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Why Does My Outlet Smell Like Fish?


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Often misdiagnosed as plumbing, HVAC, or pest problems, fishy odors are a common indication of electrical problems in an outlet, circuit breaker, or electrical wiring. The odors can be hard to track down and may come and go as the current draw on the outlet increases or decreases with use. It is important to determine which outlet is causing the problem however, as it could lead to a fire is the outlet is not repaired quickly.

What Causes the Fishy Smell?

When a circuit overheats, the plastics and heat-resistant chemicals used in outlets, circuit breakers, or wiring insulation may emit a fishy or urine-like smell. The odor can be carried throughout the house by the HVAC system, and it may intensify or fade with changing temperatures and circuit usage. This can make it difficult to identify which room the smell is coming from, or which outlet.

The odor can be caused by any number of electrical problems, including:

  • Overloaded circuits
  • Undersized wiring
  • Undersized circuit breakers
  • Loose plugs in outlets
  • Damaged outlets that are arcing or sparking
  • Frayed or damaged electrical insulation
  • Short circuits

Usually, the fish smell is an early indicator of a serious electrical problem that could lead to a fire. That is why it is important to have your electrical system professionally inspected when you notice a fishy, urine-like, or burnt plastic smell near any outlets or electrical devices.

The Dangers of Misidentification

For people who are unfamiliar with the specific odor or the cause of the problem, it can be easy to misidentify the fish smell as rotting food, leaking sewer gases, algae growth in the HVAC system, or a dead rodent or bird somewhere in the home. These problems are all relatively minor and do not require immediate attention. The fish-like odor of an electrical problem is significantly different from the odors produced by these conditions, and it requires immediate action to avoid a potentially dangerous fire.

How an Electrician Can Help

An electrician can find the cause of the fish odor quickly and replace the affected components. In many cases, only the outlet will need to be replaced, usually due to loose or broken contacts inside, loose wires, or physical damage. In other cases, the damage may be more extensive, requiring replacement or repair of wiring, new breakers, or upgraded components to achieve higher current ratings.

Electrical Repairs in Maryland

When you notice fish, urine, or burning plastic smells in your Maryland home, call our team at GAC Services. Our licensed, experienced electricians will inspect your electrical system and replace any components necessary to repair the problem and make your home safe again. We serve homeowners throughout Montgomery, Frederick, and Howard counties in Maryland, and with nearly 50 years of professional experience, you can count on us for all your electrical, heating, and air conditioning needs.

Call us today at 301-926-3253 or contact us online for electrical service and repairs in Maryland!

Need Service? Schedule a service with us today!

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