Why Does a Space Heater Smell When You First Turn It On?

When you first turn on a space heater, it may emit a burning smell due to the accumulation of dust on the heating elements. This is a common occurrence, especially if the heater has not been used for an extended period. The dust on the heating elements gets burned off, causing the burning smell. This smell is usually not a cause for concern and dissipates after some time.

Understanding the Cause of the Burning Smell

The burning smell from a space heater when first turned on is a result of the “off-gassing” process. This process occurs when the heating elements in the space heater get hot and burn off any dust or debris that has accumulated on them during periods of non-use.

The amount of dust that accumulates on the heating elements can vary depending on several factors:

  1. Environment: Space heaters used in dusty or dirty environments are more likely to accumulate more dust on the heating elements, leading to a stronger burning smell when turned on.

  2. Frequency of Use: Space heaters that are used infrequently or have been stored for a long time are more prone to dust accumulation, resulting in a more pronounced burning smell.

  3. Heater Design: The design of the space heater can also play a role in dust accumulation. Heaters with more exposed heating elements or less effective dust filtration systems may be more susceptible to dust buildup.

Minimizing the Burning Smell

why does a space heater smell when you first turn

To minimize the burning smell when first turning on a space heater, it is recommended to clean the heater before use. This can be done by following these steps:

  1. Unplug the Heater: Ensure that the space heater is unplugged from the power source before attempting to clean it.

  2. Wipe Down the Heating Elements: Use a damp cloth to gently wipe down the heating elements, removing any visible dust or debris. Be careful not to touch the hot surfaces.

  3. Clean the Exterior: Wipe down the exterior of the space heater with a clean, dry cloth to remove any accumulated dust.

  4. Ensure a Clean Environment: Make sure the space heater is placed in a clean and dust-free environment to prevent further dust accumulation on the heating elements.

By following these steps, you can significantly reduce the burning smell when first turning on the space heater.

Persistent Burning Smell or Other Unusual Symptoms

If the burning smell persists or is accompanied by other unusual symptoms, such as sparks or smoke, it is crucial to take immediate action:

  1. Turn Off the Heater: Immediately turn off the space heater and unplug it from the power source.

  2. Inspect for Damage: Carefully inspect the heater for any visible signs of damage, such as frayed wires, cracked or broken components, or signs of overheating.

  3. Seek Professional Assistance: If you notice any issues or the burning smell persists, it is essential to have the space heater inspected by a qualified professional. A persistent burning smell could indicate a more severe issue, such as a malfunctioning heating element or an electrical problem, which requires professional attention.

Plastic or Rubber Smell

In some cases, a space heater may emit a plastic or rubber smell when first turned on, especially if it has not been used for a while. This smell is usually due to the breakdown of the insulation material around the heating element and is not a cause for concern.

However, if the smell persists or is accompanied by other unusual symptoms, it is essential to have the heater inspected by a professional to ensure its safe and efficient operation.


The burning smell from a space heater when first turned on is a common occurrence and is typically caused by the off-gassing of dust accumulated on the heating elements. By understanding the technical specifications and following the recommended cleaning and maintenance procedures, you can minimize the burning smell and ensure the safe and efficient operation of your space heater.

Remember, if the burning smell persists or is accompanied by other unusual symptoms, it is crucial to turn off the heater immediately and have it inspected by a qualified professional to address any potential issues.

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