Nothing beats the comfort of a car’s air conditioning on a hot summer day. But what should you do if the air from your vents is foul-smelling? I’ll show you how to get rid of mildew smell in car AC in this article.
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What Makes Car AC Smell Bad?
In a nutshell, wetness. The air conditioning system in your automobile does not produce cold air; instead, it removes heat and moisture from the air outside of your vehicle, making it feel considerably cooler than the air around you.
The AC unit’s coils concentrate the heat and moisture in the air, removing the humidity before delivering the cooled air to your vehicle.
Hot air moving into the unit can cause moisture pockets surrounding the condensing unit in your AC system, resulting in small pools of water discharged outside the car via the drain line.
However, if moisture becomes stuck inside the AC unit and the air vents or cannot find its way out, the water will collect inside the unit and around the coils, causing dampness inside the AC unit.
How does mold grow in your car AC?
If your drain line is clogged or you use your air conditioner regularly, the unit is likely to be moist, providing a perfect living condition for mold and bacteria.
Air that travels through the evaporator will carry a foul odor inside your automobile. And the mold build-up on the unit. Mold is your car’s air conditioning system’s most prevalent cause of obnoxious odors.
Bacteria, mildew, and other unwelcome microorganisms can increase as vehicles age. The growth of these bacteria inside your car’s ventilation system can be accelerated if the AC unit is not used frequently or excessively.
Mold thrives in your car’s air conditioning system because it is always humid and dark, ideal conditions for mold to thrive.
Potential Health Risks Associated with a Musty Smell in Cars
The musty smell in car air conditioning systems is unpleasant and poses potential health risks. Understanding these risks can highlight the importance of addressing the issue promptly. Here are some potential health risks associated with a musty smell in cars:
- Allergic Reactions: The presence of mold, mildew, or bacteria in the car’s AC system can trigger allergic reactions in individuals who are sensitive or allergic to these substances. Common symptoms include sneezing, coughing, watery eyes, itching, and nasal congestion.
- Respiratory Issues: Breathing in air contaminated with mold spores or bacteria can lead to respiratory problems, especially for individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It may exacerbate symptoms like wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing.
- Irritation: The musty odor itself can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, leading to discomfort and a general feeling of unease during car rides. Prolonged exposure to the smell may result in persistent irritation and increased sensitivity to the odor.
- Headaches and Fatigue: In some cases, the musty smell in car AC systems can contribute to headaches and fatigue, making it challenging to concentrate while driving. The combination of odor and potential allergens can cause these symptoms, reducing driver alertness and increasing the risk of accidents.
- Infection Risk: Certain bacteria and fungi present in the AC system can pose a risk of infection, especially if individuals with compromised immune systems are exposed to them. These microorganisms may enter the respiratory tract and cause respiratory or systemic infections, leading to more severe health consequences.
How to Get Rid of Mildew Smell in Car AC
If the musty smell isn’t severe, you can use DIY methods to eliminate the mildew smell.
The DIY ways are simple. You should follow the steps below:
Step 1: Air out the car
- Park the car in a well-ventilated area with windows and doors open.
- Let fresh air circulate through the interior to help dissipate the musty smell.
- Perform this airing-out process on a dry and sunny day for optimal results.
Step 2: Clean the cabin air filter
- Locate the cabin air filter in your car (consult the owner’s manual if needed).
- Remove the filter carefully and inspect it for dirt, debris, or signs of mold/mildew.
- If the filter is dirty or shows signs of contamination, clean or replace it following the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Cleaning or replacing the cabin air filter helps improve air quality and eliminate odors.
Step 3: Use a specialized AC cleaner
- Purchase an AC cleaner designed to eliminate musty odors in car air conditioning systems.
- Typically, the process involves spraying the cleaner into the AC vents and allowing it to circulate through the system.
Step 4: Applying natural remedies to neutralize odors
- Baking soda: Place an open container filled with baking soda in the car overnight or sprinkle it on the car seats and carpets. Baking soda absorbs odors and can help neutralize the musty smell.
- Charcoal: Similar to baking soda, activated charcoal can absorb odors. Place charcoal briquettes or activated charcoal in a breathable bag and leave it in the car for a few days.
