Why Does My Car’s AC Smell? (And How To Fix It!)

Why Does My Car's AC Smell?

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of cold AC on a hot summer day. However, if the air coming out of your vents smells like a used gym sock, that isn’t as nice. At that point, most people start to wonder “Why Does My Car’s AC Smell?”

Typically, what you’re smelling is a combination of water (condensation) from your AC system’s evaporator, combined with dirt and dust from the fresh air inlet and/or the cabin air filter.

Most of the condensation is meant to exit your car via the evaporator drain underneath the vehicle. You’ve probably noticed a small puddle of water under the bottom of your car on a hot, humid day before. However, if the drain becomes clogged or there’s dirt on or around the evaporator absorbing some of that moisture so that it hangs around longer, bacteria, mold, and mildew can begin to form.

Why Does My Car’s AC Smell? – The Fix!

Luckily, the fix is pretty easy. First, you’ll want to make sure the evaporator drain underneath your vehicle is clear. You can simply clean it out with a shop vac, but if you’re not comfortable getting underneath your vehicle to access the drain you may want to enlist the help of your mechanic.

Next, you’ll want to remove and inspect your cabin air filter. It’s probably a good idea to just replace it with a new HEPA rated one at this point, since we want to eliminate as much of the contaminants in your car’s HVAC system as possible. Don’t put the filter back in just yet, though. Just place the cover back over the open space, for now.

For the next step, you’ll want to get your hands on something like Lysol disinfectant, or better yet, AC Delco Vehicle Odor Eliminator. Turn your car on, set the AC fan speed to low, and turn off the recirculation switch so outside air is drawn in through the fresh air ducts. Roll down all of your car’s windows. Now, locate the fresh air intake ducts for your cars’ HVAC system (typically below the windshield / wiper cowl area) and spray your sanitizer of choice directly into the ducts. Again, if you’re not comfortable doing this you may want to enlist the help of your mechanic.

Once the air coming out of the vents, and your car’s interior in general smells nice and fresh again, you can re-install your car’s cabin air filter.

As a bonus preventative measure, pick up a can of Kool-It Evaporator and Heater Foam Cleaner and spray it up through your evaporator drain port, making sure to follow the directions on the can. The foaming action really gets into those hard to reach areas and helps clean the whole surface of the evaporator and heater core, as well as the evaporator box itself. This will ensure that your car’s ac smell doesn’t return!

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