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What Does It Mean When Your Air Conditioner Smells Bad?

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Air conditioning units are designed to run as autonomously as possible, requiring only a few brief episodes of maintenance every year. But when something does go wrong, you may notice the side-effects quickly. Foul odors from a running air conditioning system typically indicate a problem that needs to be resolved quickly, and the type of smell you experience may help you pinpoint the precise issue. If your air conditioning unit doesn't smell quite right, run through these possible solutions, based on the scent in question. 

Musty Air

Rapidly cooling hot air leads to condensation, which can collect in air conditioning systems and lead to the growth of mold colonies. These molds are then picked up by air circulating through the ducts and dispersed throughout your home. Although most mold is harmless in low doses, dangerous molds can grow inside air conditioning units, and you will want to have your system cleaned and examined before further water damage can be done. In many cases, the air conditioner is simply too big for its house, which prevents internal dehumidifiers from stripping the condensation in time. 

Dirty-Sock Odor

If your house always smells like an old gym locker, you may be dealing with a bacterial colony on your heating coils. These bacteria gather and multiply on the coils while the system is inactive and then burn off once the coils begin to warm up. If it weren't for the distinctive smell they emit as the burn, you might never know they existed. Previously, there was very little that could be done for AC systems with "dirty-sock syndrome." However, researchers have been seeing new success by coating coils in anti-bacterial film or lighting the coil housing with ultraviolet light. 

Rotten, Sulfurous Smell

A sickly, rotting smell coming from your ducts indicates a dead animal somewhere in the system. During the winter, many small animals, like mice, take shelter in air conditioning ducts. If they happen to die in one, you may be in for an unpleasant and unsanitary surprise in the spring. It can be difficult to track down a corpse in your air conditioning ducts on your own, so you may want to call in the services of an air conditioning repair specialist, like http://carriercooling.com/, to help you navigate and access the ducts. 

Skunk-Like Stench

If you smell a skunk-like odor in your home but cannot find its source quickly, you should leave your home and schedule an emergency appointment to have your system inspected. Mercaptans are a type of chemical compound with a smell similar to a skunk's spray, and they are added to natural gas and propane as a way to draw attention to dangerous gas leaks. It is possible that your air conditioner is simply picking up the smell of a wayward skunk outside, but whenever you suspect that something is wrong with your air conditioner or gas supply, it is better to err on the side of caution and ensure your family's safety with prompt, professional action.