Toaster Smells Like Burning Plastic – Everything You Need To Know

Toasted bread in the morning should be a pleasant smell that wakes the entire family, but it can be a horrible way to start the day if your toaster smells like burning plastic. Understanding why your toaster smells this way and knowing what to do about it can turn a horrible breakfast experience back into the enjoyable one that begins the day right.  

If your toaster is new, it likely smells like burning plastic due to the manufacturing process and storage. The smell will burn off after a few uses; however, if your toaster is older or regularly used, this smell indicates possible damage or debris, and the toaster needs to be repaired or replaced.

In this article, I am going to talk about the reasons a toaster may smell like burning, what causes it and how to prevent it.

Why Do New Toasters Smell Like Burning Plastic?

While this smell can be unsettling, it is not unexpected, especially with new units. 

The Manufacturing Process

Oster, a trusted brand for small appliances, explains that the odor is most often due to the manufacturing process, where toasters are coated with chemicals to protect the appliance’s surface and coils. Fortunately, it does not last long. 

Chemicals like aluminum and ceramic are toxic in large quantities. However, the FDA has approved their use in small quantities in appliances. 

So, although they are safe, they may still emit the smell of burning plastic when first heated. Therefore, this smell is expected and disappears after a few uses. 

You should preheat the new elements before actual use by pressing the bread lever down until it locks and then letting the toaster run through a cycle or two before inserting bread. Alternatively, you could toast two or three slices of bread and then discard the toast. 

This burning plastic smell with new toasters is not harmful, but few people enjoy toast immediately following the scent because taste and smell are closely related.

Wiring

Another culprit may be the safety insulation that surrounds the cavity of your toaster oven. Once exposed to heat, it will emit a plastic smell that can last as long as 20 minutes. This smell will go away after one or two uses.

Manufacturer Packaging

Manufacturers package their goods both for aesthetics and to keep the unit safe during transit and shelf life. 

Although it’s rare, sometimes this packaging can fall inside the toaster. This scenario is the only time the smell can be a great concern with new units because this packaging can become a fire hazard if not removed.

Why Does My “Not New” Toaster Smell Like Burning Plastic?

If the unit is not new, there is a more significant cause for concern. Although the smell cannot be ignored, when a regularly used toaster emits the burning plastic smell, there’s still the potential for an easy fix. 

Has the Toaster Been Stored?

This smell may still be no cause for alarm because just as when the toaster was new, dust may have settled on the coils, and after it burns off, the smell will dissipate. 

Other than dust, debris may have fallen into the toaster, or the wiring may have come loose, causing the smell. These two scenarios must be fixed to avoid a potential fire.

Cleaning Agents

Toasters get grimy over time with accumulated dust and bread crumbs. Many cooks like to clean their toasters with chemicals, and when they do, the initial burning plastic smell may return. As long as the smell goes away after the first or second use, the unit should be fine. 

You should avoid chemical agents while cleaning your toaster weekly; instead, just use a warm washcloth. However, if heavy cleaning is necessary, you can still prevent the burning plastic smell using chemical-free cleaners like those found at Branch Basics. 

Alternatively, you could make a safe and effective non-chemical cleaner by following the steps below:

  1. Mix 1/2 cup (236.59 ml) of hot water and 2 tbsp (29.57 ml) of white vinegar. 
  2. Spray this mixture onto the toaster or apply it with a warm washcloth and the toaster should be easy to clean.

Regular Cleaning

Whether you use chemical cleaners or natural cleaning products, it‘s clear that the easiest way to keep the toaster in good working condition, and avoiding the smell, is to give the toaster a weekly cleaning using one of the methods listed above. 

A washcloth and warm water should be all you need if the unit is cleaned regularly. After cleaning, leave the crumb tray open so the appliance has more access to air for drying.

Deep Cleaning Without Chemicals

If it has been a while since you last cleaned your toaster, deep cleaning without chemicals is a suitable choice. You should use a soft, clean brush, like a toothbrush, a sponge, mild soap, or white vinegar. 

Follow the steps below on how to clean your toaster without chemicals:

  1. Unplug the toaster and place it near your sink. Rather than having chemicals remove the stubborn, stuck-on crumbs, use the toothbrush to brush crumbs away from the internal metal parts gently.
  2. Remove the crumb tray and clean it.
  3. Shake the toaster over your sink or trash can to remove the crumbs that the brush dislodged.
  4. Wash off the outside of the toaster with a sponge or washcloth. 

If cleaning the toaster does not remove the burning plastic smell, you need to look more into the cause.

Check if the Toaster Needs Repairs 

Again, if the toaster is new, there really is no cause for alarm. However, if the smell lingers with a new toaster, or if the toaster is regularly used but suddenly develops the burning plastic smell, it may need repair. 

Fortunately, toasters are relatively simple appliances. eReplaceParts.com provides a parts list and a tutorial for the most common issues. We have briefly summarized some of those common issues below. 

After unplugging the unit, check the following components:

  • Elements – crumbs may have dropped on the heating element. In this case, simply unscrew and lift the top of the toaster, then unscrew and bend the wires away from the element. Remove the food particles and put the parts and wires back in place.
  • Racks – If you’re not one to give your toaster a regular cleaning, the food build-up may be too much to remove, so it is better to replace the rack.
  • Pans – If you don’t regularly clean your toaster, check the crumb tray. If the build-up is too significant to clean, order a new part.
  • Control Boards – The repair is easier than it sounds but may intimidate some, so operate within your comfort zone. If you suspect the control board is faulty, turn the toaster upside down and remove the bottom. Turn it back over and remove the top. You’ll detach the cable connector, unscrew the screws, and then replace the board before reassembling the toaster.