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My Vacuum Smells Like Burning: What Should I Do?

From time to time, vacuum cleaners may produce awkward smells, sometimes accompanied by even more awkward noises.

Here are some of the most common causes why vacuum cleaners may smell like burning, along with some tips and recommendations on how to solve them.

Published: January 24, 2023.

smoke 1

Safety First

Before we dive more into why vacuum cleaners may smell like burning, one very important note:

If your vacuum starts to smell like burning during vacuuming or when being turned On, immediately turn your vacuum Off and unplug the power cord from the power outlet.

It may sound simple, but when under stress, anything may happen...

Also, when working with your vacuum, especially when doing maintenance tasks, always act according to the instructions in the Owner's Guide/manual that came with the unit.

Vacuum Cleaners - What Can Cause Burning Smell?

Vacuum cleaners are powered by electricity (mains power or onboard batteries) and feature fast-spinning parts like motors, brushrolls, and similar.

Thus, various blockages, clogs, or piles of dirt may cause overheating and overstressing of these parts that may overheat quickly and start to smell burnt or even start to smoke.

However, one must also be aware that vacuumed dirt may also be the cause of a burning smell or even smoke.

Damaged, Broken, or Incorrectly Placed Vacuum Belt

The vacuum belt transfers energy from the electric motor or air turbine to the brushroll - to function properly, the vacuum belt must be set and tensioned properly.

Also, over time, vacuum belts wear out and must be replaced periodically.

vacuum belt

Vacuum belts are made of rubber or rubber-like material, and when they get damaged or broken, they may get stuck and overheat due to the extra friction, which causes an unpleasant burning rubber smell and even a cloud of smoke in more extreme situations.

How To Solve It

If You notice issues with the vacuum belt, check if it is placed or tensioned properly and if it is damaged or not.

If it must be replaced, replace it using the OEM part according to the procedures provided in the vacuum's Owner's Guide.

Blocked Brushroll

Fast-spinning brushrolls are great aid when vacuuming carpets - they easily pull out deeply embedded pet and human hair, lint, and fibers, which is great in terms of cleaning.

On the other hand, tangled hair, lint, and fibers may block the brushrolls and stop them from spinning.

brushroll tangled hair

Blocked brushrolls can cause brushrolls' motors (electric or air driven) to overheat and can even damage the vacuum belts.

How To Solve It

If You notice that the brushroll is not spinning or that it is not spinning as it should, turn Off the vacuum cleaner, unplug it from the wall and remove tangled hair from the brushroll as recommended by the vacuum manufacturer in the Owner's Guide.

Motor Overheating

Suction motors are cooled using sucked air, and if the airflow is blocked, cooling is decreased.

Most modern vacuum cleaners feature temperature protection systems that power off suction motors when their internal temperature increases, but this may not prevent burning smells from appearing every time.

The most common causes of motor overheating are:

  • clogged wands and hoses,
  • clogged air filters,
  • overfilled dirt bins,
  • overfilled vacuum bags,
  • motor fault.

Clogged Wands And Hoses

Over time the dirt may accumulate in the vacuum wand, hose, and other air pathways, causing clogs to form and block the air from flowing normally.

clogged wand

Decreased air flow, decreases cooling effect causing the motor to overheat. Also, units with cyclonic air filtration may experience decreased air filtration, causing air filters to get clogged, decreasing the cooling effect even more.

How To Solve It

Turn Off the vacuum, unplug it from the wall socket, disassemble the wand, hose, and other parts and clean them of clogs and other dirt.

If the motor was stopped by the thermal protection system, let it cool down for at least 30-60 minutes.

Clogged Air Filters

Most vacuum cleaners feature at least two air filters, pre-motor, and post-motor exhaust air filters.

miele activeairclean 50 air filter

The task of the pre-motor air filter is to capture all the particles that may damage the suction motor, while the task of the exhaust air filter is to capture all remaining particles.

If any of these air filters get clogged, their ability to filter air is decreased - the pressure drop required for the same airflow is increased, causing the suction motor to overheat.

How To Solve It

If You suspect that air filters are clogged, take them out and tap a few times onto the inner side of the trashcan - this will cause tiny particles (but not all, of course) that block the airflow to fall out.

If allowed by the manufacturer, wash the air filters and, after drying, assemble the air filters in the vacuum cleaner.

Sometimes air filters get so dirty that they must be replaced - since air filtration heavily depends on the quality of air filters, always replace them with OEM air filters.

Note: air filters must be maintained regularly. However, when vacuuming dirt that contains very fine particles, air filters must be cleaned/washed/replaced immediately.

Also, overfilled dirt bins or damaged vacuum bags can cause the air filters to get clogged, so when checking the air filters, always check the dirt bins/vacuum bags.

