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Bad smell from heating element in my apartment, 2 other rooms don't have it.

Hello everyone - last year I made my first posts in this forum due to loud banging in my heating pipes. Unforunately, that issue remains... but the other issue which is back is very foul smelling heat in one of the rooms.

The heating element is fairly new, I thought maybe it could be "off-gassing" but I've ran the heat for 48+ hours and it still smells as bad as ever. I also ran it last year for several days, but again, still bad smell.

I cleaned the heating element by hand last night, cleaning off what looked like some grey gunk, cleaning dust and dirt from the coils, and wiping down the whole thing. But still, it stinks.

It smells like a combination of dust and crayons and oil, I can't quite explain the smell. But it also gives me a headache.

The room is my 3 month old son's room, and I don't know what kind of fumes he would be breathing in if I leave this stinky heat on.

after I cleaned the element, I smelled the different areas of it closely. The coil area smelled like what you would expect, smelled like heat, no problem. But the metal part before the coils, the thick blue area in the photo (I'll mark it) smells bad, like chemicals.

Could it be the dried substance on it? Could it be something else? I don't know what to do. The building management hired 2 different plumbers to visit multiple times last year and I think they're tired of me.



  • GrallertGrallert Posts: 218Member
    I'd have to say the smell is from the pipe dope and thread tape used. The smell you describe sounds to me like new work, or newish work. Cleaning with soap and water is about as good as you can do I suspect. The smell really should dissipate over time. How mush time is hard to predict.
  • KC_JonesKC_Jones Posts: 3,514Member
    All that grey stuff appears to be pipe dope. While most of us will add a touch as a thread lubricant on a union (the joint pictured) no way should that much have been put there.

    Another indicator of the competency of the people coming into your place.

    How recently was that convector painted? It doesn't look new to me, but perhaps recycled and repainted. The paint could be off gassing, but that is hard to imagine after that time period.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • coophammercoophammer Posts: 39Member
    @Grallert does that meant to fix this properly i need to take it all apart and clean? or just cleaning externally could be enough? The tape is obviously inside the thread as well as out, for example.
  • coophammercoophammer Posts: 39Member
    @KC_Jones i dont know when the convector was painted. But as I wrote, the off-gassing, or stink, only occurs when the unit is turned on, and mostly only occurs on the far right side. This is why the idea that it is the tape or dope might make sense, as its located there.

    Any clue what that dried stuff is on the far right? I tried chipping at it but couldn't get it off ... thinking maybe it's some kind of strong glue or cement and I wonder if that too could be causing the awful smell.

    I'm worried about the fumes for my child.
  • There is only a limited amount of residual solvents in both paints a pipe dope. Steam only reaches 215*F or so no possibility of pyrolysis (thermal decomposition) of the paint, glue, dope, etc at that temp, so you are just getting bake-off of original solvent residual and while annoying is not a health hazard and will disappear over the next few days to weeks.
  • coophammercoophammer Posts: 39Member
    edited November 2017
    Update: What is this rubbery tape?
    Could this be the problem? This strong-smelling thread tape gets hot and stinks up the room? It could be weeks before that kind of smell dissipates.
    And if it is the culprit, what could my super use instead, that doesn't stink? Because using nothing would make the threads impossible to open in the future

  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Posts: 4,566Member
    edited November 2017
    I would get a dental pick with a right angle end, (very sharp) and cut around where the pipe goes into the fitting. Angle up into the joint and scratch all the way around the nipple.

    Then a small steel brush, the size of a toothbrush, will remove most of that thread sealant tape. It is wrapped around pipe threads before assembly. Any extra showing is not needed as it has served its purpose inside the fitting.

    Some of the economy import "Teflon" type tapes are know for outgassing. Apparently a little goes a long way.

    Some friendly liquid cleaner or even water may loosen it also.
  • GrallertGrallert Posts: 218Member
    Start by picking off and out all that stuff. I use a wire brush. It'll go away soon, I know that's no real comfort but it will. That stuff you picked off is some form of Teflon tape.
  • FredFred Posts: 6,598Member
    If my memory serves me right, this is a one pipe system and we advised you the banging is because water is pooled in those convectors. From this picture, that convector is still pitched the wrong way for the condensate to run back into that steam supply pipe and back to the boiler. If that's the case, you will still have the hammer/banging.
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Posts: 4,566Member
    Just to test Fred's memory could you post pictures of the other end of the heater?
  • MilanDMilanD Posts: 1,107Member
    I just responded as to banging on your other thread.

    Once you remove all the excess teflon tape as described above, if it doesn't get the smell down, get a good NEW qart of no-voc acrylic-based paint and paint over the threads to encapsulate the threads...
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Posts: 4,566Member
    OK, Fred, I owe you some of my senior are right it is a one pipe system.

    Coophammer, you may belay the request for that picture. I went to your other post and see only the one pipe.

    However, your recent picture show you new element sloped the wrong way. Should give hammer or no heat as the air will not get to the vent.

