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Why does my heater smell?

October 5, 2021 | Blog

Most homeowners learn at some point that a heater can sometimes emit strange odors. And to no surprise — a lot can go on after 9-10 months of disuse! Some smells can be dangerous while others aren’t a cause for concern. For this reason, it’s important to know how to tell certain smells apart.

We at Air Clinic DFW have compiled a list of some of the most common smells your furnace can make. Keep reading to learn more about these smells and the best course of action for each!

Burning dust

If you haven’t turned on your heater in a while, then you might notice a burning, dusty smell around your home within the first day or two. Like any other enclosed area, the inside of your heating system gathers dust over the course of the year. Once you turn it on after several months of dormancy, the collected dust burns as it circulates through your heater and may cause a burning smell.

If this smell sticks around for longer than a few days, you might want to shut off your system and call a NATE-certified technician to check the health of your heater. There’s a chance your furnace may be overheating, which can also cause a burning, smoke-like scent, and potentially be dangerous for you and your family members.

Rotten Eggs

If your home has a gas furnace, then the smell of sulfur or rotten eggs is one to be more cautious of. Gas furnaces use natural gas delivered by utility companies through gas lines. These companies inject chemicals into the gas that smells like sulfur or rotten eggs so that you immediately pick up on the smell in the case of a gas leak.

If you notice this smell, evacuate your home immediately and contact your gas company. A gas leak could cause fire or an explosion.

Hot metal

This kind of smell is less common but one you should also never ignore. A metallic, electrical odor may indicate that some of the metal parts in your system are burning. It can also mean there are frayed wires or that your furnace’s motor is going out. Electrical issues like these can be difficult to fix, so it’s best not to wait or attempt to repair them yourself. Turn off your system and contact a professional technician to give your heater the tune-ups it needs.


If your heater is giving off a formaldehyde, pickle-like smell, then shut it off immediately. Your heater could be experiencing a cracked heat exchanger. This component is what generates the hot air in your home. Like any other mechanical component, a heat exchanger can deteriorate over time. If it ends up cracking, then exhaust by-products like carbon monoxide can circulate through your home. Not only that, but it also puts you at higher risk for a fire. Gas and air can combust within your heat exchanger, which can cause combustable gas to build up and explode.

This is not an unlikely occurrence, either. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), about 2,600 furnace fires take place every year. Just like the other scenarios, the best thing you can do is shut off your furnace and have a technician check it out.

Contact Air Clinic DFW

You can avoid having to deal with these odors by setting up seasonal heater maintenance! If you’re located in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, Air Clinic DFW would be happy to help make sure your heater is working efficiently and adequately. Whether it’s cleaning your furnace, checking for gas leaks, or testing your home for carbon monoxide, we would be happy to put your mind at ease!



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