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June 7, 2019
Your air conditioning system has just kicked on, and you’re looking forward to feeling some cool, breezy air flow out of your air vents. But suddenly, you start to detect an unpleasant odor. Is that mold? Mildew? Dirty socks? Why does the house smell suddenly smell like a gym locker room?
No, your spouse's smelly gym socks didn’t somehow get sucked into your air ducts. This is a common problem that we HVAC contractors have come to call “Dirty Sock Syndrome.”
What Causes Dirty Sock Syndrome?
“Dirty Sock Syndrome” refers to when a foul-smelling, mold- or mildew-like odor comes from your air conditioner when you first turn it on. This happens when moisture, dust, and dirt build up on your AC system’s evaporator coil, inviting bacteria and mold to multiply. That bacteria and mold then gets blown into your home when your AC system turns on.
Dirty Sock Syndrome most often occurs during the spring — when your AC system is not running as frequently and moisture, dust, and dirt have more time to accumulate on the evaporator coil in between cycles. If you cool and heat your home with a heat pump, you may see this problem crop up in the fall as well.
How to Fix Dirty Sock Syndrome
Dirty Sock Syndrome isn’t just a stinky nuisance; it can also be dangerous for your home’s indoor air quality. If bacteria and mold are allowed to circulate through your indoor air, members of your household who are sensitive to mold or who have allergies may start experiencing symptoms.
Fortunately, the solution for Dirty Sock Syndrome is rather straightforward. Because Dirty Sock Syndrome is caused by a dirty evaporator coil, you’ll need to schedule an air conditioning repair with an HVAC contractor. Your AC repair will involve either cleaning your AC system’s evaporator coil or replacing it, depending on how dirty the evaporator coil was. (If your AC system is still under warranty, your warranty may cover the installation of a new evaporator coil.)
Once your AC system’s evaporator coil is back in working order, it’s also important to take preventive measures that will keep Dirty Sock Syndrome from cropping up again down the road. These measures include:
Scheduling regular air conditioner maintenance
Checking and cleaning your air filters regularly
Upgrading to a high performance air filter
Having your ductwork professionally cleaned
“Will Dirty Sock Syndrome go away on its own?”
Homeowners in Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset, and Bucks Counties sometimes ask us if Dirty Sock Syndrome will go away on its own. Although you may notice that your air conditioner no longer smells musty as spring turns into summer, that doesn’t mean the problem has magically gone away. All of the build-up will remain on the evaporator coil, and when the conditions are right, you’re likely to start smelling dirty socks in your home once again. Call an HVAC technician to fix the problem now to spare yourself from more headaches (and potentially higher repair costs) down the road.