Your wood stove should smell like burning wood – not burning plastic. If you notice a strong odor of burnt plastic when your stove is on, it’s important to figure out the cause quickly.
If your wood stove smells like burning plastic, it may be caused by a piece of plastic too close to the stove, creosote buildup in the flue, paint from the stove or piping curing, burning chemically-treated wood or wood with fungi, or burning accumulated dust.
Just because your wood stove smells like burning plastic doesn’t mean that the smell is actually burning plastic.
There are a few things that can cause a smell similar to burning plastic; I’ll be discussing all of those in this article and explaining what to do about each of them.
There’s plastic on or near the stove
The root of your problem might be the most obvious one: a plastic object is too close to your stove and is burning.
Look on, in, under, around, and behind your stove for some of these common culprits:
- Dog or cat toys
- Children’s toys
- Plastic whistle knob from a tea kettle
- Plastic cookware or utensils
- Stray scrap plastic from your recycling bin
If you don’t find anything, the problem is likely one of the others on this list.
Paint from the stove or piping is curing
If you have a new stove or pipes, or if you’ve recently painted your current set, the burning plastic smell may be caused by the paint “curing.”
This can also occur when your stove reaches a particularly high temperature.
Curing is a technical term that essentially means the paint is drying and hardening.
You can cure paint using time and heat; the longer the paint is heated at a very high temperature, the faster it will cure (and stop emitting the bad smell caused by curing).
The time it takes to completely cure the paint on your stove depends on the type of paint, the type of stove or pipe, and how hot your fires get.
Some types of paint will only cure at temperatures your stove rarely reaches, so a particularly hot fire can bring out this smell in a stove that has been working normally for years.
The easiest way to get rid of this smell for good is to “break in” your stove with a few very hot fires. Try to get your stove to at least 600F – most paints will cure quickly at this temperature, but it might take a few fires to fully cure it.
Tip: You can measure the temperature of your fire using a stove thermometer. If you don’t have one, I recommend the GALAFIRE magnetic wood stove thermometer (available on Amazon). I use it for my wood stove, and I’ve found it to be a reliable and durable option.
If the smell persists after multiple fires at 600F, your stove or pipe might be too heat-resistant to allow for complete curing even at very high temperatures.
For example, if your pipe is double-insulated, a 600F fire often won’t cure the paint entirely, and the smell won’t go away completely.
Even if you can’t get it to go away entirely, you don’t have to worry about the smell affecting your health. According to Healthline, paint fumes can cause minor irritation, but are otherwise safe and non-toxic.
The flue has a dangerous creosote buildup
If you aren’t diligent about cleaning your stove’s pipe, you may be smelling a buildup of creosote.
Creosote is the result of your wood smoke condensing with water and other chemicals. It builds up inside of your stove pipe and chimney, and is toxic and dangerous.
Not only is creosote a cancer-causing carcinogen, but it’s also a leading cause of chimney fires (which can burn your entire house down).
It’s important to hire a professional to regularly clean your chimney no matter what your smelling.
However, if you’re smelling anything that resembles a freshly paved asphalt driveway – which can understandably be interpreted as a plastic smell – then you need to call a chimney cleaner right away. Do not use your stove until the cleaner has given you the go-ahead.
You’re burning chemically-treated wood
If you’re burning wood that has been treated with chemicals, that may be the source of the plastic smell.
Chemically-treated wood – also known as “pressure-treated” wood – is used for construction and industrial applications. The treatment greatly enhances the durability of the wood, which is why it’s often used over non-treated wood.
You should never burn chemically-treated wood. The fumes from the chemicals are toxic and cause a bunch of different health issues.
If you’re not sure if you’re burning pressure-treated wood, the easiest way to tell is by smelling it. The chemicals will give off a distinct oily smell that will differentiate it from natural wood.
If you’re still not sure, here are a few more ways to differentiate it from normal wood
The stove is burning off accumulated dust
If the smell occurs when you first use your stove after at least a month of disuse, it may be caused by the stove burning off accumulated dust.
Dust is always collecting in the stove and chimney pipe. If you use your stove frequently, you won’t notice it because the amount burning off is too small to emit a noticeable odor.
But if it’s been a while since you last used the stove, enough dust will burn that you’ll be able to smell it.
Burning dust is normal, and isn’t something to worry about. If the smell goes away after the first couple uses of the stove, dust is the likely culprit.
You’re burning wood with fungus on it
Fungus isn’t plastic, but it’s easy to mistake the smell of burning fungus for that of burning plastic.
Double-check your wood before you add it to the fire. If it has any fungi, remove the offending parts – or use another piece of wood entirely – and see if the smell persists.
Note that burning fungus is not inherently harmful, and it’s okay to do it if you’re not concerned about the smell. However, if you have a mold allergy, you’ll want to be careful about burning wood with fungus, or any older or soggy wood for that matter.
Additional Wood Stove Resources
For more information about wood stoves, you can check out our other wood stove articles:
- Why Do Wood Stoves Have Insulation in Them?
- Wood Stove Smells When Not in Use? Top 5 Causes (+ Fixes)
- How to Keep Your Wood Stove From Getting Too Hot (7 Tips)
- How to Stop Downdraft in a Wood Stove (DIY Guide)
- How to Stop a Wood Stove from Rusting: 8 Easy Tips
- Wood Stove Smells Like Burning Plastic? Top 6 Causes
- How to Keep a Wood Burning Stove Going All Night (5 Tips)
- Seasoned vs. Unseasoned Wood: 5 Key Differences