What is that strange acrid smell whle showering
July 24, 2009 7:58 AM   Subscribe

My shower (an in-stall water heater) sometimes smells like something rubber is burning. It's a strong acrid smell that I only notice while in the shower and usually only after a sweaty workout. There is no sign of smoke like you would expect with burning rubber. Is this just some sort of weird sweat and treated water chemical reaction? Anybody heard of something like this?
posted by srboisvert to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Could it be coincidental with time-of-day? We had some burning sulfer smell in our water a few years ago that turned out to be related to construction a few blocks away.
posted by dws at 8:28 AM on July 24, 2009

If your shower is electric, I would think it more likely that one of the connections in your shower or shower switch is burning out. Open the shower and the switch up and check them out if you know how to switch off the 'leccy and are competent to do so. Otherwise, have someone check them out for you.
posted by Jakey at 8:29 AM on July 24, 2009

I don't know enough about in-stall water heaters to say anything more specific than "something insulated or plastic is getting hot" as a likely cause of the smell. In a general sense, with brand-new equipment, that's sometimes normal, but most of the time it isn't good.

As to why you usually only notice it after a sweaty workout, I suspect that such workouts open up your sinuses or nasal passages and allow you to smell things better. I have noticed this same effect myself after exactly those kind of workouts. The smell is probably there all the time.
posted by FishBike at 8:37 AM on July 24, 2009

You're probably the one that's funky smelling. You might not notice it until you get air going around your skin. "Acrid" is a normal range of body odor. Have a good friend sniff you pre-shower.
posted by fontophilic at 9:18 AM on July 24, 2009

I used to notice something similar after a good, long run.

Could it be this: http://www.runnersworld.co.uk/news/article.asp?UAN=2029?

Google "ammonia exercise smell shower" and you'll realize you're not alone.
posted by not.so.hip at 9:25 AM on July 24, 2009

It could be Hydrogen Sulfide from bacteria in the water -- especially if you have something like lawn sprinklers that don't have an anti-backflow valve or as dws mentioned construction that might affect the water supply.
If you primarily notice it when the water hasn't been used for a period of time, e.g. morning, after getting home from work, etc, then that is what I would suspect.
posted by crenquis at 10:47 AM on July 24, 2009

Do you always have the light on? Some older plastic light fittings stink when they get hot and wet.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:33 PM on July 24, 2009

Response by poster: There are no sprinklers but the plumbing is pretty primitive (England). There is also construction of some sort going on and I do know that the water supply is occasionally treated when bacteria is getting out hand (though I wouldn't have thought there was enough sun recently for that to be the case)

I originally thought it was something in the guts of the shower heater but the thing is the smell goes away for extended periods of time (so does my will to exercise and i am not sure if there is a 1 to 1 correspondence).

The smell is most noticeable after cycling so it could be to do with water, sweat and helmet funk.
posted by srboisvert at 1:48 PM on July 24, 2009

Can you borrow a friend's shower to see if the smell follows you there?
posted by dws at 6:28 PM on July 24, 2009

Response by poster: It was our own sweat. Cycle Helmet funk basically. Gross.
posted by srboisvert at 5:22 AM on September 11, 2009

Best answer: Turns out I was wrong.

It was wires melting inside the shower unit. Replaced yesterday.

The trick was that it needed to heat up to melt the wires and just one shower wasn't enough to do it. So when my wife and I cycled and then showered one after another it would smell. Otherwise on our normal showering schedule everything would seem fine.

Then my parents came to visit and 4 showers tipped the scale and the wires really melted and the shower unit died.
posted by srboisvert at 5:12 PM on October 7, 2009

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