Why My Air Purifier Smell Like Burning Or Plastic?

An air purifier can clean up the air by removing odors caused by mold, bacteria, and other impurities. But what happens if the air purifier itself is causing the smell? The stench could be mildly nauseating that appears on and off or extremely noxious that smells like some plastic are burning. Either way, it is uncommon in an air cleaner and should be rectified as soon as possible. If you have a sensitive nose and are those people haunted by a smelly air purifier, find out how to fix this issue for good.
Short answer
Air purifiers are not supposed to smell.


Why Do Air Purifiers Smell?

A good air purifier is not supposed to smell. There are a few reasons why your air purifier smells funny even though it is not funny to begin with. To differentiate between good and bad smells, here are the common source of odors you will typically associate with an air purifier.

  • Burning Smell
  • UV-lamp
  • Plasticky Smell
  • Dirty Filter
  • Chroline Smell
  • Wet Dog Smell
  • Strange Smell

The odors range from mildly irritating that occurs once in a while to nauseating and potentially dangerous when inhaled.

Air Purifier Smells Like Burning

If the air purifier starts emitting a distinctive burning smell comparable to a fish, urine, or burning candle, switch it off immediately. The reason could be due to electrical components failure or wiring issue that causes the plastic coating to melt. Most modern air purifiers also come with a safety short circuit trip that protects the circuit from overloading and fire hazard. When the breaker tripped or the fuse is blown, it may cause sparks and smoke with a sharp burning smell.

UV-lamp Smell

A broken UV light bulb may release a repulsive ozone smell. When inhaled, that can lead to a person feeling dizzy, shortness of breath, chest pain, and nausea. Ozone can also be produced from vacuum-LED UV wavelengths between 100 and 240 nm but it is rare and few. Most air purifiers use UV-C wavelengths that do not transform oxygen into the air. If the air cleaner comes with ultraviolet light technology, switch off the feature temporarily and see if the ozone smell persists.

Air Purifier Smells Like Plastic

If your brand new air purifier produces a plastic smell during the initial few days of operation, it is normal and the smell will dissipate eventually. This is because the freshly molded plastic fume smell is still retained inside the original box with no chance of airing it out. When you unbox the air purifier, the plastic odor will finally be released back into the air. You can reduce the smell drastically by letting the air purifier run at high speed for 24 to 48 hours. If the strong plastic smells still persist after a couple of days, this could be due to burning plastic from wire short-circuit. Turn off the machine and send it back to the manufacturer for service and repair.

The Filter Is Dirty

When there is a strong hint of dusty odor coming from the air purifier, the filter could be dirty or reached its maximum capacity. If the pre-filter is clogged with dust, hair, and other large particles, vacuum the filter gently with a brush attachment. We suggest washing the pre-filter at least once a month. As for the HEPA filter and activated carbon filter, replace the filters instead of washing them as both are non-washable. By maintaining the filters according to the official recommended interval, your air purifier will be odor-free.

Air Purifier Smells Like Chlorine

If there is a strong, pungent chlorine odor AKA pool smell, there is ozone generated from the air purifier. A disinfectant smell that some manufacturers would promote as fresh just like after a heavy thunderstorm. Ozone is a highly reactive gas formed of three oxygen atoms. Because of its unstable chemical composition, inhaling ozone is harmful to our body as it can damage our lungs, aggravate asthma, and leads to chronic respiratory disease. Ionizer/ Ionic air purifiers or UV air purifiers are the known types that will release a low concentration level of ozone approved by The California Air Resources Board (CARB). So unless the cleaning smell is very obnoxious and causes chest pain, wheezing, breathing difficulty, and throat irritation, you do not have to worry about the chlorine smell. Do not use an ozone generator as it is notorious for emitting a high concentration level of ozone.

Air Purifier Smells Like Wet Dog

The recognizable wet dog smell is a foul odor caused by natural oils and microorganisms living inside us like bacteria or yeast combined with water in the pond or rain. When the air purifier or HVAC starts to emit this musty wet dog smell, there may be bacteria, mold spores, or mildew growing inside the machine. The filtered air released from the air cleaner may contain odor-causing allergens that are harmful to our health. So check the filters, air inlet, and outlet to see if there are any signs of dirt, grime, or microbes infestation. Make sure the air purifier is dry when performing cleaning or parts replacement.

Air Purifier Sweet Strange Smell

It is hard to describe this weird smell. It is not obnoxious but not too pleasant either. It has a hint of sweetness or fruity aroma that some won't mind breathing in. If that is the odor you are scenting, this could be from the carbon filter especially when it is still brand new. Nothing to worry about as the smell poses no harm to our bodies. In fact, if the strange sweet smell started to fade away, it may be a good sign to replace the activated carbon filter.

How To Get Rid Of Air Purifier Smell?

Everyone has a different tolerance level for smells including good scents coming from essential oil or cologne. Some models or brands are notorious for emitting byproducts that smell really bad. One thing for sure, everyone would want an air purifier that DOES NOT produce any unpleasant smell. The good news is most odors can be resolved easily once you identified the source of the smell. Here are a few quick solutions that should get rid of the stinky smell from an air purifier.

Max Fernandez

A loving father and a dedicated reviewer for airfuji.com with more than 1000 air purifiers under his belt. Max Fernandez is also one of the million patients currently suffering from asthma. Feel free to nudge him if you have any questions.