Have you noticed a burning odor when you’re using your vacuum cleaner? It may seem scary, but don’t worry just yet. When it comes to burning smells emanating from your vacuum cleaner, the most common cause can actually be very easy for anyone to fix.
The most common reason for your vacuum cleaner to smell like burning is simply a blockage in its system from debris, dust build-up, or hair picked up during the vacuuming process. The problem occurs commonly in the hose, brush roller, dust cup air duct, or from an alien object in the vacuum’s bag.
These areas are all very easy to take apart and pinpoint the source of the smoke or burning smell. The most complicated reasons you’re likely to come across are a damaged rubber belt or an overworked motor. The former you can access and replace with a screwdriver, and the latter will require you to take your vacuum cleaner to an authorized service center.
Even if you do decide to take your vacuum cleaner to an authorized service center instead of attempting the fix yourself, diagnosing the problem beforehand could make the process easier and cheaper for you.
So before calling the professional or going out and buying a new vacuum cleaner, we recommend working your way down this list to find out if your vacuum’s burning smell can be fixed more easily than you think.
Why a Vacuum Can Smell Like it’s Burning?
A sudden burning odor rising up from your vacuum cleaner can be a worrying thing! No one likes to smell smoke and not know what’s causing it.
You may find the sudden burning odor similar to burnt rubber, or it may smell more like burning hair, or just a very general burning odor. The best thing to do when you smell burning rubber or any burning smell from your vacuum cleaner is to turn it off, then pull the vacuum cable and unplug it from the wall plug right away.
This is a very important first step because you want to stop the process that is causing the burning smell, and you also never want to start taking your vacuum cleaner apart and inspecting it while it is still plugged into the main wall plug. Once your vacuum cleaner is safely unplugged, you can start to look around to see what’s causing the burning smell.
Related Read: How to Make Your Vacuum Smell Better
Common Reasons of the Burning Smell
Vacuum cleaners are machines that every single one of us has in our house, whether they’re cylinder vacuums, stand vacuums, handheld vacuums, or even robot vacuums. But although we use them every week, most of us are not handymen or appliance wizards, and we don’t actually know a lot about how they work.
Taking apart something you don’t understand is not a fun job, and it can be tempting to just throw in the towel and replace your vacuum cleaner with a new one as soon as you spot a problem you don’t know how to fix.
Vacuums are made up of many components, but those components are not really that complicated, and for the most part, they are thoughtfully designed to pop in and out of place effortlessly. As such, diagnosing why your vacuum smells like burnt rubber is easy. Here are a few of the most common reasons behind this problem.
1. Debris clog
A vacuum cleaner is made for sucking up all manners of things you don’t want to have on your home’s flooring. But that doesn’t mean you should just be vacuuming up anything and everything you find. Vacuum cleaners are really only meant for sucking up dust and small entities like food crumbs and pet hair. If you see something on your floor that you could easily pick up yourself, then you should not let your vacuum cleaner take care of it for you.
When we neglect this duty, our vacuum cleaner pays the price. Having to vacuum up large pieces of waste like coins, buttons, or bobby pins will make it much easier for your vacuum cleaner to get clogged.
Carpet fiber and hair can also be major causes of blockages, but you can’t avoid vacuuming these things up. This is why even if you are careful, you still need to do routine maintenance on your vacuum to keep it healthy. If you don’t, the vacuum cleaner will get clogged. If your vacuum smells bad in general anyway, this is probably a reason for it, especially if the vacuum smells like burnt rubber.
When this happens, it can lead to a loss in the vacuum’s ability to provide suction power, which then leads to an overworked motor and an increased amount of heat. The clogged debris could end up stuck next to a moving component of the vacuum, and the increased heat plus the friction can cause the debris to start smoldering inside the vacuum. Result: a sudden burning smell!
How to Fix
To fix this cause of a burning smell, you simply need to remove the blockage. To do this, it’s best to put on a pair of gloves because the debris could be hot, and will definitely be fairly gross.
