Ever notice when you turn your baseboard heater on for the first time in winter, it emits a burning smell? This is generally because your heater has collected dust over the summer and that’s the smell of it all burning off. 

Dust particles are always floating in the air and eventually, they rest on the surfaces of your house, including your heaters. A day’s worth of dust on your heater will burn off quite quickly and inconspicuously, however, months of dust will add layer upon layer. Depending on your family size and whether you have pets it will create a blanket of various particles on top of and inside your heater. 

Here on temperate Vancouver Island, we have the luxury of a moderately warm winter, and we really do not need to use our heaters for as long a season as our interior neighbours. As a result our baseboard heaters just sit unused for months. Without the constant heat burning off the daily dust, you will eventually find yourself with a heater full of particles. 

Finally, around October/ November or even December when it’s time to turn the heater on for the first time, you will almost instantly notice that potent burning-dust smell.

Should I Be Worried? Is This a Fire Hazard

Anytime you smell something burning in your heater, it always has the potential to be a fire hazard. If the burning smell happens to occur when you turn it on for the first time after a couple of seasons of being idle, then you can at least narrow the cause of the smell to dust burning off. 

So now we know the cause, but it’s still a hazard and should be dealt with carefully. 

How Do I Fix This?

It’s easy! Clean the dust off of your baseboard heaters after a long period of inactivity. Please note, even after you clean your heater, you may still smell some dust burning off – this is because it’s difficult to remove all the dust yourself. What’s important is that we remove ENOUGH dust to reduce the chance of fire.

Before you turn your heater on

  • Remove the heater cover if it has one,  and check the heater for dust
  • Pick out any large debris you see, If you have long-haired pets you may need to ‘grab and pick’ out the hair with your hands.
  • If you have a vacuum: use the small brush attachment to vacuum out all the dust and debris you can.
  • If you do not have a vacuum: take a lint-free or microfiber cloth and wipe the inside of the heater, if there is a lot of dust, do not push the dust further – instead scoop the dust with the cloth
  • Return the heater cover and dust the top of the heater either with the vacuum or with a cloth. 
  • Make sure there is nothing touching the heater ie: furniture, curtains, blankets etc. 

After you are done cleaning the heater, there may still be some dust on it, some dust is fine. Go ahead and turn it on. 

Once the heater is on, you may smell that small amount of dust burning off, it’s okay if it’s a little dust. Stay in the room and monitor it for 15 minutes. Make sure the smell does not get worse. 

My Heater Still Smells!

Is your heater cleaned and has all the dust burnt off, and you still smell something burning when you turn it on? There could be a problem with the heater itself, make sure you turn it off and consult with your local HVAC expert. 


A burning smell can be very unpleasant and scary! We hope this post helps guide you to reduce that annual heater smell. If you are ever unsure about a burning smell,  remember to turn off the appliance or device that is causing the smell and call your local fire department, electrician, or HVAC (depending on what sort of appliance is smelling!)

Baseboard heaters are nice, but have you tried in-floor/ radiant heating yet? Radiant heating doesn’t just keep your feet warm, it heats up your whole house, it’s super efficient, and it does not emit that dust burning smell!

At CBS Electric, we are experts in radiant-heating installation. Call us today to get started

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