Dirty Sock Syndrome

Dirty Sock Syndrome Stinks!

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Have you ever turned on your air conditioner, and been smacked in the nostrils with an unpleasant odor?  In the HVAC industry, this stinky situation is what we call “Dirty Sock Syndrome.”  The odor you smell may be foul and very similar to the stench of sweaty socks.  It’s not fun, and it’s definitely not cool (pun intended).  So what causes this putrid smell to flow out of your air conditioner?  Let’s take a look at this issue, and help you find the funk and fight it fast.

What Is Dirty Sock Syndrome?

Dirty Sock Syndrome is the awful smell that occurs when bacteria and mold accumulate on the evaporator coil of your heat pump or air conditioner.  This generally happens when your cooling is switched back on after the heat has been used.  In Dallas, Fort Worth, it’s not uncommon for us to experience a wide range of temperatures in a single day.  Some days we may heat our homes in the morning and cool them as the day progresses.  During the winter, our cooling systems may remain unused for a few months before being needed for the warmer weather.  As a result, you may be welcomed by that distinct aroma of dirty socks.  Not cool!  Have you ever gotten that nasty mildewy smell after turning on your car’s A/C after not using it for a while?  That’s what Dirty Sock Syndrome is like!

It’s important to note, though, that a gross smell does not mean that you have Dirty Sock Syndrome!  You may be dealing with one of the following:

  1. Return air leaks in ductwork or chases
  2. Dirty drain pans that are retaining dirty water
  3. Dead animals in ductwork or near your living area
  4. Drain lines connected to plumbing systems without adequate water traps or dry traps

One of the above situations could be your problem if the odor is present all the time.  But with Dirty Sock Syndrome, you'll only notice the odor when the indoor coil is cooled and bacteria is released into the air stream.  

Although this phenomenon is most common in the Southern states, and Texas is even on the low side of those experiencing it, we have had several complaints from customers here in the DFW area.  It probably has to do with our fierce humidity.  

Is Dirty Sock Syndrome Harmful To My Health?

Yes and no.  Dirty Sock Syndrome is typically harmless, because the bacteria that causes the smell poses little or no harm to humans.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that Dirty Sock Syndrome CAN become harmful if mold forms and begins to grow in your air conditioning system.  

How Do I Get Rid of It?

In most cases, a thorough cleaning of your evaporator coil will suffice.  If one coil cleaning isn’t quite enough, then clean the coil again and apply a coating of Alathene II, a mold preventative spray that helps to protect coils from buildup of airborne contaminants.  If these two methods are ineffective, you may need to have your evaporator coil replaced.

In most cases, a thorough cleaning of your evaporator coil will suffice.

How Do I Prevent it?

One way you can help avoid Dirty Sock Syndrome is to use UV lighting in your system to kill bacteria and prevent mold from growing on your evaporator coil.  Another method of prevention is to use high-quality air filters, and change them regularly.  These may be simple measures, but they can go a long way in helping you keep the stink out of your A/C.

If you suspect you may have Dirty Sock Syndrome, call A#1 Air today.  We will take the steps necessary to ensure your home's heating and cooling system runs smoothly, efficiently, and cleanly, without that nasty mildew odor!  

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