10 Reasons for Electrical Burning Smell

If you ever experience a burning electrical smell in your home, it may indicate a serious problem. It could be an issue with your wiring, sockets or appliances themselves, but it’s crucial that you get a fully licensed and experienced electrician right away to review the problem before any property is seriously damaged or somebody gets hurt. 

In this article, the pros at Ontime Electric have provided helpful tips on what can cause electrical burning smells and how you can safely approach each situation.

What is an electrical burning smell?

So what does an electrical fire smell like? Described by many as a burning metal, copper, or rubber smell — when it comes to that electrical fire smell, you’ll know when you smell it that something just isn’t right. If you notice a burning smell, make sure to shut off your home’s main circuit breaker immediately and call an electrician to examine the issue. They will be able to tell you if it’s time to call the fire department. 

But more specifically, here are some reasons why you might be experiencing an electrical burning smell:

1. Circuit is overloaded

Are you smelling electrical burning? The cause of your electrical burning smell could be an overloaded circuit. This can happen in older homes where the wiring is old and not built to handle the power load required by newer, modern appliances like microwaves, vacuums, and blenders. Also, as homeowners retrofit over the years, they may have added more than one outlet on a circuit that was only meant for one outlet. This could cause wires to heat up, melt components or trigger a fire.

2. Worn Out Wires

Sometimes worn-out wires can be the culprit of your electrical burning smell. If the wires are loose or worn out, they can move up against one another and cause sparks. Sometimes, the friction between these two wires rubbing together can cause the wires to heat up and melt components. The burning smell could also be due to worn-out wires inside appliances containing metallic fixtures or circuit breakers. Anything that has copper in it can produce a foul smell once the metal is oxidized by the surrounding air.

3. Malfunction in Electrical System

An overload or short-circuit issue can be caused by a malfunction in your electrical or wiring system of the home. Whether it’s fraying causing loose wires to rub together or too many appliances getting electricity from a particular outlet, it’s something you need to investigate immediately. If the wire in question is touching another wire or comes into contact with a screw or nail, this could also cause the wire to burn or components to melt, causing that electrical burning smell that you’re trying to identify.

4. Faulty Wiring

Another issue that can lead to damaged wires and overheating is a faulty wiring system. This can result in shorts and circuit overloads that can put you and your family in a risky situation. If this is the case, you will certainly smell burnt cloth, rubber or plastic inside your home.

5. Appliance May Be Faulty

In some cases, it’s not the wiring at all that’s creating the electrical burning smell, but faulty wiring inside of an appliance. There could be a faulty fuse or broken switch that causes a short circuit. If this is the case, and you know for sure that the electrical burning smell is coming from a specific appliance, unplug that appliance immediately and call a certified electrician to inspect the problem right away. 

6. Trapped Rainwater 

Older homes are susceptible to leaks over time. Melting snow and rainwater may start to penetrate cracks and holes in the roof, walls, or foundation. This can lead to water seeping into wall switches and sockets leading to rotting and rusting. In this case, once that socket or switch is activated, you may notice a burning smell. If this is the case, the only way to get it fixed properly and safely is to contact a certified electrician to replace the offending receptacle and advise you on other contracting work you might need to do to prevent future issues. 

7. Faulty Electrical Lines

During a big storm, your home’s electrical connections may become damaged by high winds, falling trees and even ice forming along the wires and poles. Sometimes this can cause a burning electrical smell even in your home. As this presents a serious fire hazard, it’s best practice to book an immediate consultation with an electrician to investigate the situation. They can help you determine if any wires need to be replaced.

8. Sockets or Switches Not Working

If you have malfunctioning switches, circuit breakers or sockets, these can also contribute to an electrical burning smell. This is often caused by wires that are inadvertently touching each other. The friction between the two wires can easily start a fire and need to be attended to as quickly as possible.

9. Malfunction in Electrical Fixtures

If you notice the burning electrical smell coming from a switch or circuit breaker, it could be that one of these fixtures is faulty. In this situation, it means there is a wiring issue and you’ll need to enlist professional help immediately.

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10. Faulty Appliances Plugged into Outlet

If you plug in an electrical appliance and you notice a burning smell once it’s turned on, then it’s likely that the socket has been damaged by water or excessive moisture and you’ll need to have it replaced and inspected right away.

Steps to Remove Electrical Burning Smell

  • Start by unplugging all non-essential appliances that run on electricity, including ones that aren’t turned on. This will help you determine if the burning electrical smell is being triggered by an electrical overload of the circuit. 
  • Inspect your home’s circuit breakers to ensure that it’s working properly and making up the required electricity load to power your home’s various appliances and fixtures including ceiling fans, baseboard heaters, and other items. Also, close any windows that are left open as this could have increased humidity in the room and left your electrical elements exposed to excessive moisture.
  • Analyze visible wires for any possible signs of corrosion and fraying. This can lead to a possible fire or melt your insulation. In any case, you’ll need an electrician to thoroughly investigate the cause. 
  • Inspect any exhaust fans in your bathrooms or kitchens to see if that is the source of the burning electrical smell. Clean filters if possible to see if that clears up the smell.
  • Check your plumbing for any possible leaks. If water is coming out of certain pipes, fixtures, or appliances, this could be getting into your electrical system as well, sparking short circuits and other types of damage that you’ll want to get fixed immediately.
  • If you think a burning smell is coming from the appliance, the simplest thing to do is restart it. If the problem still isn’t fixed, try plugging the appliance into another outlet to determine if it’s an issue with the socket instead.
  • If you notice that the electrical burning smell is not coming from your electrical system at all, it could be coming from another component of your home including water pipes, an air conditioning system or your refrigerator’s coolant lines. In this case, you need an experienced plumber or appliance repair technician rather than a certified electrician. Make sure that they thoroughly inspect the system so you only end up replacing the pipes that need to be replaced. 
  • If the electrical burning smell is coming from one of your main household appliances such as a dishwasher, oven, or another electrical tool, it might be because the internal components of the appliance have started to corrode or fray. In some cases, you may be able to replace certain parts, but in other situations, it may mean the end of the life of the appliance and you’ll have to get an entirely new one. Make sure you get an experienced electrician to inspect the appliances before you try to use them again.

There are so many possible causes of an electrical burning smell in the home. As we’ve covered in this article, it could be the result of busted appliances, faulty wiring, or excessive moisture damage. In any case, you should never attempt to fix these issues on your own and you should always consult a professional electrician like the ones at Ontime Electric to get the job done quickly and safely.

Contact Us

For over 20 years, Ontime Electric has been providing homeowners across the Greater Toronto Area with first-rate electrician services for all repairs and installation. Whether it’s troubleshooting issues or helping you upgrade your home’s electrical panel, our experts are standing by with industry-leading advice and premium customer service. 

We guarantee 100% customer satisfaction, and we’ll be happy to refer you to any one of our many satisfied clients. If you need electrical help in your home, look no further than Ontime Electric.

Contact Ontime Electric today to book your appointment.