Is your air purifier smelling weird? Depending on the smell, there could be nothing wrong with it. Here are 6 known smells & causes.

Regardless of where you live, it’s undeniable that air purifiers are a very convenient solution that provides clean, breathable air.

You might be tempted to think that these appliances are only useful if you live in the city, but even in cleaner, more rural environments, these machines work great at preventing allergies, and dust-related problems.

That being said, a fail proof model is yet to be invented, which means that your air purifier could cause you some trouble, and give you a couple of headaches from time to time. This is not unheard of, but it’s definitely not convenient either.

If you’re here reading this, your machine is smelling weird, and you’re desperate to find out why, and how can you fix it.

You can breathe easy now, I got you covered.

There are several reasons why you could be experiencing this problem. From excessive environmental moisture, to improper filter cleaning. You name it, it’s possible.

In order to pinpoint the culprit, and find the right solution, you need to know exactly what to look out for.

This is why I’ve prepared the list below, where you’ll find the most common causes to this occurrence, and the simplest steps you can take to address them. Rest assured that, if you follow them religiously, your unit will be back to normal, and smelling incredible in no time.

Are you ready? Let’s get to work!

Fixing a Smelly Air Purifier

Before we explore any possibilities, I want to be a little more specific, as “weird smell” won’t get us very far. Let me elaborate.

Here are the most common smells you can encounter:

  • Plastic
  • Dust
  • Sourness
  • Chlorine
  • Burning
  • Humidity

You’ll be surprised to learn that some items on this list are not even a sign of issues with your air purifier. Sometimes, the smell you’re finding so odd, could just be the appliance’s internal components warming up for the first time.

That being said, in order to properly troubleshoot, we must leave no stone unturned.

We must go about this in a detailed, and orderly way, as doing otherwise could lead us to misdiagnosing your appliance, and putting you at risk of wasting precious time, and money.

#1 Plastic

an air purifier on a wooden table
The plastic smell coming out from the air purifier is a protective coating or a component warm up

Let’s start off this list with a very common smell.

Every year, thousands of new air purifier owners experience this smell for the first time, and immediately think there’s something wrong with their appliance. Let me put your mind at ease, everything’s fine.

The plastic smell you’re getting from your machine is like that new car smell in the vehicles at the dealership. Granted, it might not be as pleasant, but, in essence, it’s the same thing. This particular aroma can be present for a number of reasons, with some of the most common ones being a protective coating, or component warm up.

When you use your appliance for the first time, the components inside it can warm up (not to be confused with overheating), and release this plastic smell. This is completely normal, and it’s part of your unit’s everyday operation.

Having said that, the smell should only be present the first few times you use the machine, if a couple of months go by, and you’re still experiencing it, make sure to call your manufacturer.

Solution: There’s not much to do here, just try to be a little patient, and enjoy your purchase.

#2 Dust

Clean your filters regularly and change them at least every six months

Provided that your appliance is not brand new, we can consider the possibility of dust gathering in your filter.

As you probably know, you should clean your filters regularly, and change them at least every six months. This does not only guarantee that you’re always operating your machine under the most hygienic conditions, but also reduces the risk of improper air cleaning, and overheating.

If you’re getting a dusty smell from your appliance every time you turn it on, chances are it needs a good cleaning session.

Solution: Provided that this is the first time you’re cleaning your purifier’s filter, please follow these steps to access it:

  1. Unplug your unit, and let it cool down
  1. Remove the outer plastic panel (it should come off easily)
  1. Remove the outer filter vent
  1. Remove the filter
  1. Carefully vacuum it to remove any debris, and then clean it under running water
  1. Let it dry completely
  1. Place it back into the machine, and reassemble

Remember, this will only work a couple of times. If your filter is older than 6 months, I strongly advise against reusing it. Old filters require replacing, there’s no way around that.

If you’re a visual person like me, there are tons of online videos you can check out, and follow along step by step.

#3 Sourness

This is probably the least common smell on this list, but it can also be the most displeasing.

Depending on where you’re using your appliance, and the chemicals present in the air at the moment of operation, your air purifier could be smelling a little sour. This happens quite often in homes that have just been remodeled or fumigated.

Air purifiers work by sucking in the air in the environment, and passing it through their filter before blowing a much cleaner version of it back out. When there are particles of drywall or pesticides present, your machine could make the smell of these chemicals more intense as it recirculates, and cleans them.