The main three areas you’re likely to find a blockage are the roller brush, the hose, and the dust cup air duct. Clogged debris in any of these places could be causing an overworked motor, but the place most likely to be directly causing the burning smell is the roller brush.
We recommend checking all three areas so you can be sure your machine is all clear and ready to work again for a decent amount of time. Otherwise, if you just remove a blockage from the brush roller and leave another in the hose, the continued loss of suction will likely cause another clog in the brush roller again very soon. As a result, the clog will make your vacuum smell like burnt rubber before long.
To de-clog your vacuum, simply disconnect the vacuum head (where the brush roller is; it looks like this) and disconnect the hose at both ends. Use what you can to check and remove blockages: your hands, something long and bendy, a broom for the hose, etc.
Checking the air duct is just a matter of sticking your fingers into the main body of the vacuum where the hose normally connects. It could be very dirty in there, so remember those gloves!
Once you’ve cleared out everything you can find, you can put your vacuum back together and plug the vacuum cable into the wall plug. Then, give it a spin to see if the burning smell has gone and if your vacuum is able to provide suction more easily.
2. Lighted Cigarette End
If you’re not a smoker, you can probably cross out this potential cause right away. But if you are, there could be a chance that you’ve vacuumed up a cigarette but that wasn’t fully snuffed out. If this is the case, you would end up with a still lighted cigarette end in your vacuum bag, and it will start to cause smoldering inside the bag. This would be a possible reason to have a burning smell, much like burnt rubber, coming from your vacuum.
Although some people will discard their cigarettes on the floor and then vacuum them up, we recommend not doing this. Aside from the danger of the cigarette still burning and continuing to burn inside the vacuum, cigarettes are also too large to be vacuumed up in the first place. Even if they are not lit, they will cause blockages.
How to fix
Simply take your vacuum bag out of the vacuum, discard it and replace it with a new one. An added step would be to put your cigarette ends directly into the bin from now on, to avoid this situation arising again. Get yourself, or the smoker in your life, a nice ashtray with smell-blocking capabilities instead.
3. Damaged Vacuum Belt
The ‘vacuum belt’ is a vacuum part that is usually located in the head of your vacuum, and it’s what makes the brush roller spin. It’s most commonly made of rubber and spends its time spinning quickly inside your vacuum. Rubber vacuum belts can wear down and get damaged over time, and a belt at the end of its lifespan could be the cause of a burning smell coming from your vacuum.
There are also types of metal belts: these ones are more expensive to buy and last longer. Both types should be compatible with most vacuum cleaners, so if you do find that your problem is a damaged vacuum belt, you may want to consider buying a sturdier metal belt to replace it with.
How to fix
Depending on how comfortable you are with screwdrivers and taking things apart, you may want to call in a professional or a friend to help you replace your rubber belt. It is a relatively easy job, but there’s no need to do something you’re uncomfortable with. However, if you want to take a swing at fixing the burning smell coming from your vacuum cleaner, it’s simple enough to do.
The belt will be located in the head of the vacuum, close to where the brush roller is. There will most likely be a plastic cover to protect the belt, and it will be secured with screws. If you own a screwdriver, you can use it to open the cover and have a look inside. Make sure the vacuum is unplugged first!
If you notice a stronger burnt rubber smell in this area, that’s a good sign that this is indeed the cause of your problem. Before you try to take the belt out, it’s a good idea to take a good look at how it is positioned.
If it’s dark, grab a torch or your phone light (or a headlamp, so that you can keep your hands free) to have a closer look. The belt will most likely be connected to something at both ends, and at one end should be the rotary brush. If you want to be extra sure that you’ll be able to install a new rubber belt correctly, try taking a picture of the current one before taking it out, so you have something to reference later on.
If your rubber belt is damaged, you’ll probably be able to see damage as well as smell that burnt rubber smell again. Once you’re confident that this is the culprit, you can remove it straight away if you want to measure it or keep it on hand to help you buy a new one.
Alternatively, if you think it will take some time for you to get new metal belts and you’ll need to clean again before then, you can also leave it in place. The burning rubber smell won’t go away, but it also shouldn’t cause any danger or extra damage to the vacuum if you need to use it for a little longer. Just bear in mind that it will break soon, so you do need to make preparations to get a new one.
