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Why Air Purifier Smells Like Burning/ Plastic? (Quick Fix)

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? If you have a sensitive nose, the stench could be mildly nauseating that appears on and off or extremely noxious that smells like plastic are burning. Either way, it is uncommon that an air cleaner reeks, and you will need to look into it as soon as possible. Most odors can be dealt with quickly once you identify the smell's source. Below are the solutions to help you eliminate the stinky smell coming from an air purifier for good.
Short answer
Air purifiers are not supposed to smell.

 

Why Do Air Purifiers Smell?

The reason your air purifier is giving off a smell is likely due to ozone production. A brand new unit that you recently unboxed, dirty filters, mold infestation, or a damaged component could also contribute to the smell. In any case, it is a clear indication that something is not right with the air cleaner, and you will need to look into it promptly. You can pinpoint the causes based on the types of odor and rectify the issue accordingly.

A good air purifier is not supposed to smell. In fact, air purifiers with an activated carbon filter can make your house smell better by swiftly removing smoke and odor-causing allergens from mold, cooking (frying/ baking/ leftover), pet (urine/ feces/ dirty water tank/ cage), diaper, cleaning products, wood-burning, to cigarettes.

Below are the common sources of odor associated with an air purifier and what you can do to differentiate between good and bad smells.

How Do I Get The Smell Out Of My Air Purifier?

Types Of Air Purifier SmellWhat Causes ItWhat To Do (Solution)Urgency
Burning smell similar to a fish, urine, burning candle.Electrical components failure or wiring issue.Send it for repair. Do not attempt to fix it yourself.High
Distinct chlorine/ pool smell.Ozone byproducts.Disable ionizer/ UV-light, replace UV light bulb. Stop using if is an Ozone generator.High
Heavy plastic smell.Trapped molded plastic fume in plastic wrap or box.Unbox and air it out for a couple of days. Run the air purifier at max speed.Low
Dusty, stale odor that is not pleasant.New or dirty/ worn out filter.Vacuum or wash the pre-filter every 2-3 weeks. Dispose and replace the HEPA and carbon filter periodically.Medium
Musty Wet Dog Smell.Mold spores, mildew, or bacteria inside the machine.Check the filter, air inlet, air outlet for any mold infestation. Do not run the air purifier in a humid area.High
Strange fruity, Sweet Smell.New activated carbon filter.Harmless. Let the smell dissipate after a couple of days.Low

The odors range from mildly irritating to nauseating and potentially dangerous when inhaled. Let’s dive deep into the few reasons why your air purifier smells funny, even though it is not funny to begin with.

Why Do Air Purifiers Smell

1. 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 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.

On the contrary, an air purifier with an activated carbon filter can remove burnt smells from other damaged home appliances, burnt food, candles, and even outdoor pollution such as wildfire. While it cannot remove all the smoke particles at once (as pointed out by EPA), it can still contain the foul odor from spreading across the room. You will be promptly protected from inhaling toxic fume. Just make sure the burnt smell is not coming directly from the air purifier itself.

2. The Plasticky Smell

When a brand new air purifier produces a strong plastic smell during the initial few days of operation, it is normal, and the scent will dissipate eventually. 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 cleaner, the plastic odor residue will finally be released back into the air and fade away over a short time. 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 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.

Air Purifier Smells Like Burning Plastics

3. The New/ Dirty Filter Smell

When there is a strong hint of dusty, stale odor released by the air purifier, it is either coming from the glue that holds the PP/ PET material filter or the filter is dirty. Use the brand new HEPA filter for 2-3 days, and the unpleasant “newness” smell will fade away. It is not dangerous, and you can leave it as it is. If it doesn’t, check on the filter condition. If the 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. The unpleasant smell will slowly fade away by maintaining the filters according to the recommended interval. Your air purifier will be odor-free moving forward.

4. The Chlorine/ Pool/ Ozone Smell

The pungent, “clean” chlorine odor, AKA pool smell emitted are ozone byproducts generated from the air purifier. It could be from ionization technology or a broken UV light bulb that leaks out a repulsive ozone smell that you can scent even from far. By default, the ozone byproducts released from an undamaged vacuum-LED UV-C light (100-240 nm wavelengths) are too low to cause any harm. A quick fix is to temporarily disable all non-mechanical purification features (Ionizer or UV technology) and see if the ozone/ chlorine smell persists. If it doesn’t, you could be owning an ozone generator instead of a genuine air purifier.

Ozone is a highly reactive gas formed of three oxygen atoms. Some manufacturers would promote a disinfectant smell as fresh air, similar to after a heavy thunderstorm. Because of its unstable chemical composition, exposure to ozone can lead to a person feeling dizzy, shortness of breath, chest pain, headache, wheezing, throat irritation, and nausea. At a high concentration level, ozone can damage our lungs, aggravate asthma, lead to chronic respiratory diseases such as bronchitis and COPD.

Do not use an ozone generator as it is notorious for emitting a high concentration level of ozone byproducts. The ozone smell could last from 30 minutes to 4 hours before it completely dissipates. However, you can still use certified Ionizer/ Ionic air purifiers or UV air purifiers. The low concentration level of ozone released is harmless under The California Air Resources Board (CARB) guideline. So unless the cleaning smell is very obnoxious and causes symptoms such as chest pain, wheezing, breathing difficulty, you do not have to worry about the chlorine smell.

5. Air Purifier Smells Like Wet Dog

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

6. Strange Yet Sweet Smell

When an air purifier releases a sweet smell, it is likely from the air that passes through a charcoal/ carbon filter, especially when the filter is still brand new. It is hard to notice this weird smell as it is not obnoxious but not too pleasant either. At times it will have a hint of sweetness or fruity aroma that some won’t mind breathing in. There is nothing to worry about if that is the odor you are scenting, as the smell poses no harm to our bodies. If the strange sweet smell starts to fade away, it may be a good sign to replace the activated carbon filter.

Which Air Purifier Is Best For Odor?

Here are some of the best air purifiers to deal with all types of smoke and odors currently on sale in no particular order. The air purifiers recommended here are considerably reviewed, tested, and compared on their filtration performance and overall usability. Note that this list will not be updated regularly, do check out our best air purifier for smoke listing here or our more specific best air purifier for kitchen use here.

  1. Rabbit Air MinusA2
  2. Levoit LV-PUR131
  3. Winix 5500-2
  4. IQAir HealthPro Plus
  5. Austin Air HealthMate
  6. Dyson Pure Cool TP01
  7. LEVOIT Core 300
  8. Medify Air MA-15
  9. TREDY TD-1500
  10. Bissell MYair 2780A
  11. Blueair 605
  12. Coway Airmega series

Final Thoughts

Everyone has a different tolerance level for smells, including good scents from essential oil or cologne. Some models or brands are notorious for emitting byproducts that smell bad. One thing for sure, everyone would want an air purifier that DOES NOT produce any unpleasant smell. If your air purifier smells weird out of the blue, something has gone wrong and immediate attention is needed. Do not procrastinate on this matter. Click here to find out how safe or harmful can an air purifier be.

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.
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