Is your dehydrator smelling like plastic or burning? You might not be cleaning it right. Read this!

Dehydrators are the embodiment of practicality. They open up a world of possibilities for new recipes, and help you keep your food fresh for much longer. What is there not to love about them?

Regardless of your eating habits, dehydrators have something for you. Are you a vegetarian or vegan? Great, you can take advantage of its dehydrating capabilities to preserve your goods for longer.

Do you love beef jerky? Perfect, you won’t ever have to buy another packet at the store.

Now, as wonderful as they are, I’m not here to sell you on a new model. If you’re here, you already own one, and it’s smelling a lot like plastic and burning food. Why?

There are many factors that could explain this unfortunate occurrence. From a damaged power source, to a faulty internal component or improper cleaning. Without a clear idea of what you should be looking for, the troubleshooting process can be very difficult.

Luckily, I’ve already taken care of all the research.

Below, you will find a list of the most common reasons why your dehydrator is either smelling like plastic or like something’s burning. Rest assured that by the end of it, your appliance will be as good as new and smelling great.

Are you ready? Let’s dive in!

Fixing a Smelly Dehydrator

In order to find the right answer for you, we need to go through this process in a detailed, and orderly way. This will not only save you precious time and money, but also prevent you from tempering with your appliance too much.

Your dehydrator might be smelling like plastic or burning due to:

  • First use
  • Not cleaning it right
  • A damaged cord
  • Under loading
  • A faulty heating element
  • A broken thermostat

#1 Its First Use

There might be nothing wrong with your appliance

Not every unpleasant smell coming from your dehydrator indicates a malfunction. In fact, having these appliances smell a little like plastic during their first couple of cycles is quite normal.

Just as it happens with waffle irons and many other appliances out there, dehydrators can be coated with a protective film at the factory to protect them from damage during transportation.

Provided that your unit is brand-new, all you need to do is be patient. Chances are that, after a couple of batches, the unpleasant smell will be gone for good, and you’ll be able to enjoy all the wonderful options your dehydrator has to offer.

Solution: If the smell is leaving a taste of plastic in your food, you might have to throw away the first couple of batches. Provided that the intolerable smell persists after some cycles, try calling your manufacturer.

New Dehydrator with a bottle of wine beside
It’s normal for your dehydrator to smell like plastic during the first cycles.

#2 You’re Not Cleaning It Right

Clean your dehydrator regularly

Yet another reason why your dehydrator might be smelling like plastic or burning is not cleaning it right.

Every household appliance needs good maintenance to operate properly, but this is especially true with dehydrators.

Being an appliance that uses heat and dries out food, it is vital that you keep it clean at all times, as even the smallest residue could stick to the bottom, burn, and cause that unpleasant smell that brought you here.

Ideally, you should clean your dehydrator after every use or at the end of the day. If this is not possible, try cleaning it at least every other day.

This will not only guarantee that you’re operating it under the most hygienic conditions, but also prevent burning food smells.

Solution: You don’t have to clean your appliance’s internal components as often as the tray and the cooking chamber, but doing it every month or so, will keep it running smoothly.

How to Properly Clean Your Dehydrator

If you just bought your appliance, or you’ve never cleaned it from top to bottom, chances are, you’re not sure as to how you can go about it. Don’t worry, I got your back.

While keeping your trays, and the bottom of your dehydrating chamber clean will likely get rid of most of the smells, your appliance’s fan, heating element, and thermostat will also require your attention now and then.

In order to gain comfortable access to these components, you’ll need to undo the screws at the back of the unit, and remove the outer metal panel to expose the parts.

Unless specified otherwise, try not to clean your internal components with anything other than a damp cloth and a little water, as any other cleaning substances might not only damage them, but also release an unpleasant smell in the air, as the unit heats up.

#3 Your Power Cord Is Damaged

Check your power cord for damage

The unpleasant burning smell could not be coming from the appliance itself, but from the cable it draws power from. Contrary to popular belief, these cords are neither indestructible, nor extremely resilient.

Sure, on the outside they look thick and sturdy, but inside them are many smaller cables that can get damaged quite easily.

In fact, seemingly negligible bad practices, such as storing them improperly, keeping them tangled, or pressed against a wall, are more than enough to do them in.

