Why Does My Air Conditioner Smell Funny?

Unpleasant smells from your air conditioner just when you need it the most can be frustrating. The fragrance of sweaty socks and dirty feet wafting through the air is enough to drive you outside even on the hottest summer day

These undesirable odors from your air conditioner are usually signs of an equipment maintenance issue. In some cases, they may even signal a serious health hazard.

Where Is the Smell in My Air Conditioner Coming From?

Disagreeable smells from an air conditioning unit can be categorized as internal equipment related or external odors drawn in from the outside by the air conditioner. Internal system problems produce odors often described as:

  • A smell similar to wet, dirty socks or feet often known as “dirty feet or dirty sock syndrome”
  • General mustiness
  • Stale or sour air
  • Smell of burning electrical components

External odors blown in from the outside may include:

  • Exhaust from passing vehicles or lawn equipment
  • Localized air pollution such as backyard fires, barbecue grills, and chemical sprayers
  • Dead or rotting animals and vegetation near the external air conditioner unit

Causes of Air Conditioner Smells

Internal air conditioner smells can emanate from several sources. In most cases, they are related to moisture accumulation.

Dirty Cooling Coils

As your air conditioner runs, air passes over the cooling coils. In addition to cooling the air, the coils remove moisture. Over time the combination of moisture and passing air will cause dirt to build up on the coils. When that happens, it can create a breeding ground for bacteria, mold, and mildew and produce the musty, stale or sour air that you may smell when your air conditioner is running.

Clogged Condensate Drain

The condensate or moisture removed from the air falls into a drip pan and then flows to the outside through a pipe called the condensate drain. If the drain pipe becomes clogged, water will build up in the drip pan. This standing water creates another place for bacteria, mold, and mildew to accumulate and can result in those sweaty feet smells.

Improperly-Sized Air Conditioner

When your air conditioner is too large for the space it is cooling, it will not operate long enough to remove the moisture from the air. The result is humid air recirculated through your home, and the often muggy, stale odor people may notice.

Equipment Failure

When parts fail, and motors or wiring burn out, the resulting fumes may be transmitted through the air conditioner into your home. This causes the smell of burning electrical wires or parts that some may notice.

Are Smelly Air Conditioners Really Dangerous?

Yes, they can be dangerous. The health effects of mold circulated through air conditioning systems are well documented. Odors related to moisture and accumulated dirt may indicate the presence of mold, mildew, and bacteria. Breathing them can be unhealthy.

What to Do About a Smelly Air Conditioner

The first thing to do when you detect unpleasant odors from your air conditioner is to contact a professional. Peninsula’s air conditioning professionals have the expertise to eliminate the source of the problem odors. Our team will:

  • Clean cooling coils
  • Ensure that condensate lines are not blocked and that there is no standing water
  • Repair or replace broken and burned out parts
  • Leave your air conditioner odor-free and running in top notch condition

Don’t put up with unpleasant air conditioner odors and the possible health risks. Call Peninsula’s air conditioning professionals at 302-629-3001 or contact us online today!


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