Close this search box.

Water Heater Smells Like Burning

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, we may receive a small commission for made purchases.

A water heater is an appliance we don’t think about everyday but it is something we all need.

Usually it is at the back of our minds but when it starts to smell like burning, we begin to worry.

So, what does this mean? This article will be answering this question as well as further exploring all there is to know about the water heater.

What is a Water Heater?

A water heater is an energy source used to provide heat to buildings. This heat generates our hot water which allows us to have luxuries such as hot showers and baths.

There are two types of water heaters: tanked heaters and tankless water heaters. Tanked heaters are known for holding cold water and warming it up through a gas burner inside the tank.

Some tanks may also do this through the use of heating rods instead of a gas burner.

This water is stored within the tank and waits for the person to turn on the hot water faucet to their sink, shower or whatever they choose.

At this point, the tanked water heater will react and send that stored water to the appliance, allowing hot water to come out of the desired faucet.

A tankless heater, on the other hand, is slightly different. Instead of storing water in a tank like the other option, the tankless heater instead heats up water instantly.

As soon as you turn on the faucet for hot water, the tankless heater will respond but instantly providing that hot water, keeping it hot for as long as needed.

Are Water Heaters and Boilers the Same?

There are many people out there who see water heaters and boilers (see also ‘What’s The Difference Between A Water Heater, Furnace, And Boiler?‘) as the same thing, however this is not the case.

Unlike water heaters, boilers use their energy to heat properties using a radiant heat and steam system.

So, why the confusion between the two? This is because boilers can be used to heat up portable water as well. The only difference is that when the boiler is heating up the water, it relies on a thermostat.

This thermostat will send a message over, giving the boiler the signal to heat up its water. The water from the boiler is then turned into steam and that steam is used to heat up a home.

Why Does Your Water Heater Smell Like Burning?

There are some people who complain about smelling a burning smell from their water heater (see also ‘ How To Get Rid Of Water Heater Odor ‘) but this is not unusual. It is very possible for this to happen, but you should not assume the worst.

There are many reasons for this smell. Once you know the reason behind it, you can then move forward to resolve the issue.

Dust or Debris

One of the reasons for this smell can be down to too much dust or debris gathered up in your water heater.

Dust and debris gets everywhere and just like with every other household appliance, it can create some issues. As water heaters are easy to put in the back of your mind, there is a high chance that your one has never been cleaned.

This allows for a great build up of dust. This dust, because of the heating of the water heater, will naturally burn, creating a smell which can be smelt all throughout the house.

However, it should be made aware that although you smell burning you are in no danger. This is not a fire hazard. In fact, the way to get rid of this unpleasant burning smell is to do one simple task – clean.

Simply get your duster and cleaner out and give your water heater a thorough clean. This will get rid of all the dust and debris and get rid of that burning stench.

Rubber or Plastic

It may be that you are smelling something which smells like plastic or rubber burning. If this is the case, then know that you are not alone. Smelling plastic or rubber burning is fairly common for those with a water heater but this isn’t something to worry about.

If this is what you are smelling then it may be that electrical contacts are overheating on the thermostat. It may also be due to the insulative coating on the wires if the insulation is old.

To resolve this issue, you should either replace the insulation or move the piece of plastic away from the heat to prevent overheating. As this is a more difficult task, you can choose to contact a professional instead of fixing the problem yourself.

Air Pressure

Another issue may be with the air pressure, especially if you are noticing your water smelling like burnt plastic.

Luckily, there is no harm when it comes to a problem with the air pressure because even though it may smell like burning, nothing really is.

The water heater generates vapors which are released through the exhaust pipe, but if the air pressure isn’t optimized then those vapors will create a foul smell which smells like burnt plastic.

For this, you should call a plumber to fix the issue. This is not a problem that just anyone can solve. You will need to be a trained professional.

Electrical Burn

Unlike the others, an electrical burn is difficult to sense, sometimes having no odor at all. However, with this said, it is still possible to sense a smell.

An electrical burn will smell like burnt plastic, a sign that something electrical is overloading or an electrical short has taken place in a outlet.

If you happen to smell burning on your water heater, you should immediately check for arcing on your wiring.

This may be the cause. You should also immediately call a plumber to come down to sort the problem out for this is the job for a professional.

Do Water Heaters Always Smell Like Burning?

Water Heater Smells Like Burning

It is not always that your water heater will smell like burning. You may also be able to smell gas or sulfur which can further be an indication of issues surrounding your water heater.

Smelling Gas

If you are to smell gas in your home then this is something which should really be taken seriously. Smelling gas is very hazardous as it can lead to a dangerous situation if not sorted out quickly.

Before even contacting a professional, the first thing you will need to do is look for the source of the smell.

If you notice that the gas smell is coming from the water heater (see also ‘What To Do If You Notice Your Water Heater Leaking‘) then you most likely have a gas leak. Following this, be sure to turn off the gas immediately and call a professional straight away.

It is important to act fast in this situation as gas leaks can lead to fires if not treated.

Smelling Sulfur

For those who don’t know, sulfur smells like rotten eggs. This is a smell which is very common for new water heaters.

This smell can either be caused by a corroded sacrificial anode rod or a high sulfur-reducing bacteria in the water supply.

If it is the first option then your rod will need replacing. If it is the second option then the water heater will need to be flushed (see also ‘Water Heater Flush‘) and disinfected.

Can Water Heaters Cause Fires?

We know that water heaters can smell like burning, but does this mean that the burning smell can lead to fires?

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is yes. It is very possible for water heaters to cause fires, or even worse, explosions.

It is very important to know what to look out for as well as the reasons behind potential fires.

Below, we will be listing some of the most common reasons for water heater fires:

Gas Leaks

A gas leak is a major cause for a fire if not seen to immediately.

If you are to smell gas and it trails back to the water heater, then you should immediately call someone to have a look as there is a high chance it is a gas leak.

Cas leaks are extremely dangerous because if the ignition flame ignites, that can create an explosion.


There is also the risk of overheating. It is very possible for water heaters to overheat so if you notice this you should contact a professional quickly.

If the plastic parts or the insulation overheats then there is a chance of it catching on fire.

High Water Pressure

Another cause for potential fires is high water pressure. When water heats, pressure will build up inside the tank, however water heaters should be able to release that pressure through a safety valve.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. If the water heater fails to release the pressure due to a malfunction, then the pressure will be too much for the tank. It will become unstable until eventually it explodes.

Final Thoughts

In this article, we have explored the water heater, specifically highlighting the importance of safety surrounding the appliance and how to look out for potential threat.

It is common for people to complain out burning smells coming from their water heater and this can be for many reasons.

It could be from some small and manageable like dust and debris or could be from something more severe such as high water pressure.

To stay safe, it is best to contact a professional to see to the problem. What matters most is the safety of your home environment.

author avatar
Charlie Hardcastle


On Key

Related Posts

Is Drano Bad for Pipes? The Truth Revealed

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, we may receive a small commission for made purchases. When it comes to dealing with clogged drains, many homeowners turn