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Why Is Your Air Conditioner Smelling Like Burning Plastic

By Aztil –

Smells of burning plastic coming from the air conditioner are not unheard of. When something works continuously for hours at end, it’s normal for them to suffer wear and tear. It is quite a common occurrence and can be easily remedied. So if your air conditioner smells like burning plastic, this post is just for you. But before we begin with the reasons lets understand a few basics.

What Does Burning Plastic Smell Like

Burning plastic smell is very distinctive. Unlike the smell of mold and mildew, which smells like dirty socks, the burning plastic smell is pungent and unpleasing. Depending on the intensity of the heat, the smell can be light or strong and hard to ignore. No matter what, whenever you notice this smell take immediate action.

Is Burning Plastic Smell Dangerous For Health?

When plastics burn, they release harmful chemicals into the air. These chemicals can cause difficulty in breathing and other respiratory disorders. Additionally, some of them are potentially carcinogenic. So, Yes, the burning plastic smell is dangerous for health.

Can The Burning Plastic Smell Be Ignored If Its Light

Even if the burning plastic smell is not very strong, it is in your best interests to not ignore it. Not only is it hazardous to health, but it is also an indication of a potential fire hazard. It should be dealt with immediately without any delays.

Reasons Why Your Air Conditioner Smells Like Burning Plastic

The most likely reasons why your air conditioner smells like burning plastic are –

1.Dust Burning Off – In most parts of Florida, there is no need to switch on the “Heating Mode” of AC. During a cold front, when suddenly the need arises, you may observe a burning smell. This smell originates because the AC is burning off the accumulated dust. In a few minutes, this smell will go away on its own. If this smell is coming in the “Cooling Mode”, you need to immediately shut down the AC. 

 2. Broken Capacitor – A capacitor is that part of the AC which helps the motor run. If for some reason, like a power surge or a short circuit, the capacitor spoils it puts pressure on the motor causing it to overheat. When the motor overheats, it gives off a burning plastic smell due to proximity to other plastic components.

3. Overheating Motor – The fan that throws hot and cold air throughout your home needs a motor to work. The bearings of this motor get worn out due to extended use and overheat the motor producing burning plastic smell. This is a normal occurrence and nothing to be alarmed about. Lubricating the bearings of the motor will fix the issue. If you are comfortable handling this on your own, you can do it yourself. Else, ask an HVAC technician to come and do the needful. 

4. Tear Or Break In Fan Belt – Many air conditioners have a fan which is driven by a rubber belt. Often due to continuous use and temperature variations, the belt develops tears or breaks completely. In either case, it causes overheating and produces an unpleasant odor. If this is the case, turn off your AC and call an HVAC technician to replace the belt. This job is a little technical as the belt has to be adequately tight, so we recommend professional help. 

5. Electrical Fault – An electrical problem may also result in your air conditioner smelling like burning plastic. Usually, there is a plastic coating on wires. In case of an electrical problem, this plastic covering melts and produces the foul odor. To figure out the problem, all the circuits in the AC need to be checked. This job is best performed by a trained repair technician who deals in air conditioners.

 6. Clogged Filters – A dirty air filter impedes the free flow of air into your air conditioner, thereby putting unnecessary stress on the mechanism. This strain is especially borne by the motors, causing them to overheat and producing the burning plastic odor. Cleaning the air filters at regular intervals will prevent this from occurring.

7. Recirculating Fire Smell – A very important aspect of an air conditioner is that it recirculates air. It picks up air from within the house and recirculates it back into the house. The possibility is quite strong that there is a fire somewhere in the house and your AC has picked up that smell. If that be the case, look for smoke or the actual fire. If its nothing big and you can put it out yourself, do the needful. Else immediately vacate the home and call the fire station or 911.

How To Prevent AC From Smelling Like Burning Plastic

Time and again, stress has been put on the importance of regular AC maintenance . Your air conditioner smells like burning plastic; the chances are that you skipped on maintenance. As a result, your system was neither properly cleaned nor checked for loose wire connections and other minor problems which get covered under maintenance.

Our Point Of View

We are of the opinion; one should never take undue chances. The smell of burning plastic indicates towards the fact the something is heating beyond an acceptable level. It could either cause a fire or spoil an important component of your AC. The moment you notice this smell, switch off your AC and ask an AC technician to come and thoroughly check out your air conditioner.

Closing Thoughts

Your AC is but a machine which consists of many parts. Due to constant running, one or more parts may suffer damage. This damage usually will come to the forefront in the form of some abnormality. It could be an abnormal smell, a decline in efficiency, or a tripping circuit. It may not necessarily indicate towards a big problem buy leaving things unattended could culminate to it. Regular maintenance of your AC along with prompt addressal of issues will go a long way in increasing its lifespan.

Frequently Asked Questions

Inside the AC is a fan whose task is to circulate the air. With age or due to a lack of maintenance, its bearings wear out, causing the motor of the fan to overheat. When that happens, you will get an odor similar to the smell of something burning.

The burning smell is an indication that some component in the AC is overheating. The first thing you should do is shut down the AC immediately. Then, call a professional HVAC technician to find out the exact cause of the problem and resolve it. There is no DIY solution to tackle the burning smell.

The burning plastic smell is an indication of an electrical fire. If your AC gives out such a smell, shut it down immediately and unplug it. Next, call your HVAC technician. Do not start the AC until and unless you get a go-ahead from the technician.

In an HVAC system, a burning plastic smell indicates burning wires or the overheating and scorching of the casing around a component. It is a clear indication of a hazard or electrical fire. Inhaling it is damaging for the lungs and the respiratory system as it may contain toxic carcinogens.

When plastic burns, it releases dangerous toxins. The awful smell that emanates is an indication of it. Breathing the air containing these toxins increases the chances of contracting respiratory illness and cancer. It may even cause congenital disabilities if inhaled by pregnant women.

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