Heating oil is a low viscosity, liquid petroleum product used as a fuel for furnaces or boilers in buildings. Home heating oil is often abbreviated as HHO. A heating oil spill should be treated as quickly as possible, for both personal safety and to minimize any lasting effects to your home. Even after clean up, the smell of oil may linger indefinitely.
If you use oil to heat your home, it is not uncommon to sometimes smell heating oil, a pop bottle cap full of heating oil can permeate an entire room and even a single drop is noticeable. If your tank is in the basement of your home, go down and inspect it for leaks immediately. If your tank is inground and you smell oil, it is most likely coming from your furnace, filter, or pipes, and it is a good idea to schedule an appointment ASAP to have your heating system inspected and, if needed, repaired.
There are two types of home fuel oil spills, small and large;
- Small spills happen when a few drops of fuel oil drip out of the tank, filter, or pipes.
- Large home fuel oil spills can occur when basement storage tanks are overfilled, an attempt is made to fill a tank that has been removed, a tank has over-turned in a flooded basement, or fuel oil is accidentally put into a septic tank vent or well casing. Large spills will require professional assistance to clean up.
Fuel oil odor can also come from incomplete combustion in the furnace, a bad nozzle, or a bad vent pipe. Have your furnace examined by a professional if you can not find any visible oil leaks.
Fuel oil contains many substances which vary in their toxicity. Short term exposure may cause headaches, nausea and dizziness, prolonged exposure can cause serious health problems. Getting fuel oil on the skin can cause skin irritation. Be aware that infants, small children, certain adults and pets can not tell you that they are suffering from headaches or breathing problems.
Heating Oil Spill Tips
Open basement windows to ventilate the area and turn off all flame and spark sources. Don't smoke or light matches in the area. Extinguish pilot lights on furnaces, water heaters, and gas dryers. Turn off gas appliances that have electronic ignitions. Do not attempt to clean up spilled oil with a shop vac or use any electric appliances or power tools.
For smaller spills
- Throw away any materials that have been soaked in heating oil. This could include rugs, carpet, wallpaper, books and magazines and clothing or blankets.
- Spread an absorbent material, like kitty litter or sawdust, over the spill area. Place the absorbed oil into heavy-duty plastic bags for disposal. Use soap and hot water to clean the floor, walls, appliances and other hard surfaces.
- Spread a health layer of floor dry onto the fuel oil spilled area and leave it soak up the fuel oil until the color of the floor dry has totally changed.
- A few bowls of vinegar left out and/or several opened bags of charcoal will usually absorb most smells.
- Cover the affected portion of the floor with laundry detergent if the spill is on a concrete floor. This will help break down lingering traces of oil that are the source of the odor. Adding about 4 ounces of vanilla extract to the cleaner will improve its odor-fighting power. Afterward, wash the area one more time with just hot water.
For large oils spills (over a gallon)
- Do not attempt to clean large spills on your own! Contact your local fire department to determine if there is an explosion hazard. They may also be able to provide fans to ventilate the area.
- Seek professional help as there may be health and/or environmental issues.
For lingering odor after cleanup
- Pour fresh ground coffee right out of the can onto paper plates and leave them all where the oil smell is and by the next day the smell should be gone.
- There are enzyme additives that can be added to the oil tank to eliminate or minimize odors. Contact the company that delivers your oil or services your tank for additional information. In addition there is a commercial product available called Odor Kill, contact your oil company for availability.
If fuel oil spills are promptly and completely cleaned, residual odors should go away after several days. Call a professional cleaning service if you need help with the clean up, or if the fuel oil odors remain.