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Have you been noticing some weird and unpleasant smells coming from your furnace? These smells could be more than just an inconvenience. Instead of ignoring the scents, learn more about common furnace smells, what they could mean and what steps you need to take to protect your home and your family.

Furnace Smells like Burning Plastic

The smell of burning plastic is a distinct scent and a sign that something is melting in your furnace. Oftentimes, a water bottle cap, toy, or other plastic object has found its way into the furnace and is now succumbing to the heat.

This smell can also be the result of frayed wire shielding melting. Over time, the plastic shielding can become worn and cracked and fall into the furnace, causing that plastic smell. You will want to shut down the furnace and clean the plastic out in order to get rid of the smell and make any necessary repairs.

Gas Smells

You may notice a faint smell of gas when you are standing near your furnace. This is common and nothing to worry about. However, a stronger smell of gas throughout the entire home is a sign that you have a large and dangerous leak on your hands. You should immediately turn off the furnace and call a trusted HVAC expert to pinpoint and repair the leak.

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Rotten Eggs

Natural gas doesn’t actually have an odor, which can make it difficult to detect. That is why gas companies will often add a chemical known as mercaptan, which is responsible for the sulfur or rotten egg smell. Mercaptan acts as a safety precaution that is meant to alert homeowners when there is a natural gas leak. Remember that natural gas is highly flammable and combustible, so you will want to take action immediately.

Dirty Socks

If your furnace smells like a locker room full of dirty, sweaty socks, you could have a problem with bacteria build-up on your heating coils. Throughout the changing seasons, the heating system coils repeatedly cool down and heat up, which can lead to condensation and where there is moisture, there is probably bacteria. The good news is that you can fix the problem with some elbow grease. You will want to start by changing your furnace filter and cleaning the evaporator coils. It might also be a good idea to invest in professional air duct cleaning services to completely eliminate the problem.


During the warmer months, when your furnace isn’t in use, it is natural for dust and dirt to collect. As a result, you may notice a dusty smell the first few times you fire up the furnace. This is nothing to worry about and the smell will eventually go away as the furnace burns up any residual dirt. If the smell persists, be sure to replace your filter.


Furnaces tend to be housed in basements and other damp parts of the house. Over time, this moisture may cling to the furnace. When the furnace is turned back on, it may take some time for the moisture to burn off. The smell will eventually pass and isn’t a sign of something serious that you need to worry about.

Metallic Smell

A metallic smell is an indication that a component in your furnace is overheating. Most likely, it is the blower motor, which can wear out over time and cause the furnace to use excess voltage, which will cause it to overheat. This problem can then lead to melting wires and more burning smells. Your best bet is to shut off the furnace and call a professional. Continuing to run the furnace could cause major damage and result in expensive repair bills.

Oftentimes, your nose is your best line of defense when it comes to making sure your furnace is in working order. While certain smells are normal, especially when you are turning the furnace on for the first time that season, others can be an indication of a serious problem. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring these smells and schedule furnace repair as soon as possible.

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