguisher. If one is not readily available, toss a fire blanket or damp tea towel over the top. Do not splash water onto it, as this could cause the flames to erupt all the more.
Major fires require a call to the local fire station. Dial 911 for emergency assistance and evacuate the premises until they arrive.
Burning Plastic Can Burn Your Skin
Our skin can be a victim of burning plastic. Flesh burns when in contact with any object or above 118º Fahrenheit (47.8º Celsius) or higher. Given the melting point we previously established, plastic can leave up to third-degree burns.
If a piece of plastic has burned you or a loved one, soak the injury in cold water immediately. You can remove any plastic stuck to your skin with mineral oils or ointments.
Ensure you treat plastic burns seriously to avoid permanent scarring. Protect the afflicted area with a sterile, non-stick bandage and lay the injured down with their feet elevated. Second or third-degree burns should elicit a call to a doctor immediately.
Should you ever need to retrieve a piece of melted plastic, be sure to do so using thick, heat-resistant gloves. This will prevent any possible contact between you and the plastic. Conversely, wait until the item has cooled off before attempting contact.
Burning Plastic Leads to Smoke Inhalation
The threats of melted plastic cannot be mitigated to one object alone. The burning process releases smoke into the air that invades our respiratory systems. This can leave lasting damage to our lungs and other organs.
That, however, is only the start of the symptoms. There are a number of other minor problems that smoke inhalation can cause:
- Chest pain
- Eye damage
- Skin changes
- Shortness of breath
- Decreased alertness
You can cure instances of minor smoke inhalation through time and rest. However, it’s advisable to schedule a doctor’s appointment within the next two weeks to survey any invisible damage.
Should someone inhale any significant amount of smoke, seek immediate medical attention. Be sure to remove yourself and others from the smoke-infested area and relocate to an area with clean air. Call 911 after that and request emergency medical assistance.
Burning Plastic Causes Climate Pollution
While smoke of any form injures the environment, plastic-produced smoke increases the suffering to egregious degrees.
When burnt, plastic releases environmental pollutants, such as the deadly dioxin. These chemicals increase the toxicity of the air around them. In mass quantities, they contribute to such problems as our rising sea levels and the destruction of marine life.
When risking the burning of plastic, we have to consider more than ourselves and even our families. We have to consider the gamble we take with our world.
Why does my car smell like burning plastic?
If the smell of burning plastic comes from your car instead of your house, your exhaust is the culprit. Anything in contact with this mechanism will start to melt.
Any objects run over on the road could now be wedged within. Alternatively, a shift in alignment could have brought one part of the car too close for comfort.
Regardless of the reason, this requires a trip to the mechanic immediately. If the smell persists, consider pulling to the side of the road and requesting a tow.
Is smelling burnt plastic a sign of illness?
If you cannot find any burnt plastic in your home, consider arranging an appointment with your doctor. This could be a sign of parosmia. Parosmia, or odor distortion, causes familiar smells to register as ones foreign to the brain – namely, burnt plastic.
Conversely, this could be indicative of phantosmia. Phantosmia makes you detect smells that don’t have any source in your environment. One common phantom smell is that of burnt plastic.
Regardless of the potential diagnosis, always ensure your health by contacting a medical professional immediately.
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