We live in MN, in a house built in 2008 (and our water heater, installed in the basement, is about that vintage).

For the past few weeks, I'm detecting a smoky smell from the hot water out of a 2nd-floor shower. I don't think any other hot water outlets show this (as far as I'm aware now).

This typically happens after a couple of minutes into a shower, and lasts as long as the hot water runs. The smell can best be described as an old-timey campfire, with all the smoky smell but none of the actual smoke. There's no sulfurous or other similar "bad" smell... if anything, this is a very comfortable, let-me-stand-here-for-another-hour-and-feel-cozy kind of smell.

The water heater is your average run-of-the-mill gas-fired unit, and I haven't done any preventive maintenance to it in the past six years. Not broken, so never had to fix anything.

What could cause this out-of-place smell in a relatively new house?

  • Are you sure it's the water, and not something else that just happens to be easiest to smell in the bathroom? (I'm thinking chimney leak or hot chimney singing wood or something of that sort.)
    – keshlam
    Sep 29, 2014 at 21:12
  • Yeah, I'm pretty sure it's just the hot water. We don't have any wood-burning appliances, and the furnace has been turned off for a few months now.
    – alt
    Sep 29, 2014 at 23:28
  • How do you heat the water, and what's it's source? The smell of smoke, unaccounted for, is never a good thing...
    – keshlam
    Sep 30, 2014 at 2:59
  • 2
    Warm moist air will transmit odors faster than cool dry air. Check the bathroom tap, it if is not there, you either have something odd in the shower stall or shower head. If it is in the tap as well (let it run longer than shower since they pull less water) then it's something with the line or heater. But my bet is there is something in the shower stall that is causing the smell with the warm moist air.
    – diceless
    Sep 30, 2014 at 3:01
  • @keshlam, it's a gas heater, and our water comes from the city, who (i think) in turn source it from nearby lakes.
    – alt
    Sep 30, 2014 at 11:43

2 Answers 2


Okay, I needed to replace some damaged caulking in this shower stall, and this smell disappeared right after.

I'm thinking some mold (or mildew, or any other fun guys that like to grow in shower stalls) gave off this smell when heated.

As to why this needed re-caulking: I turn the shower to "hot" and turn it away from the shower stall door, towards the inside (cold water splashing on a person as soon as you wake up isn't Minnesota nice). This spray hits the vertical seam between two pieces of shower surround and eventually takes some caulking with it. Add this abuse up over several months and it's time to go to work.

Thanks for reading.


I happened upon this post. We had a strong smell of "Wood Smoke" whenever we passed through the garage to leave or return home. We thought it was a neighbor's fireplace. That was two days ago but then the water heater went out completely yesterday. I haven't yet called a plumber but after reading your post I think it was a symptom of the system over-heating, and in doing so, tripping the thermal release device inside the tank. Strange to hear that someone else had that smell and connect the two together.

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