If your cord is completely broken, your dehydrator won’t even turn on, but if the damage is only partial, it could be causing the burning smell, and eventually short circuit, which could kill your appliance.

As soon as you suspect this to be the issue, please stop using your dehydrator until you replace the cable.

Solution: Test with a new cord.

You probably don’t have a spare cord just for testing, but in the off chance that you do, you can use it to see if it resolves the issue. This will save you money and get you an answer straight away.

If you don’t have one, that’s fine. You can always do a quick Google search on your appliance’s make and model to find the right replacement at any online marketplace for less than $35.

#4 You’re Under Loading It

Make sure you’re putting enough food in your unit

Provided that you clean your appliance after every use, and its power sources are unscathed, we can safely move on to a common user error.  Under loading.

Your dehydrator by default is programmed and designed to adequately dehydrate a certain amount of food. If your appliance is smelling like plastic, or burning, chances are that you’re not putting enough ingredients inside it during its cycle.

This might not only burn your food, but also cause overheating.

Moreover, going to the opposite extreme can also be very troublesome. Overloading your appliance will yield excessively humid food.

Solution: If you’re unsure as to how much food you should put inside your dehydrator, your user manual will definitely have the answer.

This is one of those things that you want to nip in the bud, as having it happen continuously can damage your appliance permanently.

Dehydrator with some fruits on it
Are you putting enough ingredients inside your dehydrator?

#5 Your Heating Element Is Failing

Your heating element could be causing overheating

If none of the solutions above worked out for you, chances are that your heating element is failing.

In case you’re not familiar with what this component does, it’s fairly simple. Its job is to draw the electrical power coming from your outlet, and transform it into usable heat, so that your food can be properly dehydrated and yield the results you want.

When this component fails, things can go one of two ways. You can either be stuck with a dehydrator that does not produce heat, or one that overheats. The latter is much more concerning, and troublesome.

If your dehydrator is smelling like plastic or burning, extreme temperatures could be burning your internal components slowly.

It goes without saying, that, as soon as you suspect this to be the culprit, you should stop using your appliance immediately, as doing otherwise can turn a small problem, into a much bigger, more expensive one.

Solution: To determine or rule this component out as the responsible for your situation, you will have to go in. To do so, please follow these steps:

  1. Carefully unplug your dehydrator, and let it cool down
  • Locate the screws at the back of your appliance
  • Undo them with a screwdriver
  • Remove the outer metal panel to expose your appliance’s guts
  • Locate the heating element, it should be close to the fan
  •  Test it for continuity with a multimeter, if you have one
  • Replace it if there is none

The steps above might vary slightly from model to model, but in general, it should be very straightforward. If you’re a visual person like me, there are tons of online videos that can you can follow along.

#6 Your Thermostat Is Broken

Test your thermostat for continuity

Last, but not least, is the possibility of a failing or broken thermostat.

This component is the most important factor when it comes to regulating the temperature inside your appliance.

While the heating element is responsible for generating the heat to dehydrate your food, the thermostat is the part that tells it how hot it must get, and when it must cool down.

You can think of it as the CEO of your appliance, and all other components are its employees.

Having established how essential it is, you can imagine that, when it fails, all hell breaks loose. Quite literally.

Any sort of malfunction in this component can render your dehydrator incapable of regulating its own temperature, thus increasing the risk of overheating, and catching on fire.

Solution: To fix this, please follow the steps from the previous point to expose your appliance’s internal components, and gain comfortable access to your thermostat for continuity testing.

Provided that you determine there is none, and the part needs replacing, you can find a new one at a hardware store, or get it directly from your manufacturer.

Conclusion

To have an unpleasant plastic or burning smell coming from an appliance that is supposed to only produce delightful aromas, can be very frustrating. Especially when you don’t know where it might be coming from.

As you’ve learned above, this unfortunate situation can be avoided in most cases with proper cleaning, and the right amounts in your batches.

And while some other instances might require you to open your appliance and make some repairs, these should not be too challenging. That being said, if at any point during the process you feel unsafe or doubtful, please do not hesitate to call a technician.

Thank you so much for sticking with me all the way to the end. If you found this article useful, why not keep learning with our other wonderful resources below?

Happy dehydrating!