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Why Does My Vacuum Cleaner Smell Burnt? [4 Things to Check]

Written by Kaylee Barber |

why does my vacuum smell burnt

Does your vacuum smell like burning when you switch it on? Here are four of the most common causes of a burning smell, along with tips for fixing them.

If there’s a burning smell coming from your vacuum cleaner, the first thing you should do is unplug it from the power supply (or switch it off if it’s a cordless vacuum.) Burning smells are a sign of a fault or problem with your vacuum, so it may not be safe to use until the issue has been fixed.

Once you’ve switched off your vacuum, here are four potential causes of the burning smell for you to check.

Important: If you’re not sure what’s causing your vacuum’s burning smell, then it’s best to take the machine to a professional repairer. Don’t attempt to fix any electronics on your vacuum unless you are qualified to do so.

1. Damaged or Broken Vacuum Belt

A burnt rubber smell is often caused by a damaged drive belt. These belts are only found on upright vacuums with a rotating brush bar, so you can skip this step if your vacuum’s floorhead doesn’t have a brush.

Vacuum belts turn the rotating brush bar in the floorhead, but can become stretched or torn over time. When damaged, they may overheat due to extra friction, leading to an unpleasant burning rubber odour.

You’ll need to install a new vacuum belt to solve the burning smell, as vacuum belts can’t be repaired. Fortunately, a vacuum belt is usually straightforward to replace and cheap to buy.

On a similar note, a blockage to the brush roll or drive belt can cause a burning smell. Check for tangled string, hair, or other debris that might prevent the brush from turning freely.

2. Clogged Hose or Wand

Vacuums usually function with minimal maintenance. However, if a large item become stuck somewhere in the vacuum, or grime clogs it over time, then the motor is forced to work harder.

This can lead to overheating and a burning smell. So, if your vacuum doesn’t smell great and you’re sure the drive belt isn’t the issue, then it’s time to give your vacuum a full check and clean.

Here are some of the most common locations for a clog or blockage:

  • Wand or hose
  • Entrance to the vacuum tubes at the floorhead
  • Entrance to the dust canister on a bagless vacuum cleaner

3. Blocked Filters or Overfilled Bag

Vacuum motors need continuous airflow to remain cool. If the filters are blocked, or the bag/canister is overfilled, the motor may overheat. This can cause a burning smell or even smoke.

Always empty your vacuum before it reaches maximum capacity. This ensures it’s running effectively and reduces the chance of a burning smell.

You should also check the manual to find out if your filters are washable. If they are, then you’ll be able to run them under cold water to remove dirt and grime (make sure they dry for at least 24 hours before re-inserting them though!) If the filters aren’t washable, you may need to buy new ones.

Maintaining Your Vacuum Cleaner

We recommend emptying bagless vacuums after each cleaning session. While many cyclonic vacuums don’t lose suction as the canister fills up, emptying the vacuum prevents bacteria from growing in the collected debris. Washable filters should be cleaned regularly.

We also recommend a full vacuum clean at least once per year, even if your vacuum seems to be functioning properly. This prevents many faults from developing and helps to ensure your vacuum doesn’t lose cleaning performance.

4. Motor Fault or Failure

Finally, a burning smell may be caused by an issue with the vacuum’s motor. This is the most serious fault on a vacuum cleaner and can only be fixed by a professional.

It’s often hard to diagnose a motor fault at home, so you’ll probably need to use a process of elimination. We recommend checking the drive belt, potential clogs, filters, and bags before assuming that the motor is the problem.

If you suspect that it’s a motor issue, contact either your vacuum’s service centre or your local vacuum repair shop. You should also check whether your vacuum is still covered by its warranty, as the manufacturer should repair it for you if it’s under a guarantee.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the Most Common Cause of a Burning Vacuum Smell?

It’s hard to say for sure what the most common cause is, but we think that damage to the drive belt is particularly common. If the burning smells like rubber, then it’s most likely to be the drive belt.

Overfilling, blocked filters, and clogged hoses are also common though. Motor faults are the least common, but also the most costly and difficult to fix.

What Are Some Other Causes of a Bad Smell from a Vacuum?

Burning isn’t the only bad smell that can be emitted from a vacuum cleaner. If your vacuum smells musty or otherwise unpleasant, then there could be a different cause.

Some of the most common causes of a bad smell include grime build-up, mould growing inside the vacuum (often due to dampness,) and pet hair. If your vacuum could benefit from being freshened up, then read our guide to making a vacuum cleaner smell good.

Summary

A burning vacuum smell should never be ignored, as it can indicate a serious (and potentially dangerous) electrical fault. Most causes of a burning smell are simple to resolve, however, by replacing the vacuum belt, fixing any clogs, or checking the filters.

If your vacuum’s motor or electronics are the cause of the burning smell – and not due to overheating caused by an issue elsewhere in the vacuum – then you’ll need to get a professional to repair it.

Do you have any questions about why your vacuum cleaner smells burnt? Please let us know in the comments section below.

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