4. Overworked or Faulty Motor
A faulty motor or a loose connection to the mains could be the cause of the burning rubber smell in your vacuum. If this is the case, you will probably need to take it to a professional. But it might just be that the motor is getting overworked, and will work normally again if you can alleviate what’s stressing it.
How to fix
One way to check if your motor isn’t feeling its usual self is to see if the plug and wire are hot. If it is, the first thing we can do is clean the filters in the vacuum to see if it helps get rid of the burning rubber smell. A blocked filter will obstruct air from getting to the electric motor and will make it harder for it to function.
Some filters cannot be washed by hand, so make sure to check before doing so. If it is washable, simply run it under tap water and remove all of the dust and build-up.
Another reason the vacuum smells could be a full vacuum bag. When you’re cleaning the filters, you may as well put in a new vacuum bag as well.
Once you’ve done all of this, you’ll, unfortunately, have to wait about 24 hours before you can test whether it worked. The filter will need that amount of time to dry. If you were to put the filter back in and turn the vacuum on while wet, the air flow in the vacuum would pick up water particles and could end up taking them to the electric motor. This could cause shortages or even electric shocks, so make sure to wait for it to dry first.
When you are ready to try out the vacuum again, plug it in, turn it on, and try to use it as normal. If you smell the burning smell again, stop. If the vacuum smells okay, carry on for about ten minutes, and then check the plug and wire again to see if they’re still hot.
If they are, you may be having a problem with a faulty motor or a loose connection between the motor and the mains. You’ll need to take your vacuum to an authorized service center to have this looked at. For cheaper vacuum cleaners, it’s often a more viable option to simply replace the whole machine than to pay for repairs. You can get a new vacuum for as little as $30.
If both the burning smell and the heat in the plug have gone, then congratulations: you fixed the issue that made your vacuum smell like smoke!
Can Vacuum Cleaners Catch Fire?
Yes, it is possible for a vacuum cleaner to catch on fire. But it isn’t very likely. There are a lot of things that can make a vacuum’s electric motor start to overheat, but for it to actually catch fire, the vacuum cleaner’s automatic shut-off mechanism would have to fail. If this mechanism is working, the vacuum cleaner will always turn itself off when it gets too hot.
To prevent the motor issue from happening, it’s best to avoid blockages and dirty filters. A debris clog caused by carpet fiber, hair, dust, other objects. Large items can stop the vacuum cleaner from moving freely, and cause the overheated motor issue to happen.
Always be careful when vacuuming your home’s flooring, and make sure to pick up large items yourself during the vacuuming process. If the overheating problem occurs, it most likely will not end in fire, but it could if you are unlucky. This is why routine maintenance of your machine is strongly recommended.
How Long Does Vacuum Cleaners Last on Average?
The lifespan of your vacuum will greatly depend on its brand and your lifestyle. Some brands last longer than others, and some vacuums will get used less than others. However, the average lifespan for a vacuum is said to be between 5 and 8 years.
Related Read: How to Dispose of Vacuum Cleaner?
If you smell burning rubber or any other kind of unpleasant vacuum smell when your vacuum is significantly younger than 5 years old, it would be wise to check for an easy fix before giving up on it.
Living with pets can severely shorten your machine’s lifespan. If you know you’ll be vacuuming frequently, it’s best to invest in a high-quality device from a reputable brand, such as Dyson or Bissell.
We’ll leave you with some final thoughts on the matter. Your vacuum cleaner is a complicated machine with a lot going on, and no one expects you to understand it inside and out. However, if you’re willing to give some self-diagnostics a try, you may be able to save yourself a lot of time, effort, and money.
If you smell a burning odor coming from your vacuum cleaner, remember not to panic. Just turn the vacuum cleaner off and go through the list to see if you can find the problem. Most commonly, you’ll be able to get it fixed by yourself.
We hope this was helpful, and that your vacuum cleaner lives to clean another day!