SMO Energy

There are some smells you do want in your home, such as the aroma of freshly baked cookies or the scent of a burning candle, and there are some smells most people typically do not want in their homes, like the distinct odor of gasoline or the smell of rotten eggs. In some cases, an unpleasant odor can serve as a warning sign that something is up or needs attention. A musty odor, for example, can often indicate mold.

If you think you are smelling oil, it is a good idea to have a certified and trained technician from SMO Energy visit your home and check out the situation as soon as possible. While you might not be in immediate danger, the scent of oil can indicate that your heating system needs repair.

What Does Oil Smell Like?

Your home’s furnace and oil tank might produce a range of smells at different times. Some are not anything to worry about, while others can point to a leak or another issue with the functioning of your heating system. Knowing what to keep a nose out for will help you decide the next steps to take.

What Causes an Oil Smell?

If an oil furnace smells like oil, it is possible that everything is still functioning properly. It could also mean your tank needs attention. Several things can make your home smell like oil:

  • The system has not been used for a while: Just as you might smell burning dust when turning your furnace back on for the first time, you might notice a slight scent of oil when you use your furnace again at the start of the season. If the smell fades fast, it is usually not a problem. 
  • The filter is clogged: In addition to making your system work less efficiently, a clogged filter can also can cause the system to produce a detectable oil smell. Replacing the filter is often enough to fix the issue.
  • There is a leak in the oil tank: If the oil tank has a leak and oil is seeping out, you will be able to smell it. The location of the tank and the severity of the leak can influence the strength of the smell. If the tank is indoors, you might notice a stronger smell compared to if the tank is situated outside.
  • The oil tank was recently refilled: It is common to notice a slight smell after your tank has been filled up. The smell could be from a small amount of oil that spilled out during the refill, or it could just be some errant fumes escaping before the lid was put back on.
  • Your heating system is malfunctioning: The smell of oil can be a sign that something is wrong with your furnace. It could be that the system is not fully combusting the fuel or that there is a crack in the oil burner. In any case, having a trained technician inspect your system is a good idea.

Why Do I Smell Oil When My Furnace Comes On?

If your oil furnace smells like oil when you switch it on for the first time after a long, hot summer, you are most likely in the clear. That is a normal part of reengaging your heating system after it has been out of action for months. The smell should fade quickly as your furnace burns off any residue.

If you smell oil every time the furnace kicks in during a normal day’s cycle, you could have a clogged burner, an oil spill in the blower cabinet, a crack in the heat exchange or an ignition delay. An HVAC servicer specializing in oil furnaces can diagnose and remedy the issue for you. They may also recommend replacing it with a more efficient model to lower energy costs.


The Oil Boiler Smells of Oil — Why?

While furnaces heat air to warm your home, boilers heat water. Despite their differences, they are still powered by the same fuel, so they share some of the tell-tale smells of the furnace. If you have recently had the tank filled or turned it on after letting it sit idle for a long time, it is normal to smell a faint scent of it in the room for a day or two.

If you detect an oil smell in house sections far away from your furnace, if you smell the odor for longer than a day or two or if it is strong, there may be a more serious issue like a leak, a malfunction or a spill. In this case, a professional should inspect your boiler and possibly replace some parts. The Department of Energy recommends you replace your old boiler to reduce heating and maintenance costs, so consider an upgrade instead of patching up aging components over several years.

Is an Oil Smell in the House Dangerous?

The smell of oil at home does not necessarily mean you and your family are at risk of serious harm. Heating oil is less dangerous to people compared to other commonly used petroleum products, such as gasoline. If you smell oil at home, you do not necessarily need to evacuate immediately. However, if you notice signs of irritation from the oil smell, such as dizziness, nausea or a headache, you should leave the area. 

Turn off the system and open up windows and doors to increase ventilation. Call SMO Energy to have a technician come out to investigate your heating system and oil tank. It is also a good idea to call 911 and have someone from the local fire department check out the situation.

How to Detect an Oil Tank Leak

Although the smell of oil can be a sign of a leak in your oil tank, it is not the only way to detect a leak. There are a few other signs to keep an eye out for as well. For example, if your tank is located outdoors, you might notice that any grass or vegetation around it looks dry or dead. If the tank is indoors, you might see a dark area on the floor underneath the leak. Another sign of a leak is if your home starts needing heating fuel refills more frequently, even if your habits have not changed and the weather has been similar to years past. If you suspect leaking oil, contact a technician immediately.

How Do You Get Rid of an Oil Smell in the House?

The first thing to do if you want to get rid of the smell of oil in the home is to find the source of the problem. Once that is corrected, the scent might dissipate on its own. Opening windows increases ventilation and can help disperse the smell. If you can trace the smell to a leak inside your home, your tank and system need immediate attention. Call a technician to have someone come and inspect your tank.

Once issues with your oil tank and heating system have been resolved, you might want to deep clean your home. Here are some cleaning methods that can get rid of heating oil smells in your home:

  • Throw out anything porous that got too saturated by the oil.
  • Remove any spilled oil by absorbing it using cat litter, paper towels or sawdust.
  •  Scrub the surface of the spill with hot, soapy water — repeat until you have gotten all the oil off.
  • Add some baking soda or powdered laundry detergent to the affected area.
  • Consider buying an air purifier to help ventilate the air better.
  • Consult professional indoor air quality specialists for more expert advice.

What Are the Risks of an Oil Leak?

Natural gas has a flammability range between 5% and 15%, which means it can combust when there is more than 5% gas in a gas-air mixture and less than 15% gas in the mixture. Propane has a similar flammability range. Since it does not take much gas in the air to cause combustion, a gas leak is usually a greater immediate cause for concern compared to an oil leak.

That said, an oil leak is still a cause for concern. Leaking oil can cause damage to the environment as well as to property. There are also some health risks associated with prolonged exposure to oil, such as damage to the kidneys or liver. Usually, the exposure to oil needs to be ongoing and undetected for health issues to develop. If you do suspect that your oil tank is leaking, the sooner the tank is replaced, the better.

What to Do If a Heating System Has an Oil Leak

If your oil tank is leaking, the best option is to replace the tank with a new one. There are also steps to take to contain the spilled oil, especially if the tank is outside. In Maryland, you should call 911, your oil provider and the Department of the Environment to report the spill. If there is a local environmental agency in your county, you should also contact them to let them know about the spill. 

The majority of homeowner insurance policies do not cover heating system leaks. Because of this, it is highly recommended to proactively replace older or failing oil tanks. 

Can You Repair a Leaking Oil Tank?

Oil tanks typically last up to 15 years, after which they should be replaced. If your oil tank needs repairs, you should have a new one installed. You should replace your oil tank if it shows signs of rust, water damage, prior leakage, leaning or leg breakage.

SMO Energy Can Replace Your Oil Tank

If you are concerned about the smell of oil in or around your home or have noticed other signs of a leak in your oil tank, the sooner you take action, the better. The process of cleaning and containing an oil spill in Maryland can be long and involved, not to mention expensive. 

Along with HVAC repairs and prompt heating and propane delivery, SMO Energy offers oil tank replacement to our clients in Southern Maryland. Contact us today to learn more about replacing your oil tank and to schedule a consultation with a certified and trained technician.