Many homes have a natural gas supply for furnaces, water heaters, and ovens/stoves. Natural gas lets you heat your home, provide hot water from your taps, dry your clothes, and cook food. Not all homes use natural gas, but knowing what it smells like is vital for your safety.
Like carbon monoxide, natural gas is odorless, but for safety reasons, gas companies add a chemical called mercaptan to give it an easy-to-notice rotten egg or sulfur smell. If your home has a natural gas leak, it is very hazardous as it can result in rapid and destructive combustion.
Read on to learn more about determining if you have a gas leak and what to do if you smell natural gas in your home.
How Can I Tell If I Have a Gas Leak?
Natural gas is naturally odorless, meaning it has no smell when collected from underground. However, gas companies add mercaptan to natural gas at their processing plants as a safety precaution.
They inject the foul-smelling compound into the natural gas stream as a liquid, after which the gas travels through pipes to your home. This is why you can smell it when it leaks from your stove, furnace, clothes dryer, water heater, fireplace or gas lines.
Without this identifiable smell, gas leaks might go undetected, potentially leading to fires and explosions that cause property damage, injuries, and even fatalities. This is why it’s so important to be aware of the signs indicating a gas leak in your home.
Taking immediate action is important if you suspect a natural gas or propane leak in your home. To tell if you have a gas leak, look out for common indicators such as the following:
Rotten Egg Smell
Natural gas has an odor often described as sulfurous or resembling a rotten egg. This is from the mercaptan chemical that natural gas and propane companies add for safety reasons. Unless you have rotten eggs nearby, this smell is the most apparent indication that gas is leaking into your home.
Hissing or Blowing Sound
A gas leak in your home could create a hissing sound if the gas is escaping through a small hole in a pipe or a valve. You may also hear a blowing sound coming from an appliance that isn’t functioning properly due to the leaking gas.
Dead Plants Outdoors
If you notice a patch of dead grass or other vegetation near your home gas line or meter, this could indicate a gas leak from your home’s meter and valve or in the gas pipe supply buried underground near your home.
If gas leakage has caused the death of grass in your lawn and you wish to revive it, read our article that offers a guide on reviving dead grass.
Stove Burner on With No Flame
The most common way natural gas gets released into homes is when someone leaves a stove burner on without a flame. If the burner was only on for a few minutes before you turned it off, you should be safe.
What Should You Do If You Think You Smell a Gas Leak?
- Leave the house immediately and call your local utility company from outside your home. Make sure all occupants of your home leave. Do not turn off any lights, light matches, use a cellphone, or do anything else that could cause a spark.
- Open windows and doors on your way out to provide ventilation and disperse any gas.
- Refrain from attempting to locate the source of the leak on your own, especially if the smell is strong. Call your local fire department or utility company for assistance in locating and repairing the gas leak.
- If you have access to your gas meter and valve (located outside your home), turn off the valve to prevent more gas from leaking into your home. Do this while you wait for the fire department or gas technician to arrive.
- Have your home inspected by a qualified technician for any further problems.
If you left a stove burner on without any flame and the smell is not strong, turn it off, turn on the vent fan, and open several windows and doors to remove the gas from your home. However, if the smell is very strong or the burner has been leaking gas for more than 15 minutes, follow the five steps above.
Are There Other Ways to Check if You Have a Gas Leak?
There are other ways besides smelling the rotten egg odor to check if you have a gas leak. One common method is to use a gas leak detector, which is a device that can detect the presence of gas in the air. If you don’t have a good sense of smell and your home is served by natural gas, gas detectors are necessary.
You can buy a handheld one from most home improvement stores and online retailers. You can also get a smart natural gas detector that plugs into a wall socket. It will audibly alarm and (like a carbon monoxide detector) alert you on your phone if it detects gas.
You can also watch the dials at your home’s gas meter. The gas meter makes some noises during normal operation, but if you hear hissing and the dials are spinning rapidly, you likely have a gas leak. Watch the video below to learn more.
Lastly, if you’re looking for a pinhole leak in a gas line, you can use soapy water to check for bubbles. Mix dish soap with warm water and pour it over the gas line connections, valve, and meter. If you see any bubbles forming, this indicates a leak in the line and should be repaired by a qualified technician as soon as possible.
Even if you turn all your gas appliances off, your gas meter’s dials may still spin slightly. This is because gas appliances like furnaces, water heaters, and some stoves have pilot lights (which have a constant flame and continuously use natural gas even when the appliances are off).
Final Thoughts on Determining If You Have a Natural Gas Leak
If you are ever concerned about a possible gas leak and smell rotten eggs, the most important thing to do is leave your home and immediately call your local fire department or gas technician. It’s better to be safe than sorry, as natural gas can be dangerous.
To avoid any potential issues, regularly check your appliances, pipes, connections, and valves for any signs of wear and tear or damage. To further protect your home, consider purchasing a plug-in or handheld natural gas detector, which provides secondary confirmation of a gas leak.
FAQs About What a Gas Leak Smells Like
What should I do if I smell gas?
If the smell is extremely strong, leave your home — quickly.
If the smell is not strong, ventilate the area by opening windows and doors or turning on fans. Then go outside and call your local gas company or emergency services so they can investigate the source of the leak. While waiting, you should also avoid open flames, sparks, cigarettes, or other ignition sources.
How do I know if I have a gas leak?
One of the key indicators of a gas leak is its distinct smell of rotten eggs or sulfur. Natural gas is naturally odorless, so it’s mixed with an additive called mercaptan that gives it a pungent odor. This smell can usually be detected before the leak has become dangerous.
What does natural gas smell like?
Natural gas has a distinct smell often likened to rotten eggs or skunk spray. Mercaptan, the odorant gas companies add to natural gas, gives it a pungent sulfur scent. Some people have compared the smell to burning garbage.