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What is This Smell Coming from My Air Conditioner?

air conditioner outdoor unit

Air conditioners are the single-most used appliance in a home during the summer, and just like any other appliance, they can experience malfunctions. An unusual upside to the malfunctioning air conditioner is that it is great at signaling to you that something is wrong – in pretty much every scenario, you will notice an odor. 

If there is an odor, it does not necessarily mean an expensive repair. In fact, there are a plethora of smells that you may experience. Read on to learn what bad smells might mean for the health of your air conditioner and what you should do about it – we will be focusing on the six most significant odors that can potentially be toxic. 

1. Rotten Eggs, Sulfur, Gas 

If your air conditioner is emitting a rotten egg or sulfuric smell, the main culprit is often a dead animal stuck inside. Rodents, critters, birds, and insects can get in the ductwork of your air conditioner and unfortunately get stuck inside – when you turn on your system, this could be what you’re smelling. 

There are ways to pest-proof your unit yourself, but we usually recommend consulting a professional to remove an existing carcass or implementing any preventative measures. 

While it is most often a dead animal, a rotten egg or sulfuric smell can also indicate an unrelated gas leak. Do not take this lightly as a gas leak can be highly dangerous – turn off your gas right away and call your natural gas provider if you ever experience this smell. 

2. Burning or Electrical 

A common smell you may run into is a burning smell that can smell dusty or electrical. More than often, the smell will dissipate after about 30 minutes indicating that the source was nothing more than some dust in the unit that was burned off – this is common after an air conditioning unit has not been used for a while. 

If the smell persists, the source of the problem is likely a malfunction with the compressor, fan motors, or wiring. Contact your local HVAC expert right away if this occurs and do not attempt to fix the problem yourself as it can be dangerous. 

3. Gunpowder

A gunpowder smell is very much related to the previous source of electrical odors. If you smell a distinctive gun powder odor, it is most likely because of a fried circuit board or fan motor. 

Like the previous burning and electrical smells, this is made from metals and chemicals which pose health concerns to your respiratory system. Contact a professional right away for help if this is happening with your air conditioning unit. 

4. Exhaust Fumes

Your air conditioning unit does not run on a combustion engine so there is no positive reason as to why it would make this smell. 

The number one culprit for exhaust-smelling odors is a leak in the refrigerant line. When refrigerant fluids are heated, they can smell like exhaust fumes and emit chemicals into the air which are toxic to both humans and the environment. This is a job for a professional, so do not try to fix this on your own. 

5. Chemical Smells 

There are a handful of malfunctions that can create various chemical smells. 

Certain UV lights and electrostatic air filters can produce a gas called ‘ozone’ which smells like chlorine from a pool. This is a highly toxic chemical and can cause significant damage if inhaled in large quantities. 

You may also experience glue odors which are more than likely due to any ductwork that has been done. The glue used for air duct installation has a strong odor as it dries. All that can be done is to wait for the smell to go away over time. Consider keeping fans on and windows and doors open to help dissipate the smell. 

Last but not least is an odor related to the refrigerant leak causing exhaust smells. Freon, another type of refrigerant, can leak and cause major damage if not attended to. Freon leaks mostly emit from broken copper coils and lines and will emit a sweet smell, not unlike the coolant in your car. Freon is also highly toxic to breathe in. 

For each of these issues resulting in a chemical odor, it is necessary to contact a professional to help you find and repair the problem as they can be quite dangerous. 

Get Professional Help 

Are you in need of more personalized help or advice for solving air conditioner odors in your home? If you are in the Central Pennsylvania area – call WM Buffington! Our team of trained professionals can help through every step in the process and deliver the perfect solution to give you peace of mind. 

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