Now, don’t run out of your house just yet. If the exterminators or contractors who did the job have already declared the house safe to inhabit, there’s nothing to fear. You’ll just have to deal with the smell for a little while. 

Solution: In cases like these, there’s not much to do except trying to be patient, and maybe cracking a couple windows open to let the sour smell out. You might have to wait for a couple of days, but everything should be back to normal after that period.

#4 Chlorine

It’s hard to find something that brings up more nostalgia than the smell of a newly chlorinated pool, right? Even now, as an adult, I still find myself looking back on my childhood whenever I encounter it.

Such beautiful summer memories.

Now, although I’m sure you share the feeling, you’ll agree with me on the fact that, as nostalgic as it is, having this smell present in your home is not so pleasant.

This will not happen to every air purifier owner, but if your model uses ions and ozone to clean up the air you’re breathing, there’s a very good chance that this gas is the reason behind the chlorinated smell.

While this means that there’s nothing wrong with the purifier itself, some consumer reports have warned against using ozone-based units, as they might generate harmful amounts of this gas, so be careful.

Solution: If you just can’t stand the chlorinated smell, play a little with your unit’s settings, chances are you’ll find a mode that uses less ozone, and decreases the intensity of the aroma.

#5 Burning

A dirty filter may cause the purifier to overheat

Moving on to more concerning matters, if your air purifier is still smelling weird, and none of the points above describe your situation, there’s a chance that your machine might be overheating.

Household appliances hate excessively high temperatures. Even crock pots, and rice cookers, have their limits.

And while your air purifier, being a spinning fan which draws electricity from an outlet, is designed to withstand some heat, its limit is not very high.

Now, I’m not saying that operating your appliance normally will cause it to overheat, but if you’re in the habit of not cleaning or replacing your filters regularly, the risk of it working excessively hard to rid the air of pollutants, increases significantly.

It is of the utmost importance that you give your unit proper maintenance, as the burning smell you’re getting from it could be its internal components slowly melting away due to overheating caused by filter obstruction.

Please stop using the machine and clean or replace your filters as soon you suspect this to be the issue.

Solution: Follow the steps from point #2 to expose your appliance’s filter for a long cleaning session.

Provided that the smell is still present after you clean or replace apart, do not hesitate to call your manufacturer, as some other internal part could be malfunctioning.

#6 Humidity

Lastly, let’s talk about your home’s conditions.

If you live in an area that is known for being excessively humid, you might want to modify the way in which you use your unit. While air purifiers are designed to operate with some degree of moisture in the air, too much can cause them to start smelling a little off.

Several people who have experienced this situation have described the smell to be reminiscent of that of a wet dog, and while owning one of these 4-legged companions can contribute to the appearance of this issue, it can still occur in petless households.

Moreover, bad smells are not the only concern when it comes to excessive humidity, as condensation, and moisture buildup could eventually reach your machine’s internal components, and cause a short circuit that could damage it permanently.

Solution: If there’s anything in the area that might be contributing to increasing the moisture levels in the air, please do your best to remove it from the equation in order to protect your air purifier.

Provided that the moisture comes from the environment, you might have to buy one of those humidity-absorbing pellets sold at hardware stores to get the area a little drier.

When Should You Call a Pro?

The answer to this question will depend greatly on two things:

  • Your warranty status
  • Whether the problem was resolved

If none of the solutions above worked out for you, and you’re still under coverage, by all means go ahead and give your manufacturer a call. Unless otherwise specified, they should send in a technician to take care of the repairs for free.

Provided that you’re no longer under coverage, and your problem persists after reading this list, you’ll have to pay for a visit from a professional. The good news is that you already have a clearer idea of what might be wrong, so you can walk them through the issue in a much more informed way.

Assuming that you suspect the filter needs cleaning or replacing, but you haven’t gotten around to buying a new one yet, try changing it before calling a pro for help.

Conclusion

To have an air purifier start smelling weird can be a nightmare. After all, you bought the appliance to get cleaner air, not unpleasant smells.

Luckily, as I hope you’ve learned on this piece, addressing most of the causes behind this situation is fairly simple. In most cases, all it takes is a filter replacement to get the appliance back to normal.

Trust in yourself, and in your DIY skills. I’m sure that there’s nothing you can’t accomplish if you set your mind to it.

Thank you for reading. If you found this article helpful, why not become an expert in the subject through our other incredible resources below?

You can breathe easy now!