light fixture smells like fish

DaveBowden

Senior Member
Location
St Petersburg FL
Had a service call to a house where the HO said his bathroom smelled like fish. He had researched online and found several sites that said it was likely caused by a loose electrical connection. I have never smelled an electrical issue that smelled like fish, but in checking the light above the vanity it was definitely the source.
The plastic nuts that hold the glass globes up were all cross-threaded on the sockets and the sockets just spun around when trying to remove the lamps.
I removed the fixture and took it semi-apart in order to get the sockets to where I could get the globes off. The leads to the sockets were all twisted. Straightened them out and re-secured the socket holders to the fixture so they no longer spin. Connections all seemed OK
Put the fixture in my truck and after 2 days when the truck stopped smelling like a fish house I went back and rehung it. Told the HO if it stilled smelled after being on for a while he needed a new fixture. It still stinks.
Any ideas on the cause? I have never in nearly 50 years of doing this smelled an electrical problem like this.
 

Hv&Lv

Senior Member
Location
-
Occupation
Engineer/Technician
That’s actually more common than one would think...
the chemicals used in the plastics give off different odors based on the temperature which they are burned.
”fishy” or pee smell are just the most common ones
 

growler

Senior Member
Location
Atlanta,GA
Put the fixture in my truck and after 2 days when the truck stopped smelling like a fish house I went back and rehung it. Told the HO if it stilled smelled after being on for a while he needed a new fixture. It still stinks.
I have never had that problem. I think that unless this was a really expensive fixture I would have just changed it out for a new one. Less expense in the long run.
 

Hv&Lv

Senior Member
Location
-
Occupation
Engineer/Technician
A couple of years back I had a complaint that the stove suddenly took forever to heat up. The HO wanted to get a new one. They called to see about changing the plug to a four wire.
I thought the place was nasty behind the stove with the smell. The HO even apologized for the smell and said they needed to clean behind it.
I opened the box and the smell was right there. Also the problem with the stove. Loose connection and burnt wirenut.
thats when I started looking into it.
we were at a CE class and I mentioned it. The guys thought I was crazy. All but one that was in there with us. He verified it and told me about the whys, etc...
I wasn’t going to argue with a 78YO electrical contractor that still goes out and does installs every day...but I did look it up.


this is an article i just found
 

Little Bill

Moderator
Staff member
Location
Tennessee NEC:2017
Occupation
Electrician
I had a similar call for a smell in a ceiling fan. I used the "old sniffer" and determined it was definitely coming from the fan (or area at the ceiling). After taking down the fan and checking all connections, wire condition, etc, I didn't see anything obvious. As I was in the process of putting the light kit back, the smell got stronger. After looking closely at the light kit I saw the problem. When whoever installed the fan & put the globes on, they forgot to remove the rubber bands around the base of the globes that held the packaging on. When the lights were on the globes would heat up, causing the rubber bands to get hot and start to melt. I laughed and cut my service call in half!😂
 

hbiss

EC, Westchester, New York NEC: 2014
Location
Hawthorne, New York NEC: 2014
Occupation
EC
It's the old Bakelite and probably the newer phenolic replacements that will give off a fishy odor when overheated. Bakelite lampholders in overlamped fixtures are common for this. Same can happen if there is a high resistance connection with old Bakelite wire nuts too.

-Hal
 

growler

Senior Member
Location
Atlanta,GA
Sure they didn't have this burning?
$75 for a candle? About 40 years or maybe a little longer there was an incense of the very same smell that was sold in novelty and head shops ( not that I personally ever went there ) and it was maybe a couple of bucks. Talk about inflation!!

I tried an experiment with friends and a few others to see if they could identify the scent and not a single person got it wrong.
 

LarryFine

Master Electrician Electric Contractor Richmond VA
When whoever installed the fan & put the globes on, they forgot to remove the rubber bands around the base of the globes that held the packaging on.
I've always left the rubber bands on globes that come with them. I have never seen wrapping held on with them, and I believe they're intended to protect the glass from the three mounting screws.
 

mopowr steve

Senior Member
Location
NW Ohio
I've always left the rubber bands on globes that come with them. I have never seen wrapping held on with them, and I believe they're intended to protect the glass from the three mounting screws.
Yeah, me too. But I thought they were there to aid in keeping the globes from rattling/ ringing from the vibration of motor.
 

Little Bill

Moderator
Staff member
Location
Tennessee NEC:2017
Occupation
Electrician
They will "dry rot" after a while so I take them off. And yes, some/most hold the packaging on the globe.
The ones I referenced that were stinking had already started to melt.
 

kwired

Electron manager
Location
NE Nebraska
$75 for a candle? About 40 years or maybe a little longer there was an incense of the very same smell that was sold in novelty and head shops ( not that I personally ever went there ) and it was maybe a couple of bucks. Talk about inflation!!

I tried an experiment with friends and a few others to see if they could identify the scent and not a single person got it wrong.
Natural resources for making the product are getting more scarce, plus demand has gone up therefore the price has gone up. :)
 

Knuckle Dragger

Master Electrician Electrical Contractor 01752
Location
Marlborough, Massachusetts USA
Occupation
Electrical Contractor
It's the old Bakelite and probably the newer phenolic replacements that will give off a fishy odor when overheated. Bakelite lampholders in overlamped fixtures are common for this. Same can happen if there is a high resistance connection with old Bakelite wire nuts too.

-Hal
I have experienced that fishy odor on a couple of service calls.
 

ATSman

Senior Member
Location
San Francisco
Yes, many years ago while working on an ATS _ Gen problem in a hospital cust asked me about loosing lights in one area that smelled like fish. Turned out to be a burnt lighting ballast with burnt Bakelite insulation. Really strong fishy smell !!
 
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