Why Does My Air Purifier Smell Bad?

Air purifiers have a lot of unique smells that people do not expect when they get them unboxed and turned on. Some Not So Good.

There’s been more than once when somebody told me about an air purifier that they used to have that smelled weird.

My answer is “Was it an ionic air purifier?”

That’s usually the best place to start when talking about why a air purifier smells funny.

Ionic air purifiers create ozone as a byproduct and ozone is a major contributor to the smell that an air purifier makes.

But not all air cleaner smells or related to Ozone, so we’ll try to do our best to lay out why and what certain smells are.

Why does my air purifier smell bad?

Some of the smells associated with air purifiers include:

  1. Ozone
  2. Chlorine
  3. Wet dog
  4. Sweet
  5. Plastic
  6. Burning

Not all smells associated with air purifiers are bad, just unexpected. Though any odor can be annoying if it persist.
Not everyone can handle the smell of cologne on them all day long, even though most would argue that it’s a good smell.

It’s the same thing with using a air cleaner that produces a smell. It’s part of the process.

Levoit Air Purifiers are the Best Selling air cleaners on Amazon.
Check them out here.



I think that most people if they knowingly had a choice, would choose an air purifier that doesn’t create any smell compared to one that does.

But that does not necessarily mean that they would be making the right choice.

Air purifier smells like chlorine Air purifier smells like chlorine

The chlorine smell that certain air purifiers make is most likely ozone.

Ionic air purifiers and UV air purifiers both manufacturer ozone as a byproduct. Though most air purifiers do not create a dangerous amount of ozone, you can still smell ozone at a very low level.

Most companies advertise their ionic best air cleaners as having a fresh after a thunderstorm smell.

Winix 5500-2 Air Purifier with True HEPA, PlasmaWave and Odor Reducing Washable AOC Carbon Filter.
Buy Now.

That is because a thunderstorm that produces lightning is also creating a high level of ozone in the process.
But though that may be true on some level, ozone actually has a antiseptic smell that can be compared to chlorine or bleach.

But that isn’t always a bad thing. You expect chlorine or bleach to have a strong odor but you also realize that both are strong germ killers.

The same with ozone. Though there are air purifiers that create zero smell, they don’t have the same disinfectant qualities that can eliminate viruses and germs like an air purifier that creates ozone is a by-product can do.

Air purifier smells like wet dogAir purifier smells like wet dog

Wet dog is a distinctive smell.

All mammals including yourself and me have bacteria and yeast living on us.

You don’t usually notice any odors from this fact but when it comes to dogs, they have a different body chemistry that when wet unleashes a musty mixture of scents referred to as wet dog.

People often have the same kind of complaints of wet dog smell coming from there HVAC central heat and air unit is they do from their HEPA air purifier.

The smell has to do with the bacteria, yeast, and mold. 

Though it may be disconcerting that the machine that was supposed to eliminate the airborne contaminants is now the culprit releasing odors from the now captured germs,

and especially when it seems like you just replaced that filters.

Air purifier smells sweet
Air purifier smells sweet

A sweet smell coming from an air purifier is more than likely the aroma of the carbon filter.
Carbon filters are known for having a sweet smell right out of the box , some people even go as far as to describe it as a cake-like smell.

Coway AP-1512HH Mighty Air Purifier with True HEPA and Eco Mode.
  Shop Now

Though it may be annoying if you do not like the smell, you can also be a very advantageous tool when trying to decide if it’s time to change your carbon.

That sweet smell of a carbon filter is a good indicator whether or not it’s time to change the carbon filter.

Very simply,  if the carbon still smells sweet, then you’re probably good.  But if the sweet smell is gone, the carbon has probably adsorbed as much as it’s going to and it’s time to change the carbon filter.

Air purifier smells like plastic

Plastics, when they are being molded give off a very strong smell.

Moulding areas must be vented very well for technicians to be able to work in their areas because of the intense smell.

Air purifiers made from plastic can retain many of the odors from the original molding process.

Also since air purifiers are electronically powered, fumes from the plastic may also be re-released when heated up by electricity.

Either way, the smell will dissipate and after a few uses the smell should be completely gone.

If you have a plastic air purifier that continually smells strong of burning plastic even after a few uses then there may be a problem that is actually burning plastic as it is running.

That would be a fire hazard.

If that is the case then discontinue use and call the manufacturer.

Air purifier smells like burningAir purifier smells like burning.

Air purifier like any other appliance runs off of electricity.

If you have just pulled the air purifier out of the box and ran it for the first time or even a few times, the smell of burning may be related to off-gassing from plastics that are being reheated by electricity.

Any burning smells in this case we will probably be unnoticeable within a few days and are simply “new car” smells.

But if you feel like there is a stronger then usual burning smell coming from your air purifier and you are past the window of time of new appliance smells, then you need to turn the air purifier off and have it checked.

Most of the time when there is any kind of shorting out of an appliance, it will either trip a breaker or a safety switch located on the appliance.

Another strong or burning smell can be related to air purifiers that use ultraviolet light. If there is a very strong smell coming from a UV lamp, then the light has malfunctioned.

A UV lamp that is malfunctioning can create a strong stench ozone.



Are air purifiers worth it?

Air purifiers have multiple reasons why they can have a smell coming from them.

The reasons are typically ozone related,
but other reasons can include filters that are dirty, off-gassing from plastics,
Malfunctioning UV lamps, and the unusual sweet smell that comes from activated carbon.

Though most smells are normal for the type of air purifier and the technology that they employ,

If there is a particularly strong or burning smell not characteristic of the air purifier, then you should shut it off and call the manufacturer.


Published by

Dennis Reed

Dennis Reed Owner and Author @ BreatheBetterAir.org