The smell of burning or melting plastic is one of the most unpleasant smells you can have to put up with. Not only is it nasty, it tends to cling to everything and can even be dangerous. The smoke and smell of burning plastic can be toxic, especially if you’re breathing in a lot of it.
Because of this, before you have any hope of getting rid of the smell, it’s important to find the source of it. Once you’ve found the source and dealt with it, you can concentrate on eliminating the smell.
There may be affiliate links in this article. You can read more about this in my disclosure.
What Can Cause the Burning Plastic Smell?
There are a few potential causes for this smell, and none of them are good. The simplest cause is that you’ve accidentally melted or burnt plastic yourself. Most commonly, this happens when people put plastic things in the stove, not realizing that they don’t mix well with heat.
If this is the case, don’t worry. Once you’ve cleaned up the mess and disposed of the plastic, you can get to dealing with the lingering smell.
However, another common source of the burning plastic smell that won’t go away is an issue with electrics. This most often happens when a device plugged in is defective somehow or produces more heat than it can handle and is melting the casings. If this is the case, once you find the device, unplug it and then you can move onto getting rid of the smell.
If you can’t find the cause, ring an electrician as quickly as you can. Again, the problem could be an easy fix, or it can be an issue with the electric system in the house itself. In either case, leaving it for too long can result in a fire.
How to Find the Source of the Smell
The easiest thing to do is to follow your nose, the smell should be strongest around the cause of the burning plastic. If you still can’t find the reason, then check the most likely culprits listed below in turn, the unplug the offending device or appliance, if possible.
Whether you find the source of the smell or not, you’ll likely have to call an electrician to check something over. While this can be expensive, it may be dangerous and ultimately more expensive not to.
The Most Likely Culprits
If following the smell itself doesn’t work, you may need to go through the whole house and check the more likely potential causes of the smell.
The first places to check would be the stove and any kind of wood burner or fire you have. Hopefully, the cause is simple to solve and you don’t need to call out for an electrician.
Next, check any electric fires that you have. Sometimes accumulated dust can burn when they’re first turned on, but if the burning smell continues, you may have a problem. This is also true of the central heating and the water heater.
If you can unplug the appliance, do so. If it’s the system of the house itself, you’ll need to call a professional. Other old appliances, such as televisions, dishwashers, washer/dryers, refrigerators, and lamps can overheat, causing some of the components to melt and to have this burning plastic smell.
The wiring of your house itself can also be the source of this smell, although this will be difficult to check. If you can’t find the culprit anywhere else, it could well be an issue with the wiring. If so, your house will need to be completely rewired by an electrician.
Finally, the air conditioning system can overheat and be the source of this burning smell, or it could be circulating the smell through the house.
However, sometimes it’s best to call out an electrician as soon as possible. This way, the problem can be dealt with safely and potentially more quickly than if you tried to sort it out yourself.
Can I Use an Air Freshener to Get Rid of the Smell?
The first thing to do one the source of the burning plastic is found is to ventilate the whole house and allow fresh air to circulate through the house. You can also turn on any fans to speed up this process.
This step is important whether the smell comes with smoke or not, as it’s one of the best ways of getting rid of a lingering smell. Make sure that you leave the A/C off, as the smell can get into the system and just spread through the house.
However, just opening the windows will almost certainly not be enough. In fact, even air fresheners or scented candles won’t get rid of the stench as they usually just cover over the smell. What you need is something that can eliminate odor completely, rather than mask it beneath a stronger smell.
If you just cover over the smell, it’ll come back as soon as the freshener runs out. Also, if the smell has attached itself to your clothes or soft furnishings, covering it over won’t help to get them clean. So, you’ll need a deodorizing agent, or an odor eliminator.
What is an Odor Eliminator and How Does it Work?
An odor eliminator, or absorber, does exactly as it’s described. It acts to get rid of unpleasant odors. How it works depends on what substance you’re using.
Most eliminators work by causing a chemical reaction with the molecules. This reaction will either bind to the molecules which cause the odor, essentially absorbing it, or it will cause the molecules to break down.
Either way, it’s the result that matters.
What Can I Use as an Odor Eliminator?
Fortunately, it’s very easy to find effective odor eliminators. In fact, you likely have some in your store cupboard already. The best one to use depends on what the smell is clinging on, as you will have to use different methods to deodorize clothing or soft furnishings than a general room.
As usual, the cleaner’s two best friends show up as remarkably effective odor eliminators. These are distilled white vinegar, although you can dilute it for this purpose, and baking soda. Other effective deodorizers which are easily accessible are citrus fruits, such as lemon, and fresh coffee grounds. Finally, activated charcoal is incredibly good at absorbing unpleasant aromas.
Again, which one you use depends on exactly what you’re trying to treat. If the burning plastic smell has spread through the house, you may well need to use all of these methods to get rid of any lingering traces of the smell.
How to Get Rid of a Burning Plastic Smell in a Room
If you’re focusing your efforts on a smaller area, or you know exactly where the smell originates, then put a bowl or plate of baking soda, coffee grounds, or activated charcoal near the source of the smell. Leave it overnight and the worst of the smell should have been eliminated.
Bear in minds that coffee grounds themselves can have a strong smell, but it is far less unpleasant than that of burning plastic and will dissipate faster.
If it’s a larger area, or you have plenty of white vinegar, then you can use this instead. You can use the bowl method as well, or you can dilute the vinegar with water and put it in a spray bottle that’s capable of spritzing about the room lightly. This will fill the room with the smell of vinegar, but it’s better than the plastic smell and won’t linger.
If the area you’re wanting to clear is the kitchen, then a nice alternative might be to boil up citrus (preferably lemon) juice and peels in a pan of water. This will both eliminate the odor and fill the room with a very pleasant lemony scent.
How to Get Rid of a Burning Plastic Smell Attached to Fabric
If you’ve found that the smell has clung to some kind of fabric, whether it’s clothing, soft furnishings, or rugs or carpet, you don’t need to worry.
If the fabrics that are tainted with the smell are machine washable, then put them in the washing machine. Add the normal amount of detergent, but also put a cup of distilled white vinegar to the tub along with the clothes and fabrics. The vinegar will eliminate any smells that the detergent can’t get rid of.
For furniture and curtains, use your spray bottle of diluted white vinegar to eliminate any clinging burnt plastic smells. Again, don’t worry about the vinegar smell. If you keep the windows open, it will soon dissipate.
Finally, if you want to deodorize your carpets or rugs, you can sprinkle them with baking soda. You may have to leave it there for a up to a few days, especially if the smell is strong. However, it might be better after a few hours. After waiting, vacuum up the baking soda. If the smell remains, you can repeat this process. Eventually, the smell will go.