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What Can You Do About Strange Air Conditioner/Furnace Smells?


One of the most common questions we get here at P.K. Wadsworth is “why does my AC smell bad?” While this question can be hard to answer over the phone, there are actually a lot of reasons why a not-so-sweet scent will be wafting throughout your entire home from your AC unit or furnace. Luckily, our team of experts has seen (and smelled) it all, and is here to take you through multiple different scents you might be sniffing, and what they could mean for you and your home’s safety.

What’s That Smell Coming Out of My Cleveland Air Conditioning Unit?

Here are six of the most common air conditioner smells and what might be causing them:

  • Sulfur or rotten eggs: This scent is almost always a sign that you have a gas leak or an unlit pilot light that is allowing gas to seep continually into your home. We highly suggest you do not investigate this smell on your own, because gas is highly flammable and could cause bodily harm. Instead, we recommend you call your gas company ASAP to report this smell. In the meantime, visit a neighbor or friend until the issue has been fixed.
  • Electrical or burnt smell: These scents are pretty unmistakable. It usually indicates that your motor is overheating, your electrical wiring is damaged, or oil is burning. We recommend that you turn off your system and call your HVAC company immediately.
    • It’s important to note that a type of burning smell can occur annually at the beginning of the heating season. This often happens when the dust that accumulates on your heating surfaces begins to burn off when your heater starts up. Generally, this smell disappears after a few cycles because the dust is consumed. If the odor continues, however, it’s a good idea to get your unit checked out by a professional.
  • Musty or damp smell: In almost all cases, a damp or musty smell indicates mold or mildew is present in your air ducts and/or ventilation system. Not only does this lead to an unpleasant odor, it also means indoor air quality is compromised since mold can both cause and exacerbate respiratory issues. Schedule an HVAC appointment to have air ducts inspected and cleaned, if necessary. Filters should be replaced regularly as well. These smells are also a sign that interior humidity levels are too high, in which case you should consider the benefits of a whole-house dehumidifier.
  • Dirty socks or stinky feet: This is literally called “dirty sock syndrome” and occurs when your unit has dirty evaporator coils, clogged condensation drain pans, or stagnant water. Usually, dirty sock syndrome is not a risk to your health, but you should still call your local HVAC company to inquire about it. However, if you or someone in your home suffers from asthma or extreme allergies, you may want to take “dirty sock syndrome” more seriously.
  • Rotting carcass or dirty trash: As upsetting as it is to think about, sometimes critters from outside will try and crawl toward your furnace for warmth in the winter. If they die near your unit, you’ll be able to identify the smell of it pretty quickly. If you go inspecting and find a decomposing animal, you better call your HVAC company ASAP
  • Sewage: We know – ew! But sometimes your sewer gases can back up into your home if your unit has dry p-taps. This isn’t necessarily an AC problem; however, it is still something to sort out with your HVAC or plumbing company right away. You can try to run water through all your sinks to get rid of the scent, but your best bet is to give a professional a call.

Premier HVAC Services Throughout the Cleveland Area

If you’re worried about the smell coming from your air conditioning unit or furnace, look no further for help than P.K. Wadsworth Heating & Cooling. We have been family-owned and -operated and serving the Cleveland area for over 80 years. We pride ourselves on our customer service, attentiveness, a high degree of training, and use of the latest technologies to get the job done. Let us help you get your home back to feeling (and smelling) normal!

68 thoughts on “What Can You Do About Strange Air Conditioner/Furnace Smells?

  1. Thank you for mentioning how your AC might smell like dirty socks if the evaporator coils are not clean. My wife and I have been unable to use our air conditioner because it only blows hot air that smells horrible, and we would like to fix the problem before we host a party in our living room. We’ll hire an expert that can help repair the damages.

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