Oven smells like burning plastic? Here’s what you can do to stop it

Written by Adam Morris
6 Min read
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There’s nothing quite like the smell of bread baking in the oven, or a batch of freshly made cookies is there? The smell is warm, comforting, and homely.

But sometimes our ovens create smells that aren’t quite so appealing, causing us to fling the windows open wide in the hope it clears quickly.  One of those smells is burning plastic which is actually more common than you might think and quite often has absolutely nothing to do with burning or plastic at all!

So, if the smell of your oven is making your eyes water more than your mouth, read on for some handy hints and tips on how to overcome this stinky problem.

Common oven smells

It’s not unusual for an oven to smell unpleasant, especially when used over a long period of time without being cleaned. Some of the most common oven odors include:

  • Chemical smells
  • Burning food
  • Burning plastic
  • Sulfur or rotten egg smell
  • Urine

My oven smells like burning plastic

Leftover cleaning residue can leave a strong plastic burning smell that lingers long after the cleaning took place. This odor can seep into food when the oven is heated and ruin any of the delicious meals you cook.

Another common cause of the smell of burning plastic is that you are literally burning plastic in the oven!  Frozen ready-meals often come packaged in plastic tubs covered with plastic film, and when cooked under high heat these plastics can melt slightly.

Finally, the burning plastic aroma could be the result of electrical problems inside of your oven. Many ovens rely on electrical components to create the heat required to cook food. If the wiring attached to these components malfunctions or shorts out, it can melt the insulation on the wires or cause the burning of other components. This indicates a serious problem that must be investigated by a professional, it could result in a fire if not repaired.

My oven smells like burning food

Strong burning smells during the cooking process are usually caused by food or oils that have dripped down to the bottom of the oven. Even if your oven has a self-cleaning feature, this may not be enough to completely eradicate any left-over food particles that may have made their way to the floor or racks of your oven.

Burning smells could also be due to the way you’re positioning the food inside of the oven to cook. If you’re broiling food, there should be at least three inches of room between the food and the broiler element at the top of the oven. The broiler gets extremely hot and can easily scorch the food, causing it to smoke.

High-fat foods tend to smoke if cooked too fast or in an oven that is too hot, be very careful oil doesn’t drip onto the burner element as this could cause a fire.

My oven has a chemical smell

If your oven is brand new, any chemical smell is likely to be caused by the oven cavity being exposed to heat for the very first time – this is the smell of the bonding agent curing.

New ovens need to be ‘burnt in’ before being used to cook for the first time, and you should follow any guidance provided by your oven manufacturer. However, as a general rule, you should thoroughly wash out the inside of your oven including any cooling racks, and let it dry for a few minutes. You should then heat your oven to a high temperature (around 400 degrees Fahrenheit) for 30 minutes to remove any residue from inside the oven.

It's very normal to see smoke the first one or two times you use your new oven, the heating element inside many new ovens has an oil-based coating that produces smoke as it gradually burns off.

My oven smells like rotten eggs

The smell of un-burned gas can resemble the smell of rotten eggs and if you smell this in your kitchen you should take immediate action: Turn off the oven, open your windows, extinguish any open flames, and call your gas supplier from outside your house

My oven smells like urine

You’d be right to be concerned if your most used kitchen appliance suddenly starts smelling like your most used bathroom appliance! The smell of urine or ammonia in your oven is a strong indicator that you have mice.

Mice just love the warmth and food particles that are in ovens and will spend as much time nesting in one as possible. The stench of their pooled urine can be overwhelming, and what’s worse they’re probably removing the insulation from your oven to take into your walls for nesting.

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention having mice in your home puts you at serious risk of serious illness. Perhaps most commonly, mice are responsible for a group of viruses called ‘Hantavirus’ that causes fever, muscle aches, and fatigue.  All mice urine and droppings should be quickly, carefully, and thoroughly cleaned from your oven and you should take extreme care when doing so.

How to clean and disinfect an oven

Cleaning the inside and shelves

  • Soak your oven shelves in a sink full of hot water, plastic container or bathtub containing 250g of soda crystals or a scoopful of biological washing detergent for half an hour
  • Scrub off burnt-on foods, rinse and allow to air dry
  • You can also wash your shelves in the dishwasher if they’ll fit
  • To clean the inside, mix together baking soda, salt and water to create a thick sandy paste, and then coat your oven floor, sides, and ceiling with it
  • Close the oven door and leave overnight – the past will have hardened by the morning
  • Once the past has hardened use a rubber spatula and a warm, wet cloth to loosen and wipe up the paste. In doing so you should reveal a shiny, clean, and odor-free surface underneath

Cleaning the oven door

  • Gently remove any baked on food with a metal spatula
  • Spray the door with a cleaning gel, spray on cleaner, or wipe on a paste made from bicarbonate of soda and water. Leave for 15-20 minutes before cleaning off

3 easy ways to keep your oven cleaner for longer

It’s quite easy to get your oven looking new again, but a different matter keeping it that way. Try these four easy methods to keep you cooking on gas (or electricity of course!)

1. Use oven liners

An oven liner is a non-stick sheet that has been designed to protect the bottom of an oven by catching food drips. The liners allow you to quickly clean an oven without actually having to clean it

2. Invest in roasting bags

A roasting bag (or oven bag as it’s sometimes known) is a bag made of heat-resistant nylon, designed for the roasting of meat or other food in an oven. The bags help to trap the heat and keep food moist during cooking, they also stop grease and fat from escaping into the oven cavity.

3. Clean after every use

We know, we know, this sounds like an awful drag but spending a couple of minutes wiping over the bottom, sides, and roof of your oven after using it will save you hours of time in the long run. As soon as you’ve finished using the oven, place a heat-resistant bowl of water inside the oven and heat at a high temperature for 20 minutes to loosen any grease, grime, and stuck-on food. As soon as it’s cool enough, give the oven interior a good wipe

In summary

Ovens are one of the hardest working appliances in our home and it’s inevitable that they will emit a less than desirable odor every now and then. Knowing how to recognize the different smells that can come from an oven is important to minimize the risk of serious illnesses and fires in the home.

However, with just a little bit of time and effort, your oven will stay smelling fresh and clean, ensuring your food tastes as good as it looks.

FAQs

Why does my oven smell like something is burning?

It’s quite common for your oven to smell like something is burning, but the odor should be investigated as soon as possible to ensure it’s nothing that will cause you or your oven any damage.  Possible reasons include:
·       The oven cavity is exposed to heat for the very first time – this is the smell of the bonding agent curing
·       Leftover cleaning residue
·       Grease or oil on the floor of the oven
·       Burning plastic containers
·       Food or oil dripping onto the heating elements
·       You’re cooking a high-fat food on a high heat

Are burnt plastic fumes harmful?

When plastic burns it releases toxic gases that could be harmful, including dioxins, furans, mercury, and BCPs. These gases are harmful and should not be breathed in as they could cause breathing issues and are very bad for the lungs and respiratory system.

What does an oven gas leak smell like?

If your gas oven is leaking gas, you will notice a strong smell of rotten eggs. If this happens you should turn off the oven, open your windows, extinguish any open flames, and call your gas supplier from outside your house.

Why does my oven smell like ammonia?

The smell of ammonia could indicate a gas leak, in which case you should turn off the oven, open your windows, extinguish any open flames, and call your gas supplier from outside your house. However, if the smell is more like urine, then this could mean you have mice nesting in your oven which will require immediate attention.

Appliances made simple. 

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