    One other point could be that valve might be small internally for one pipe steam. Not enough room for water and steam to meet each other without noise.
    There is a U- tube video about what economy valve to not use, was it done by Gordo??
  • FredFred Posts: 6,598Member
    @JUGHNE , Not bad for an old man, huh? :)
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Posts: 4,566Member
    But you probably have 2 computer screens and follow both threads at the same time. :)

    I actually do that, read text on one and look at pictures on another. Sometimes the pictures are back a page or two.
    It really means that I forgot what I saw 60 seconds after looking. :'(

    Seriously, it would be good if both posts were under the same thread. This happens occasionally.
  • FredFred Posts: 6,598Member
    @JUGHNE , I don't but I wouldn't tell, now, if I did. LOL
  • coophammercoophammer Posts: 39Member
    I will use a swiss army knife and a wire brush and rub off all of this stinky tape. I hope it solves it.
    If I paint over the connecting pieces (where the tape was) won't that make it near impossible/highly annoying to take apart one day? Or will a hard enough twist break the paint, and the super won't want to kill me?
  • coophammercoophammer Posts: 39Member
    i also want to ask - in theory if i can remove all this nasty smelling tape from the outside, would that get the job done, if there was tape somewhere in the thread of the pipe itself, would that still make a stink? or do you think that since it's not exposed the same way, it would not?
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Posts: 4,566Member
    The tape/sealant is only supposed to on the threads. It is possible that some extends past the end of the threads and is in the steam cavity. Very little in your case. You only had a few joints affected.

    If inside the piping the smell would only come out of you steam vent, which is on the other end of the rad. IMO
  • MilanDMilanD Posts: 1,107Member

    I will use a swiss army knife and a wire brush and rub off all of this stinky tape. I hope it solves it.
    If I paint over the connecting pieces (where the tape was) won't that make it near impossible/highly annoying to take apart one day? Or will a hard enough twist break the paint, and the super won't want to kill me?

    If you paint it, like with painted windows, scoring the joints will make it easier to remove pipes down the line. I wouldn't worry about it - if it smells, get rid of the smell... worry about removing pipes down the line...

    Interesting, there is a few threads at the same time about smelly pipe dopes and teflon - I wonder if something major recently changed by some manufacturers...
  • coophammercoophammer Posts: 39Member
    UPDATE for the helpful heating detectives on this thread such as @MilanD @Fred @JUGHNE @Grallert and others.

    Last night I meticulously removed the tape from the edges of the threads that were exposed. I then rubbed over them with a steel brush and then also steel wool in the hard to reach places. (and forgot to wear a mask, and may have inhaled some steel dust, whoops)

    So this morning, I walk in the room, and it DOESN'T SMELL..!

    But then 10 minutes later, the heat turns on, and it SMELLS AGAIN :(

    So my theory, and I hope you can help me out here, is that the tape that is still inside the pipes on the thread is burning this awful smell, and it's therefore coming out the air vent on the other side, as @JUGHNE suggested. I believe he is right, as I bent down and smelled closely when the heat was on, and it DOES seem like the smell is now where the air vent is. So my question at this point - is do I have to get the super to now take apart the entire element and remove the tape? And then what can he use instead of the tape?

    I know he's going to be not very happy with this request, but it seems like this *might* be the answer to my problems.

    Here's some photo updates:

  • GrallertGrallert Posts: 218Member
    Is there tape on male threads of that vent?
  • MilanDMilanD Posts: 1,107Member
    What Grallert said... Get yourself a roll of Teflon tape at the hardware store and once the heat cycle stops and things cool down, remove the vent. Then, take off the tape that's there and put on your own and screw the vent back on. 4-5 turns of tape on the threads will be fine, and be super careful not to cross threads when reattaching the vent back on the convector.

    This will tell you if Teflon tape they used is same as yours, or if you have to step it up with blue monster tape. Teflon tape I purchased here in Cinci from anywhere, be it HD or local plumbing or pipe supply place, does not smell. Some people here reported smelly boiler installs with blue monster tape inside the pipes, that only went away after all was disassembled and care was taken to not have it dangle inside pipes when reconnecting (keeping tape off the edge of pipe?)...

    At any rate, if that doesn't take care of it, they might have to disconnect things and put them back together for you.

    Good luck.
  • FredFred Posts: 6,598Member
    You may have to have the convector taken loose and all the tape and pipe dope removed. I am also wondering if the smell might be from the combination of incompatible pipe dope and tape and if there might be some kind of chemical reaction between the two when heated.
    If/when you have the convector taken loose, have them use tape or pipe dope only (one or the other) and see if that solves the problem. That should work on a convector connection of that size.
  • coophammercoophammer Posts: 39Member
    Hi all just to update you:
    • I cleaned all visible tape that was exposed on the heating element. This did seem to improve the situation and the smell was less strong
    • I spoke with my super who told me that the smell could not possibly be from the tape (he let me smell a new roll, and there was no smell.) He said the smell had to be from the dope that was burning from inside the pipes. He had a heating element in storage that had some dried up dope inside a pipe, I smelled it, and it did smell kind of similar.
    • Super thought I was nuts to think that scrubbing off tape would make any difference, and assured me that this headache-inducing smell is just the relatively new heater burning off that inner dope remains, and it will get better in several days.
    • Meanwhile the smell is not quite as bad (before it would STINK to high heavens when the heat would come on, as well as when it was off)... it still does smell unpleasant when the heat comes on, giving me a minor headache, but not as bad as before.
    • So I guess I will just continue to wait it out, as I've scrubbed away all visible tape and dope, so there doesn't seem to be anything else I can do.
  • FredFred Posts: 6,598Member
    I'm not saying that the tape or the dope or a combination of the two is the source of the smell BUT Smelling a roll of tape or the dope on a cold radiator isn't the same as heating the tape and/or the dope up to 215 degrees. It's like smelling a cold pot of soup and then bringing it to a boil.
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