space heater smells like burning

Space Heater Smells like Burning – Is It Plastic, Hair, or Fish?

Space Heater Smells like Burning

Whenever you smell burning coming from an appliance, it can be a little disconcerting to say the least. But whenever you smell burning coming from a space heater, it tends to put you a little more on the extra cautious side.

And why wouldn’t it?

It’s a device specifically built to produce large amounts of heat, and when you smell something burning coming from your space heater, you know that it has the capacity to burn something seriously.

So what are some of the reasons why a space heater smells like burning?

In this article, we take a look at a few reasons that a space heater may smell like it is burning. And as you will see, there are a few reasons that pose zero risk. But there is the other side of it that should be treated very seriously.

Electric heater smells like burning plastic

Electric heater smells like burning plastic.

1. Melting

Though it is not uncommon to smell burning smells coming from a space heater since high heat tends to do that,

It’s a whole another issue if you have an electrical problem or if the space heater is faulty itself.

It’s pretty common to see pictures of space heaters on Amazon that have fried the plastic.

So the first thing you want to do when you smell burning from a space heater is to check and make sure that the space heater itself is not melting.

“Overheating shut off” is a standard feature on space heaters. Even the cheapest ones have it. So if you find your heater melting, there is a problem with the space heater itself.  A heater that has a Over-heating shut off feature that isn’t working should be unplugged immediately.

Turn it off and do not use it.
I hope you kept your receipt.

2. The plug is excessively hot.

Space heaters use a lot of energy so it is not uncommon that the plug will be pretty warm but if you fill of the plug and it is very hot, there is a problem.

You may also find the plug is melting itself or burning the plastic on the outlet cover. It suffice to say that you shouldn’t see burning on the plug or at the wall.

Turn the heater off and carefully unplug it.

3. Extension cord

Space heaters and extension cords do not mix. Most extension cords are not rated to work with space heaters. A burning smell could be coming from the extension cord.

If you have your space heater plugged in using an extension cord, turn it off. Remove the extension cord.

4. Surge protector

Not all surge protectors are made the same. You can get a two pack for $5.99 or you can purchase one that cost $40.

One is a glorified outlet splitter while the other one is made to protect your appliances.

They are not rated for the same thing.

If you smell burning from your space heater and you have your space heater plugged into a surge protector, check to make sure your surge protector is not overheating.

The best policy is not to use your space heater on a surge protector unless you are certain that you have the right one.


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Is the Space Heater new?

A brand new space heater will usually have a few burning smells associated with it because of the materials it is made of heating up and burning off fumes.

Most space heaters these days are made out of plastic and plastic has the chemical smell when it is heated up.

There are parts inside of a space heater that are glued together also. Glue and adhesives also can cause a chemical smell when they heat up.

A lot of brand new space heaters especially radiant heaters are painted as well. Paint can present a chemical smell when heated up too.

Ceramic heaters are are known to have a odor when they are first used. The instructions for ceramic heaters often suggest turning the heater on high for the first run to let the smell of the new ceramic burner burn off.

If you have a brand new space heater that has a burning smell on its first few runs, it is for perfectly normal for a space heater to burn off many of the smells associated with new materials.

Running a new space heater on high when you first use it, will usually burn off most of the smells. But you might have to run it on high more than once to completely get rid of them.

Does you Space Heater Smell Like Fish?

Is the Space Heater Dusty?

Depending on how long it’s been since you’ve used your space heater, the likelihood of dust having settled on it and in it,  is pretty high.

If you smell burning coming from your space heater and you haven’t used it in a while, you can expect a few burning smells as the heater burns off the dust that is settled on it, and on the burners.

Dust after all, is made of all sorts of stuff, including insect feces and shedding skin. Yum.

Not exactly particles that you would expect to smell good as they’re burning off.

The smell of fish coming from a electric space heater is associated with all the scaly things that make up dust to. 


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Heater smells like burning hair

The heater smelling like burning hair is also common when your first running the heater after a long stretch.

Hair is a common household pollutant that gets all over your furniture and floor. And if you have pets in the house, you have more hair throughout your house than you probably know.

So it’s not uncommon that a space heater will get hair inside when it is sitting for any stretch of time.

The smell of hair burning in a space heater should go away pretty fast once it has burned off.

Is someone on fire?

We shouldn’t rule out the possibility but someone is sitting too close to a space heater and their hair is getting singed.

If your space heater is smelling like burning hair than make sure that no one is sitting up next to the heater and getting their hair singed.

Stranger things have happened.

Space heater smells like gas

Most indoor space heaters are electric and do not use or require any type of gas at all to run. If you’re space heater smells like gas, then there is a good probability that you are using a space heater indoors that is not made for indoor use.

Kerosene heaters need ventilation that indoor space heaters do not require. Using a space heater that requires fuel indoors is also a carbon monoxide poisoning issue. Be certain that you are not using a space heater inside the house that is meant for a garage.

Wrap up

Space heaters come with overheating protection as a standard feature.

They are meant to turn off whenever they get too hot. Or whenever they are tipped over or leaning up against something.

If your space heater does not turn off when it gets too hot or tips over, then you should be in the market for a new one.

But if you are smelling burning coming from your space heater, you should definitely make sure that the heater itself is not melting.

You should also check the plug to make sure it is not melting either.

And if you have your space heater plugged into an extension cord or search protector, you should know that most extension cords and surge protectors are not rated for the amount of energy that a space heater uses.

The best policy is to remove those items from the equation and not plug in your heater to an extension cord for a cheap surge protector.

Most other smells associated with burning coming from a space heater are usually just the smell of dust and hair burning off.
And if you were space heater is new, you can expect the smell of plastics, adhesives and paint residuals all burning off too.

It’s also important to distinguish between electric space heaters and gas space heaters.

Gas smell coming from a space heater indication that you are using a space heater indoors that is meant to be in the garage. Gas heaters require ventilation so that carbon monoxide cannot build up.

Published by

Dennis Reed

Dennis Reed Owner and Author @