Dennis is a retired firefighter with an extensive background in construction, home improvement, and remodeling. He worked in the trades part-time while serving as an active firefighter. On his retirement, he started a remodeling and home repair business, which he ran for several years.
House Smells Like Burning Rubber? (Possible Causes & Fixes)
Nothing is more unsettling than to notice a burning smell in your home. The smell of burning rubber or plastic has a distinctively unpleasant odor. If you smell burning rubber or plastic in your home, there is no need to panic, but the cause does need to be investigated and found.
There are several potential causes for a burning rubber smell in your home. In all likelihood, the burning smell is related to an electrical problem in your wiring or an appliance. There are other sources of a burning rubber smell that you should consider as well.
You should never ignore any burning smell in your home. The burning smell could signal bigger problems that need addressing quickly and professionally. We will look at some of the most common problems that result in a burning rubber smell in your home.
Table of Contents
There are many causes for a burning rubber smell in your home. Most often, the burning rubber smell is related to an electrical problem. The burning rubber smell is often a problem with your wiring or problems with an electrical appliance. Diagnosing an electrical problem is not beyond many homeowners. However, repairing the problem may require professional assistance.
HVAC systems combine electrical wiring, heating components, and, in some cases, rubber belts. This combination of components is a recipe for hot smells that can fill your house. Some of the more common problems with HVAC systems include:
- Belt-driven fans – Many HVAC systems have fans the use a rubber belt to drive the fan cage from the electric motor. These rubber belts are subject to wear and stress that can lead to belt failure. If the bearings on the fan begin to fail, the bad bearing can cause the fan to bind and the belt to slip. A slipping belt will heat and give off that distinctive burning rubber smell
- Electrical motors – The fan motor may also suffer a failure emitting an electrical burning rubber smell. In most cases, repairing or replacing a bad fan motor in your HVAC unit is best performed by a trained HVAC technician.
- Electronic component failures – All HVAC systems have a control board that manages the heating and cooling in your home. While it is rare, it is not unknown for a control board to fail. In some cases, these failures cause a burning rubber smell that spread through your home. Often, the HVAC system will stop functioning when these kinds of failures occur.
- Foreign objects on the heat exchanger – If something finds its way to the heat exchanger in your HVAC system, your system may produce a burning rubber smell. Often these types of smells are easy to diagnose since they only happen at specific times. Cleaning the heat exchanger is a different matter. Some systems require a certified HVAC technician to open the HVAC system to avoid invalidating the warranty.
Electrical problems or foreign objects on the heat exchanger often cause a burning rubber smell that can fill your home. You shouldn’t ignore these problems. If left un-investigated, further damage to your HVAC system can happen, leading to more costly repairs.
Anything electrical in your home has the potential to fail and emit that burning rubber smell. If you stop and think about your home’s electrical appliances, you will be amazed at the number of appliances on your list. Consider just a few appliances found in most modern home
- Washers and Dryer
- Refrigerators and freezers
- Cooktops and ovens
- Toaster ovens
- Microwave ovens
This list represents just a few of the electrical appliances in your home. Each one of them can begin to smell of burning rubber or plastic in the right circumstance. Knowing what to look for is a key to finding the culprit behind your burning rubber smell.
- Washers and Dryers – Washers and dryers are also prone to electrical failures that can produce burning rubber smells. Often these smells relate to a drive belt that is loose or slipping for some other reason. Occasionally, an electrical issue with the control board or the power supply for the washer or dryer will have problems. If the smell is localized to your laundry room, suspecting a problem with the washer or dryer is a good bet.
- Refrigerators and freezers – Refrigerators or freezers are not known for creating odors. Typically, when a refrigerator or freezer fails, the unit stops getting cold. There may be a slight odor that doesn’t linger if the compressor fails.
- Cooktops and ovens – It is rare for an electric range or over to smell like burning rubber unless a utensil or kitchen tool is accidentally left on a hot cooktop or in the oven. It is usually evident what is creating the burning rubber smell in these cases.
