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Solving The Smelly Air Conditioner Problem

On June 6th, 2011, posted in: Maintenance Tips by

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Does your vehicle air conditioner smell sort of like mold, especially right when you first turn it on? If so, you’re not alone – it’s a very common problem. Here in Phoenix, this can be an especially annoying problem because so many of us use the air conditioner every day.

The cause of this problem is just what it smells like – mold and bacteria. Inside your vehicle’s air conditioning system, you have a part called an evaporator. This part is designed to remove both the heat from your vehicle’s interior (when the A/C is turned on, anyways) as well as remove any moisture from the air that’s being cooled. While most of the air around here is pretty dry, there’s still enough moisture in the air to condense upon your vehicle’s evaporator.

Vehicle air conditioner evaporator

An evaporator from a vehicle air conditioner, removed from it's housing

When moisture condenses on the evaporator, it’s supposed to drip drain away. However, very often the drain will become clogged and/or it won’t drain quickly enough. If water can stagnate inside the evaporator unit, this water grows mold and bacteria that causes your vehicle’s air conditioning system to smell — especially immediately after the system is first turned on.

There are three ways to solve this problem:

1. Replace and/or remove the evaporator for a thorough cleaning. This shouldn’t be necessary in all but the most extreme cases. However, if you ignore the smell long enough, this may be your only option. As you can imagine, it takes quite a bit of work to remove this part from your vehicle and then re-install it, so it’s definitely your last choice.

2. Clean the A/C using a special chemical cleaning system. As an auto repair shop, we have a chemical system that’s incredibly effective at neutralizing any mold or bacteria growing inside your vehicle’s air conditioning system that will also de-odorize everything. You can always try a home remedy – sometimes spraying an odor neutralizer into your air vents can help – but our system is 98% effective.

3. Prevent mold and bacteria from growing in the first place. If you can remember to turn off your air conditioner five minutes before you stop driving – and then turn on your interior fan to full speed – you’ll help dry out your vehicle’s A/C system. Just five minutes on fan (without using A/C) before you shut your vehicle off will make a difference.

If your vehicle’s air conditioner smells bad and you want us to look at it, feel free to call or mention it to one of our service advisors next time you stop by.


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