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Why Does My Air Conditioner Smell Bad?

Posted 06-07-19 in Air Conditioning

Man noticing bad smell after turning on air conditioner

If you turn on your air conditioner and you’re buffeted by foul odors coming from the registers, the smell might make you wonder: did a group of teenagers sneak into my house and leave dirty gym clothes all over the place? Why does my air conditioner smell so bad?!

We in the air conditioning industry have a colloquial term for what you’re experiencing: Dirty Sock Syndrome. This condition happens quite a bit here in Georgia, where the air is humid and the temperatures can go from cold to hot in one day. This change in seasons provides the perfect climate for Dirty Sock Syndrome to occur. If your air conditioner smells bad, here’s what you need to know:

What Causes Dirty Sock Syndrome?

Dirty sock syndrome typically occurs when you switch from using your heater to the air conditioner. It begins with dust getting through your air filter and attaching to the evaporator coil of your air conditioning unit. This dust provides a great base for stinky mold and bacteria to thrive in the humid environment when seasons change.

This build-up may happen more quickly if the proper air filters are not installed and replaced on a regular schedule, and routine maintenance is not performed.

Is Dirty Sock Syndrome Dangerous?

The root cause of the stinky sock smell is mildew and mold on the coil. A bad smell may not be dangerous, but mold and mildew should be taken seriously. Those with allergies and asthma may experience increased wheezing and coughing. Luckily, Dirty Sock Syndrome can be fixed by a professional technician.

How is Dirty Sock Syndrome Treated?

In general, the first step is to clean the evaporator coil with compressed air and special chemicals. Evaporator coils are usually located in a coil cabinet and are not easily accessed without specialized training. This job is best left to a professional. Older air conditioning units generally are more apt to have this problem, and cleaning the coils can be tricky.

If the problem persists after a thorough cleaning, you may need a new evaporator coil, or it might be time to replace your old air conditioning unit with a new one.

What If My Air Conditioner Always Smells Bad?

If your air conditioner smells bad constantly, the problem is likely not Dirty Sock Syndrome. It could be because there are dirty drain pans, malfunctioning drain lines, or other issues. A precision air conditioner tune-up can correct some of these issues and increase your system’s overall efficiency.

If your air conditioner smells bad or you suspect you may have Dirty Sock Syndrome, schedule an appointment with Coolray. We are Atlanta’s home comfort expert, specializing in installation, repair, and service of heating and air conditioning systems. Contact us today for all of your heating and cooling needs!

Related reading:

Is Your Home More Humid Than it Should Be?

Simple Solutions to Improve Your Home’s Air Quality

3 Places Mold Can Hide in Your Home Air Conditioning and Heating System

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