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Why does my air purifier smell like burning or plastic?

By
Updated on March 12, 2024
Written by
Danny Ashton
Danny is the founder of HouseFresh and has been writing about air purifiers and indoor air quality since 2010. He is our lead tester, conducting all the tests we use to evaluate air quality products. That is why you will always see his name attached to our reviews.

Our verdict

Air purifiers with an activated carbon filter are designed to remove bad smells from the environment – not produce them. 

 

There are a number of reasons why you might notice a bad smell coming from your air purifier, and you’ll find most are an easy fix. Whether it’s a burning plastic smell from not removing the filter packaging or the smell of a wet dog that requires a much-needed filter change, we’ll explain each smell and how to solve them.

Bad smells are a sign that something’s wrong

Air purifiers that feature an activated carbon filter affect the smell of your home by adsorbing bad smells in the environment, effectively making your home smell much better. But, under no circumstances should an air purifier make your home smell terrible. If you notice a bad smell coming from your air purifier, it’s time to take action.

You may find your nose picking up the smell of something burning, the smell of plastic, a dirty smell, a wet dog smell, the smell of a swimming pool, or even a sweet smell. Each of these odors indicates a specific problem and has a specific solution. 

Why does my air purifier smell like burning or plastic?  

When you notice a bad smell coming from your air purifier, it’s a clear red flag that something’s wrong. Fortunately, in most cases, the problem can be resolved quickly and easily. So, let’s go over the most common bad smells that can be omitted from an air purifier. We’ll explain what is most likely causing those odors and, more importantly, how to fix the problem.

Type of smell CauseSolution
Smells Like PlasticIn almost all cases, when you notice the smell of plastic coming from your air purifier, it’s because there is plastic inside the unit. While a piece of plastic may have somehow found its way inside the machine, it’s much more likely that you forgot to remove the plastic bag covering your filters.This problem can be resolved easily by opening the air purifier, removing the filters, taking the plastic bags off the filters, and then placing them back into the unit. If you made this mistake, don’t worry; many people forget to take the plastic bags off their filters at least once.
Smells Like BurningThis is a more serious issue that can indicate something has gone wrong with the unit’s electrical components. In other words, if you notice that your air purifier is producing a burning smell, then there could be something wrong with the device mechanically. Most of the time, this results from the motor being overworked and is almost always due to a fault in the circuitry. 
However, in some cases, this burning smell can be a result of having placed your air purifier in a room without proper ventilation. Without adequate access to ventilation, your air purifier will be unable to cool off, which can sometimes cause the electrical components inside the machine to overheat and produce this sort of burning smell. So, before jumping to any conclusions, double-check to ensure that your air purifier is in a room with ventilation.
Assuming that your device is located in a room with proper ventilation, you may be able to resolve this problem by checking all of the circuits inside the device and cleaning the fan. If the circuits look good and the fan is clean, consider sending the device back to the manufacturer for repairs or a replacement. Whatever you do, you should never continue operating an air purifier that produces this sort of burning smell, as it can sometimes be a precursor to an electrical fire.
Smells DirtyThis is probably the most common bad smell you’ll notice coming from your air purifier, and it’s absolutely nothing to worry about. Air purifiers are constantly cleaning the air in your home, and as such, they accumulate dust and other dirt that often smells bad.If you notice a dirty smell coming from your air purifier, it almost always means that your filters are dirty. This is typically when most people will change their filters.
That said, if your filters are clean and you notice a dirty smell coming from the device, then it could simply be the case that there is something else in the room causing the odor and you’re mistaking it for the air purifier, so always double-check the surrounding environment for any signs of dirt.
Smells Like A Wet DogAnother more serious problem could be that your air purifier produces a wet dog smell. This is usually because dampness or moisture inside the machine is reacting with either mold or some other bacteria. Mold and mildew can cause serious medical problems, so this smell can indicate a far greater issue at work in your home.This sort of wet dog smell is often the result of moisture reacting with the normal bacterium that air purifiers routinely pull out of the air. You should be able to resolve this issue by changing your filters but inspect your surroundings to ensure you don’t have any mold or mildew in your home, as this is something that will require a little more action to resolve.
Smells Like A Swimming PoolThis is by far the most serious problem that you can encounter with an air purifier. If you notice your device producing the smell of chlorine, the machine is likely emitting ozone gas, which can cause severe damage to your lungs and respiratory system. Even small quantities of ozone gas, when inhaled, can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, coughing fits, and throat irritation.Unfortunately, there is no easy fix to this problem. If you notice the smell of a swimming pool coming from your air purifier, then shut the machine off immediately, ventilate the environment, and contact a professional to repair the machine. You might even want to consider purchasing a new air purifier because it’s simply not worth the risk.
Smells SweetSometimes you might notice a sweet smell coming from your air purifier, and this issue can be a little bit harder to diagnose. Two common scenarios cause this sort of sweet smell to be emitted from air purifiers.

-If the device is brand new, then this sweet smell is actually very common and is nothing to worry about.

-A sweet smell can be a sign that you need to replace your activated carbon filter.
-After a few days of being in operation, the smell will dissipate and eventually disappear altogether.

-If your device doesn’t have an activated carbon filter and it’s not brand new, then there is likely something weird going on with the machine. Your best course of action will be to have a professional inspect the machine. You may need it repaired or, in very rare cases, a new air purifier.

If your air purifier needs replacing:

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Last update on 2024-04-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Last update on 2024-04-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

About the author

Danny Ashton

Danny is the founder of HouseFresh and has been writing about air purifiers and indoor air quality since 2010. He is our lead tester, conducting all the tests we use to evaluate air quality products. That is why you will always see his name attached to our reviews.