Overfilled Dirt Bins

Bagless vacuums store vacuumed dirt in the dirt/dust bin/cup that often features a so-called "Max Fill Line" - when the dirt bin is filled up to the "Max Fill Line," it must be emptied, or it can interfere with cyclonic air filtration system (if present), can block the airflow toward the pre-motor air filter, or it can directly block the pre-motor air filter.

overfilled dirt bin

How To Solve It

Empty the dirt bin, simple as that.

Almost all modern bagless vacuums come with transparent dirt bins, allowing the users to see the amount and type (anybody missing a sock or something similar?) of vacuumed dirt, helping the users to empty the dirt bin on time.

Personally, empty the dirt bin after each cleaning task.

Overfilled Vacuum Bags

Bagged vacuum cleaners store the vacuumed dirt in the vacuum bags, which also act as an additional air filtration layer.

When the vacuum bags are overfilled, the normal airflow through the airbags is disrupted, causing the suction motor to overheat.

miele type gn vacuum bag

How To Solve It

If You have a reusable vacuum bag, empty it and wash/clean it as recommended by the manufacturer. After drying, place it back into the vacuum.

Note: even reusable vacuum bags can get so dirty that they must be replaced with new ones - again, always go for OEM vacuum bags since they ensure proper air filtration.

If You have a disposable vacuum bag, replace it with a new one.

Hint: whenever replacing or emptying the vacuum bag, always check the external condition of the vacuum bag - if there is a hole or holes, they may cause the pre-motor air filter to get clogged as well.

Also, when vacuuming very fine dirt, the vacuum bag can get clogged even when not being overfilled with the dirt.

Motor Fault

Unfortunately, the suction (and brushroll motor, if present) motor can fail even when the motor cooling is maintained all the time.

When that happens, there isn't much the user can do - turn Off the vacuum cleaner, unplug it from the wall, let it cool down for 30-60 minutes and try once again to start the vacuum cleaner. If it doesn't start, the motor has probably failed.

How To Solve It

When the motor fails, the user should contact the manufacturer and either claim the warranty or send the vacuum for more thorough diagnostics.

If the motor has failed after the warranty period, check how much will repair cost - sometimes the repair isn't economically justified, and the user should opt for a new vacuum cleaner.

Burning Dirt

Most residential vacuums are not designed for vacuuming hot ashes, cigarette butts, and similar dirt - if they get vacuumed, they can cause internal fire, aided by plenty of air through the vacuum.

How To Solve It

Again, turn Off the vacuum and unplug it from the wall - this should prevent the dirt from burning further since the air (containing oxygen) is prevented from entering the vacuum cleaner.

If a fire breaks out of the unit, try to put it down using a fire extinguisher or any suitable means. Also, contact the emergency center immediately and act according to their instructions.

Damaged Power Cord

 Corded vacuums use power cords to transfer electric energy from the wall outlets to the suction motor.

Power cords can get damaged in many ways - people step on them, sharp objects may fall down on them, kids may play with them, pets and pests can chew them, etc.

damaged power cord

Note: exposed strands of wires can be rather dangerous since AC electricity runs on 110/220 volts, which can be deadly. In short, don't touch them.

How To Solve It

Replace the power cord with a new one.

Note: If the vacuum is within the warranty, don't bother claiming the warranty since a damaged power cord is not the manufacturing fault. However, the user should not replace the power cord since the warranty may be lost.

Damaged or Faulty Battery or Battery Charger

If You have a cordless unit, the burning odor can be caused by a damaged battery or battery charger.

dyson v15 battery

How To Solve It

  • battery damaged/faulty: remove the battery from the charger or from the vacuum cleaner and don't use it anymore. If it is within the warranty period, claim the warranty. Replace the battery with the new one.
  • battery charger damaged/faulty: Unplug the charger from the wall, and if the battery is in the charger, remove it right away. If the charger is connected to the vacuum cleaner directly, unplug it from the vacuum as well. If the charger is within the warranty period, claim your warranty. Replace the battery charger with the new one.

Few Final Words

From time to time, vacuum cleaners may emit a burning smell, it simply happens. And when that happens, don't panic - turn off your vacuum cleaner and unplug it from the wall.

If it is a cordless vacuum and the battery is removable, remove it from the vacuum.

In most situations, the reason is motor overheating due to decreased airflow caused by dirty or blocked air filters, full dirt bin/vacuum bag, or clogged wand or hose - all these issues can be solved rather easily by the user, just check the Owner's Guide/manual.

And if unsure, always contact the manufacturer's support - don't forget, You are their customer, and they want to keep You as such ...

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