Air Conditioning Stink? It Might Be Dirty Sock Syndrome

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You took out the trash. 

You cleaned the garbage disposal.

You cleaned the litter box and bathed the dog. 

You sniff-checked the washing machine.

The smell is still lingering and you can’t miss it when you come home. It’s none of the above: It’s dirty sock syndrome and it’s coming from your air conditioning.

A stinky air conditioner isn’t just a nuisance. It’s dangerous if left untreated – especially for people with respiratory disorders or compromised immune systems. 

Don’t worry. If you act now, you can keep your home’s air clean and prevent the problem from happening again in the first place. Here’s how.

What is Dirty Sock Syndrome?

Air conditioner outside of a homeSorry, we have to get gross for a minute here. 

Have you ever wondered why dirty socks or gym clothes smell bad? 

When we sweat, bacteria linger in the cotton and fibers of our clothing. Eventually, mold and mildew start growing and you notice that ever-familiar stinky smell. 

In the case of your air conditioning, mold, bacteria, and mildew have grown on the evaporator coils. Bacteria and mold need special conditions to grow and HVAC units provide the perfect place: It’s dark and there’s plenty of moisture. 

Not only that but when dust and dirt accumulate on the wet evaporator coil, bacteria have a nice food source. 

Yes, we warned you this would get gross. Sorry again.

That smell is what we call dirty sock syndrome. You might notice it more often in the spring and fall when you aren’t running your HVAC as often. You’re also more susceptible if you run a heat pump HVAC system. With gas, the intense heat is usually enough to destroy any of the bacteria or mildew before it has a chance to enter your home.

Air conditioners are also more at risk because there’s no heat to kill any growing microorganisms. 

We call it “dirty sock syndrome” but it doesn’t necessarily smell like dirty socks. Your home might smell like must, dirt, or just “off.” In the early stages, you’re most likely to notice the smell after you’ve spent a few hours out of the house and return home.

Is Dirty Sock Syndrome Dangerous?

Not necessarily but it can be. It’s not healthy either.

According to the EPA, Americans spend an estimated 90% of their day inside. When we think of pollution, we tend to think of things like car exhaust. However, the EPA says pollution levels are up to 5x higher indoors than outside. 

While a stinky air conditioning may not necessarily expose you to elevated levels of mold or bacteria, it could absolutely cause problems for certain people such as:

  • People with compromised immune systems from cancer or HIV
  • People with asthma
  • People with chronic health conditions
  • Young children
  • Elderly residents
  • People with respiratory problems

As COVID-19 spreads in the United States and California, it’s especially important to keep at-risk groups protected from unnecessary respiratory stress. 

The bottom line is you should definitely take dirty sock syndrome seriously.

How Can You Fix Your Stinky Air Conditioner?

A woman holding her nose from something stinking.In most cases, your evaporator coil might just need a good scrub. This isn’t a job you want to do yourself because it involves opening up your unit and messing with parts. 

Even if you manage to cut off the power and scrape off some of the gunk, you won’t be able to give your evaporator coil the thorough cleaning it needs to eliminate the smell.

Instead, call in the experts at Home Comfort USA. We offer a 32-Point Tune-Up where we run through every potential issue, check for faulty parts, replace your filter, and give your unit the cleaning it deserves.

Unfortunately, if the problem has progressed before we show up, you might need a new evaporator coil. We can help you investigate your warranty if that’s the case. If your HVAC is still under warranty, this could reduce the cost drastically. 

That’s why it’s so important to call us as soon as you notice the smell of dirty sock syndrome. If we can get to the problem quickly, it can save you money by avoiding emergency repairs. 

How Can You Avoid Dirty Sock Syndrome in the First Place?

Once you get your evaporator coil cleaned up or replaced, you’ll want to take steps to prevent dirty sock syndrome from returning. 

Use a High-Quality Filter and Replace It Often

Polyester and pleated air filters are your best choice for removing pollutants and allergens from your home’s precious air. Most people tend to use fiberglass because they’re cheaper but you’ll pay for it later with poor air quality and HVAC repair costs.

You’ll also want to replace your air filter regularly to keep your home healthy and hygienic:

  • Every 90 days for pet-free homes if no family members have allergies
  • Every 60 days for homes with one pet
  • Every 30 days for homes with two pets or a family member with respiratory or immune system problems

If your home is particularly humid and mildew or mold is common, err on the side of caution and replace your filter in 30- or 60-day increments. 

Clean Your Ductwork 

Once bacteria, mold, and mildew have had a chance to grow on your evaporator coil, it spreads spores and debris into your ductwork as well. 

Our expert technicians at Home Comfort USA can give your ductwork a thorough cleaning and seal up any leaks to moisture so mildew never has a chance to accumulate or spread.

Schedule Regular Maintenance Visits

A 32-Point Tune-Up every six or 12 months – depending on your unit, usage, and needs – can help us stop larger problems before they happen. 

It’s much easier and less costly for us to clean your evaporator coils and replace small faulty parts rather than waiting for major problems to arise. 

Install UV Lights

UV lights aren’t the best choice for every system. However, if you live in an area where humidity levels are naturally high and dirty sock syndrome is a chronic problem, they may be worth considering. 

Small UV lights shine onto your evaporator coils and kill any microbes before they have a chance to grow and reproduce.

Call the Comfort Guys – We’re There!

Don’t wait for that stench to get worse. Once bacteria and mold start to grow, it needs to be removed completely. It won’t get better on its own.

Schedule a maintenance check or 32-Point Tune-Up from Home Comfort USA today or call 888-462-0089!

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