Why Does My Shop Vac Smells Like It’s Burning?

If you’re a handyman, chances are you own or have access to a shop vac. These tools are very useful in keeping a workshop or construction site neat and tidy – as they are used to clean up both wet and dry messes with ease. By eliminating dirt and dust, they not only clean but also improve the air quality of the surrounding environment.

Perhaps you’ve noticed a smoky smell coming from your shop vac lately and are wondering to yourself, “why does my shop vac smell like it’s burning?” A burning smell from your shop vac can be the result of a dirty/clogged filter, dry motor bearings, or overuse.

The only way to know for sure what’s causing the problem is to open up the unit and inspect it yourself or have it repaired professionally. If the smoky smell continues even after servicing, then you’ll likely need to replace it with a new model.

Why Does My Shop Vac Smells Like It's Burning?

Now that you know the 3 main causes of a burning smell coming from a shop vac, let’s take a closer look at each in more detail below.

I’ll discuss why shop vacs overheat as well as how to get rid of that stinky, smoky smell. I’ll also explain how to troubleshoot and find solutions to this and other related issues, like shutting off on its own or loss of suction. I’ll even give some suggestions on how to fix the problem yourself as well as who (and when it becomes necessary) to hire professionals for the job.

So, if you’re ready to learn more about shop vacs and how to maintain them, then please read onward!

Why is My Shop Vac Overheating?

There are 3 main reasons why your shop vac is overheating. These include the following:

1. A Clogged, Dirty or Damaged Filter

If the filter in your shop vac is dirty or damaged, air won’t be able to circulate through it properly. This can cause it to overheat, resulting in the loss of suction and a burning or smoky smell.

The best way to remedy this is to remove the filter and inspect it closely. If you shine a flashlight on one side and can’t see the glow on the other side, you know the filter’s dirty and needs to be either cleaned or changed.

To clean a shop vac filter, use an air hose to blast away the debris. Make sure to blow air all around the ridges of the filter to remove as much dirt and dust as possible.

Afterward, check the filter for any signs of damage such as holes or tears. If it looks damaged, discard it and purchase a new one. And don’t forget to remove any large obstructions caught inside the motor, outlet or hose as well.

Apart from the burning smell, if you see dust coming out of the vacuum hose, then you know there’s an issue with the filter.

Once again, it’s imperative that you look inside the vacuum. Ensure that the filters are properly installed and check the filter housing for any cracks. If you notice that the housing is broken, then you’ll need to have it repaired before using the vac again.

* It’s important to note that when used wet, most shop vacs don’t require a filter. Therefore, if you notice a burning smell after cleaning up a wet mess, then it’s likely the motor bearings or the motor itself causing the problem. As well, it could be an issue with the power cord or electrical outlet.

2. Dry Motor Bearings

If the motor bearings in your shop vac are dry, they need to be lubricated immediately. Otherwise, the unit will overheat and result in a burning, smoky smell.

Begin by opening the engine up and locating the bearings. Add a few drops of oil to each bearing and work it around a bit with your hand.

This should fix the problem. However, if it doesn’t, then chances are it’s not the bearings but the motor itself that’s the issue.

If the motor is worn-out, damaged, or faulty, then it must be repaired or replaced as soon as possible.

3. Overuse

If you use your shop vac too long or too often, you may notice a burning or smoky smell after a while.

Most units aren’t designed to run all day, every day! Constant use will cause the machine to wear out prematurely and/or overheat, especially if a hose reducer is attached to maximize the suction power.

Whenever possible, manually clean-up the work area with a broom, especially the large pieces of drywall.

Follow with a wet mop to keep the dust the down and the floor clear. As well, avoid sucking up to big chunks of glass, wood, metal, or masonry. Instead, sweep up and discard these materials accordingly.

Why is My Shop Vac Smoking?

A “smoking” shop vac is often a sign of a filter problem. The 6 possible issues could be:

  1. no filter installed
  2. a hole in the filter
  3. a clogged filter
  4. a crack in the filter housing
  5. the filter was installed incorrectly
  6. the dust being picked up is too fine for the filter

To fix the problem, you’ll need to open-up the vac and inspect the filter closely.

First, check to see that there’s a filter in the unit!

Then, remove it to determine if there’s a hole, in which case, you’ll need to repair or replace it. If the filter’s intact, clean it thoroughly to remove as much dust as possible.

Reinstall the filter properly and start it up. If you still notice a smoky or burning smell, shut it off and don’t use it again until it can be serviced professionally.

Why Does My Shop Vac Keep Shutting Off?

A shop vac that shuts off on its own can be an indication of a faulty plug-in or electrical outlet.

Another possibility is that the unit’s heat sensor is detecting an increase in temperature and is shutting itself off automatically for safety reasons or to prevent burnout.

A “sure-fire” sign of overheating is a smoky smell coming from the unit when it’s turned on.

To fix the problem, you can try changing the wall outlet to see if that makes a difference. Or, plug the unit into a different outlet.

If the unit continues to shut itself off, then the problem could be of a mechanical nature, such as a weak or defective motor or faulty power switch.

Another possible reason why it’s shutting off on its own could be a short in the power cable. Look for any frays in the cord first.

If you don’t see any, try curling the wire at 2-inch intervals to see if that has any effect.

As this has the potential to be an electrical hazard, which could cause a fire or give you a shock, you should not attempt to fix the problem yourself unless you’re an electrician.

Unless you know for sure, it’s always better to have a professional examine the unit and determine the best way to service and/or repair it.

There are local fix-it shops in most cities that can help – go online or pick up the phone to find a place near you.


To conclude, if you’ve noticed a burning smell coming from your shop vac lately, it could be the result of a clogged filter, dry motor bearings, or overuse.

The only way to know for sure is to ‘troubleshoot’ the problem by opening the unit up and inspecting it carefully.

If the smoky smell still is still an issue, then you’ll likely need to have it either repaired professionally or replaced with a newer model.

If you have some skill with fixing things, you can possibly remedy the problem yourself. However, when in doubt, you should always hire a trained technician to do the job instead.

Your health and safety are of the utmost importance to know your limits and be willing to seek help if (and when) necessary.

Hopefully this article has been of help to you. Thanks for reading and good luck with your shop vac!

Cheer, tools owners!


Hi there! My name is Jack and I write for ToolsOwner. I have a passion for everything related to tools and DIY projects around the house. You often find me in my workshop working on new projects.