Why does my AC smell?


Imagine coming home after working all day and the first thing you do is turn on your AC to cool your house down while you relax, but something smells awful. Your entire home is filled with a terrible stench until you turn your AC off and the smell disappears.

This nightmare situation can happen to anyone. If your air conditioner smells like a burnt substance, smoky, or wet socks, you might be worried about the health and financial implications.

There are various reasons why your air conditioner might start smelling, along with different solutions.

Car Exhaust

Your AC should never smell like a car engine, and you may have a leak in your refrigerant line if it does. Refrigerants are cooling agents within your HVAC, and a leak can hinder the performance of your AC unit. Plus, the leak releases hazardous chemicals in the air that are bad for you and the environment.

Freon is a chlorofluorocarbon that is a commonly used refrigerant in air conditioner units. Freon absorbs heat from the air inside your home and is dispersed outside. If you suspect a freon leak, you should contact an HVAC technician immediately. Freon smells like your car’s coolant but sweeter.

Mold and Mildew

When an HVAC has too much moisture or humidity, you can get mildew and mold flowing through the ducts. As you may already know, both of them can severely impact our health and well-being. You can prevent these issues by fixing any water leaks, improving your drainage system, replacing air filters, and scheduling regular HVAC maintenance.

Any exposed earth in your basement and crawlspace should be covered.

Another way to protect your loved ones and belongings from mold buildup is by investing in a whole-house dehumidifier. You connect this directly to your HVAC, and it automatically eliminates any moisture overflow from the indoor air and deposits it outside.

When you do your bi-annual AC maintenance, we recommend that you request a complete cleaning from your AC company. They should clear your AC condensate drain line, detect mold or mildew, and clean the evaporator coils.

Your AC Smells Like Dirty Socks

When evaporator coils get dirty or condensate drain pans are clogged, stagnant water can smell like stinky feet or dirty socks. If this happens to you, you will need professional cleaning.

Cigarette Smoke

Smoking indoors could allow cigarette smoke to accumulate in the air filter and evaporator coil, so when you turn your AC on, the smell of stale cigarettes permeates the house. You can fix this by frequently changing your air filter and scheduling a professional cleaning. Also, try smoking outside, instead!

Burning Smell

If you smell burning when you turn the AC on, you may need a professional ASAP. The burning could be a wiring issue, overheated motor, or a mechanical issue. Turn your HVAC system off immediately and wait for a professional to take a look.

If the smell reminds you of gunpowder, you might have an issue with the AC’s fan motor or circuit board.

If the burning smell persists even after turning your power and air conditioner off, evacuate your house and call the fire department. You should also do this if you smell a rotten egg or something fishy.

Call your HVAC technician to look for signs of mechanical or electrical issues with your AC.

Rotting Meat Smell

Sometimes a critter crawls into your HVAC or ducts and dies, leaving the smell of decomposition to permeate throughout your house. This smell is undeniable and immediately recognizable. The first thing you should do is turn off your air conditioner system.

Air out your house by opening windows and doors. Call your professional HVAC and pest management company as soon as possible.

Sewage Smell

Sewer gasses can sometimes back up into your house if you have P-traps. If this is the case, run water through all your sinks to fill the p-traps and create a seal against unpleasant smells.

You might have a ruptured sewer vent pipe or backed-up sewer line if this doesn’t work. This could be dangerous, so you should immediately call an HVAC technician or plumber.

Rotten Egg Smell

The smell of sulfur or rotten eggs should never be ignored since it indicates leaking gas.

Natural gas is odorless, so manufacturers add a chemical component known as mercaptan to give it a distinctive sulfuric smell. Also, look for signs of a gas leak, like a path of color change in your shrubs. You may have a dangerous issue if you see a brown/orange color throughout your bushes.

Warning: If you smell sulfur throughout your house:

  • Do not use lighters or matches
  • Do not operate anything electrical
  • Put out any open flames
  • Open all the doors and windows
  • Turn off your gas or have the gas company do this for you
  • Evacuate your home
  • Call the gas company
  • Do not turn your gas on. Only the gas company should do this for you

Don’t Ignore Unusual, Bad Smells

The EPA notes that poor indoor air quality is one of Americans’ most prevalent health threats. HVAC systems collect microscopic particles like dirt, dust, dander, hair, fungus, pollen, and microbes—and these particles go through your air ducts and circulate throughout your house. These pollutants can also damage your HVAC and lead to breakdowns and frequent repairs.

You should never try to do these repairs yourself unless you are a professional. It is better to call an experienced technician to do the job. Water and electricity don’t mix well, and you could easily be shocked.

Your natural instinct is to cover up bad smells with scented candles, aerosol sprays, incense, etc., but you are only making the indoor air quality worse. You don’t have to live with dry skin and eyes, headaches, respiratory issues, insomnia, nausea, and other health issues associated with HVAC problems. Schedule a professional indoor air quality inspection as soon as possible.  Click on this url here to learn more.


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