When we turn on our air conditioners, we expect our homes to become cool and comfortable. In some unfortunate situations, however, homeowners turn on the AC, only to detect an unpleasant odor. If your air conditioner smells musty, you’re probably trying to get to the bottom of the problem and figure out what you can do to fix it.
The development of mold anywhere in the system is the most typical cause of an air conditioner that smells bad. Another possibility is that the coils in your air conditioner have begun to rust. In any scenario, your air conditioner has certainly accumulated moisture, and a foul odor is a warning sign that this is the case.
However, not all musty odors coming from your vents originate in your air conditioner. The first step in solving this problem is to figure out what’s causing it. There are a few indicators that your air conditioner is the source of the problem.
Consider the previous winter. Have you noticed a musty odor in the cooler months? If your foul odor occurs throughout the summer, it is most likely caused by your air conditioner. The reason for this should be self-evident: you’re more likely to run the air conditioner frequently during the summer, thus foul odors associated with mold in the unit will be much more prominent. If the odor persists throughout the year, the issue is more likely to be in your vents.
If your unpleasant odors are caused by your air conditioner, you’ve ran into an issue known as dirty sock syndrome in the industry. When moisture builds up in your air conditioner, it can cause mold to grow in the vents and emit a stench that smells like filthy gym socks. Dirty sock syndrome can be caused by a number of factors, including:
Poor airflow: Your air conditioning unit requires a specific amount of air flow to function effectively. If your unit doesn’t get enough airflow, such as because an air register is closed, it might generate excess moisture and, as a result, a musty odor. If your air conditioner is blowing heated air, this is another sign that it isn’t getting enough airflow.
Filthy filters: These crucial components are designed to trap material such as pollen, dust, and pet hair. When a filter becomes clogged, it creates an excellent environment for bacteria and mold to thrive. If you ignore it, the build-up will eventually cause a sock to smell dirty.
Ductwork has holes: Debris and odors from the attic can be drawn into your AC unit if your ducting has gaps. As previously said, holes in ductwork can arise when a contractor is on the job and mistakenly damages these pathways. Even if you haven’t had any maintenance done on your home recently, rodents in your attic may be gnawing holes in your ductwork. You must first have the rodents removed from your home before this problem can be remedied. After that, you can begin repairing your ducting.
Fortunately, many of these issues may be avoided rather easily. You can have peace of mind knowing that a professional technician will inspect your unit for any indicators of problems, including those that cause a musty odor, if you sign up for regular air conditioner maintenance. You might wish to discover how to get rid of that odor until aid arrives.
How to Get Rid of Odors in Air Ducts
You may need to perform all of the following steps to get your home smelling normal again. If you still can’t solve the problem after doing so, you should contact a licensed professional who can troubleshoot your AC problem and recommend any necessary repairs.
Clean or Replace the Air Filter
The air filter should be the first item you check for almost any AC problem, as changing or cleaning your air filter will actually solve many AC issues. Furthermore, if a blocked air filter is the source of your issues, it should be obvious: the clogged filter will smell strongly of may and may have visible mold. If this is the case, replace it immediately. In an hour or two, you should notice a difference in the scent emanating from your vents.
Depending on the type and quality of filter, most homes should change their filters every month to six months. If you have pets, though, your filters will quickly clog. If you have young children or someone in your family suffers from respiratory difficulties, you should replace your filter more frequently.
Clean Coils for Evaporator
A foul odor and a variety of other issues, like a frozen air conditioner, might be caused by dirty evaporator coils. This AC service can be done quickly by professionals, but you can also do it yourself. This is typically not a project for homeowners who are unfamiliar with the operation of air conditioners. Get some safety goggles and gloves if you decide to perform this job on your own.
Turn off the air conditioner and enter the unit to access the evaporator coils. An access panel on the rear of your air conditioner should allow you to reach the coils. Remove and set aside that panel. If there is a lot of dust and dirt within the air conditioner, vacuum it up with a tiny handheld vacuum. You should also carefully remove the protective fins from the coils and lean them against a wall.
Get a spray bottle, bleach, water, and a sponge next. Fill the spray container halfway with a 10% bleach solution—strong enough to kill mold and bacteria but gentle enough not to injure your unit. Spray the bleach solution on the coils and let it set for a few minutes. You’ll also be able to access the condensation collection pan, so pull that out and spray it down while you’re at it. Then use the sponge to clean everything. Reassemble the device and run it for a bit to observe whether the stench has disappeared.
Check the Drain Line for Condensate
The condensate drain line is for draining moisture from your air conditioner. If it becomes clogged, moisture will begin to accumulate over time, leading to mold and rust. You’ll notice water pooling around your AC unit if your condensate drain line is clogged. If this is the case, you must unblock the drain pipe to prevent future mold growth and damage to the device.
Cleaning a Blocked Condensate Drain
A clogged condensate drain line causes a foul odor, a water leak from your air conditioner, and a full drain pan. You should clear your drain line if you have one or more of these issues. You have the option of hiring a professional heating and cooling contractor or doing the work yourself.
If you opt to do it yourself, you’ll need the following items:
- Latex gloves
- A bucket
- A stiff, thin wire brush
- A wet/dry vacuum cleaner
- Tape for ducts
Turn off your air conditioner and look for your drain line. The drain pipe on the outside of the device should be a rubber or plastic tube. Place your bucket under the drain line and clean out any clogs using the wire brush at the drain’s end. This will sometimes address your problem, but you’ll probably need to do a little more, especially if your air conditioner smells musty.
If you opt to continue working on the problem yourself, you’ll need to locate the drain line’s top. This portion should be connected to a T-shaped vent that leads indoors to the AC unit. Put on the rubber gloves and pour a quarter cup of distilled vinegar down the drain after removing the cap from the top of the T. This liquid will drain into the bucket you placed at the other end of the line. Pour water down the line after half an hour to confirm everything is running as it should. Otherwise, it’s time to try sucking the clog out with the wet/dry vacuum.
When it comes to these kinds of problems, most individuals turn to the professionals. If you go to all of this trouble and none of these suggestions work, you’ll have to call a professional to figure out a more permanent solution, which may seem like a waste of time if you’ve already spent your valuable free time on a DIY solution. A heating and cooling professional will be able to figure out what’s causing the clog. Then you can begin a routine maintenance program to keep this problem from recurring.