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Do You Smell That? Tips For Decoding Air Conditioning Odors

by April Carlson

When your air conditioning system is emitting strange odors, it can leave your entire house smelling a little bit off. If you're struggling with a particular odor permeating your home, it can be helpful to know what could be causing it. Here's a look at some of the most common odors that you might notice from air conditioning units and the things that are most likely to cause them.

Mildew Odor

The musty smell of mold or mildew can be a common problem for air conditioning systems. Because air conditioners produce moisture when they compress and cool the air, the compressors create a prime environment for mold and mildew to develop. If the moisture isn't draining away very well, the mold and mildew it can cause will lead to odors blowing into our home. To combat this type of smell, you'll need to hire an air conditioning contractor to clean the compressor unit, install a new filter and potentially also clean out the air ducts.

Rotten Egg Odor

One of the most common causes of a rotten egg odor from air conditioning compressors is a dead animal trapped inside the compressor. In many cases, a rodent or other animal sneaks into the compressor before winter then dies before the spring thaw. It may also be caused by an animal that's trapped in your air ducts. You'll want to have both the compressor and the air ducts thoroughly cleaned and disinfected if you're struggling with this.

Exhaust Fumes

The smell of an exhaust-like fume coming from your air conditioner usually indicates that there is some kind of fluid leak inside the air conditioning compressor. Even if you're not leaking refrigerant, there are other fluids in the compressor motor and fan system that may be leaking chemicals. You'll have to disassemble the unit to find the source of the problem, so you'll want to call an HVAC technician to inspect it and find the source of the leak.

Dirty Sock Smell

If the air coming through your vents reminds you of your sock hamper on laundry day, that's usually caused by a clogged drain line. The stagnant water that gets trapped in the line will start to emit this odor, permeating the air conditioner and your vents. In most cases, you can remove the odor by eliminating the source. Replace the drain line and vacuum out the stagnant water inside the compressor pan. Clean and disinfect the pan to ensure that the residual odor is gone.

Sulfur Odor

The smell of sulfur, almost like that of gunpowder, is a key indication of an electrical problem in your air conditioner. If you're smelling something like this any time the air conditioner first cycles on, you need to reach out to an HVAC contractor right away. There's a good chance that one of the circuit boards or the fan motor are shorting out, resulting in that odor.

Skunk Spray

While your first thought may be that a skunk has sprayed your air conditioning compressor, you may be surprised to find out that skunks themselves are not the only cause of that odor. If your air conditioning system is emitting an odor like this, it's often the result of gas leaking around the compressor and entering the ductwork through the air intake. If you're smelling something like this, it's important that you call the gas company and your HVAC contractor right away.

With so many different odors that can come from your air conditioning system, it's important that you know which ones are more significant concerns and which can be dealt with a bit more casually. The information here and the help of your HVAC contractor can help you work through issues like these.