- Toaster ovens and microwaves – Typically, these two kitchen appliances don’t emit smells when they fail. However, a tool or utensil left in the microwave, or a toaster over will emit the smell of burning rubber
- Televisions – Televisions can fail and emit faint odors of burning rubber. If the power supply overheats or another electronic component fails, the wires may overheat and melt, resulting in that burning rubber smell.
- Vacuums – Vacuums are notorious for burning rubber smells. This propensity to burning rubber smells is due to the design of most vacuums. Vacuums, by and large, use a rubber belt to drive the rotating brushes. The brushes tend to accumulate a lot of debris and trash that can keep the brushes from spinning. When the brush roller can spin, the belt begins to slip and burn, causing the burning odor smell.
Every electric appliance can fail and emit a burning rubber smell as the components melt and heat up. Typically, it is easy to identify and locate the cause of the burning rubber smell when an appliance is involved.
Electrical Wiring Issues – A More Serious Issue
The electrical wiring in your home is not immune to problems that can cause a burning rubber smell. Often these problems may be unseen and hard to diagnose. Much of the wiring in a home hides in the walls or attic, where finding a problem is difficult.
There are some indications that a problem exists with your home electrical wiring. If you notice any of these signs and smell a burning rubber odor, you should call a licensed electrician to look at your wiring. In most cases, these are problems beyond the average homeowner’s skills.
Flashing or Dimming Lights
If you notice that at times your lights flash or dim erratically and a burning rubber smell is present, you should call a licensed electrician. Several issues with your home electrical system can cause this symptom.
The causes can range from inadequate wiring for the circuit’s load to a bad breaker on the service panel. In any case, the problem can lead to more serious issues. We recommend prompt attention to this symptom.
Darkening or Smoke Stains Around Outlets or Switches
Often an outlet or switch will fail. One indication of this failure is a darkening or smoke smudge on the outlet or the switch. You may notice a pungent burned rubber smell when using the outlet or the switch.
If you notice these indicators on your outlet or switch or smell the characteristic burning rubber smell, immediately call a licensed electrician to repair the problem. A bad switch or outlet can cause additional damage to your electrical systems, and any appliances plugged into the outlet.
Breakers That Trip Over and Over
Breakers that constantly trip are a sure sign of electrical problems on that circuit. The problem may be an appliance that is failing or electrical wiring that is overloaded or damaged. Troubleshooting these kinds of problems can be challenging. Unplugging everything on the circuit is one way to test for faults. In the end, a licensed electrician can find the problem and the solution.
Don’t delay calling a professional if you have this problem, especially if a burning rubber smell accompanies it. More than likely, there is damage to the wiring or an overload condition. A constantly tripping breaker is a very unsafe situation and could lead to an electrical fire in your home.
Don’t Forget the Less Obvious
If your home starts to smell like burning rubber, you should consider a few other things other than an electrical situation. When you start to diagnose a burning rubber smell in your think a bit outside the box.
- Have you brought anything new into your home? – Anything new that comes into your home may be a source of strange smells, including a burning rubber smell. If the appearance of the burning rubber odor coincides with anything new such as shelving or furniture, suspect that new furniture.
- Check your heating vents for foreign objects – Children a crafty and creative. It is amazing where you will find small toys and other objects. A plastic toy pushed into a heating vent can get hot enough to emit rubber smells.
- Outside odors inside your house – Odors can migrate from outside your home to the interior. Negative pressure inside your home can suck outside air inside, bringing any odors from the surrounding environment. If your HVAC system creates a negative pressure environment, an HVAC technician is the best resource for determining the problem.
Don’t Ignore a Possible Dangerous Situation
A burning rubber smell in your home deserves serious attention. The smell of burning rubber pervading your home can be a symptom of much larger and more dangerous problems. A licensed electrician can help you find and isolate the problem. In many cases, a licensed electrician can make the necessary repairs.
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