Heating oil has a very distinct smell. Generally, you shouldn’t smell it in your home. If you do notice a smell it could be a sign of something simple and minor or a sign of something major that needs immediate attention.
Here are some reasons you may be smelling heating oil in your home:
- You had your tank filled recently – You may notice a slight heating oil smell that lingers for a few days after getting your tank filled. That’s nothing to be concerned about, however, if the smell isn’t dissipating on its own, there may have been some oil spilled during the fill or another issue is causing it.
- You just fired up your furnace/boiler for the first time this season – It’s pretty common to smell a burning oil odor when you turn on your heat for the first time. It should clear out quickly though. If it doesn’t, call a service tech.
- You’re Clogged! – The furnace filter may be clogged and need to be replaced. Typically, you need to replace them every 60 to 90 days, but if that doesn’t solve the issue, consider calling a technician in.
- Your furnace isn’t operating efficiently – There may be a problem with your furnace and the oil isn’t fully combusting leaving an oil smell behind. A crack in the oil burner can also allow fumes to escape. Call a technician in to diagnose and fix the issue.
- The tank could be leaking – A leaking tank will certainly give off an oil smell. The tank itself could be the issue or a line from your tank to your furnace might be causing the issue. In either case, inspect the area for any oil stains. If a line needs to be fixed or something simply came loose, you may be able to repair it. If the tank is leaking, it may need to be replaced. Here are some tips on choosing a new tank.
Whether it’s a small fix or a big one, you should know that exposure to heating oil fumes isn’t as dangerous as exposure to gas. While it’s still moderately toxic to inhale for long periods of time, you don’t have to worry about an explosion occurring. You may experience dizziness, nausea, headaches, eye, nose, and throat irritation. They should be temporary with no long-term effects.
If there is a small spill, you may be able to clean the area yourself.
- Absorb the oil with cat litter, sawdust, or another absorbent material. Once the litter or sawdust has become saturated with the oil put it into heavy-duty garbage bags for disposal.
- Remove damaged materials. An oil spill will usually damage any porous materials in the area that soak up oil, such as flooring, drywall, furniture, and more. You may be able to clean some items that get oil on them but be sure to safely dispose of anything you can’t salvage.
- Clean the affected surface with hot water and soap. Repeat as needed.
- Get rid of the smell by sprinkling hard surface areas with baking soda. If it soaked into the carpet or soft surfaces, try using carpet shampoo. Vinegar may also help mitigate the smell by placing small dishes around the area. Replace them daily until gone.
If you’re still dealing with ongoing odors, you should contact a professional to diagnose the situation, since it is likely you need to address an issue with your tank or HVAC unit.