- Coffee grounds: Spread fresh coffee grounds on a tray or plate and place it in the car. Coffee grounds can help absorb unpleasant odors.
- Vinegar: Fill a bowl with white vinegar and place it in the car overnight. Vinegar helps neutralize odors but may leave a temporary vinegar scent that will dissipate.
Professional Solutions for Musty Smell Removal
If your car smells so bad, reaching out for help is great. Professional services will thoroughly clean and disinfect the entire AC system, including the evaporator coil and air ducts.
They might use ozone treatment for thorough odor elimination. Ozone generators release ozone (O3) into the car’s interior, breaking down and eliminating odor-causing molecules.
The treatment may take a few hours or more, depending on the severity of the smell.
Remember, these DIY methods and professional solutions can help eliminate the musty smell from your car’s AC system. Choose the method that best suits your needs and consult professionals for specialized treatments when necessary.
How to Prevent Mildew Smells in Car Air Conditioning
Here are some suggestions:
Turn off the air conditioner. Leave the fan on before turning off your vehicle for 2-5 minutes. Every time you use the air conditioner, it will dry much more thoroughly.
Replace or clean your air conditioning filters. Dirty air filters restrict airflow and allow moisture to build up inside your air conditioner. Ensure to update your vehicle’s air filters as recommended by the manufacturer.
In the outside air vents, spray an antiseptic (where your car pulls air from outside into the car from). Make sure your air conditioner is adjusted to take air in from the outside so that the spray is drawn into the ventilation system and may directly kill mold and bacteria.
Frequently Asked Questions
How often should I clean the cabin air filter?
The frequency of cleaning the cabin air filter depends on factors such as driving conditions, air quality, and the manufacturer’s recommendations. As a general guideline, inspecting and cleaning the cabin air filter every 12,000 to 15,000 miles or annually is advisable. However, if you frequently drive in dusty or polluted areas, cleaning or replacing the filter more frequently may be necessary to maintain optimal air quality in your car.
Can I use household cleaners to clean the AC system?
Using household cleaners to clean the AC system in your car is not recommended. Household cleaners may contain chemicals that can be harmful when applied to delicate components of the AC system. Instead, opt for specialized AC cleaning products specifically formulated for automotive use. These products are designed to effectively clean the AC system without causing damage or leaving residues that could worsen the musty smell.
Is a musty smell in the car AC harmful to health?
While a musty smell in the car AC is unpleasant, it does not necessarily indicate an immediate health risk. However, prolonged exposure to mold, mildew, or bacteria that cause the musty smell can potentially lead to respiratory issues and allergic reactions, particularly for individuals with sensitivities or compromised immune systems. It is important to address the musty smell promptly to maintain a healthy and comfortable environment within the car.
What should I do if the musty smell persists after DIY methods?
Suppose the musty smell persists after attempting DIY methods. In that case, it may indicate a more severe issue within the AC system, such as persistent mold or bacterial contamination. In such cases, it is advisable to seek professional help from an auto service or AC specialist. They can conduct a thorough inspection, identify the root cause of the smell, and provide appropriate solutions to eliminate it effectively.
How much does professional AC cleaning cost?
The cost of professional AC cleaning can vary depending on factors such as the location, the extent of the cleaning required, and the service provider. Professional AC cleaning can range from $50 to $150 on average. However, contacting local auto service centers or AC specialists is recommended to obtain accurate pricing information based on your specific requirements.
Can I prevent the musty smell by using air fresheners alone?
While air fresheners can temporarily mask odors, they do not address the underlying cause of the musty smell. Simply relying on air fresheners will not eliminate mold, mildew, or bacterial growth within the AC system. It is essential to address the root cause of the smell by following preventive measures, regular maintenance, and appropriate cleaning methods.
Will the musty smell return after professional treatment?
If the professional treatment effectively eliminates the root cause of the musty smell, the chances of it returning are significantly reduced. However, if the underlying issue, such as mold or bacterial contamination, is not completely resolved or if new sources of moisture enter the AC system, there is a possibility that the smell may return over time.
Hi everyone, My name is Ollie Barker.
As a seasoned auto expert I have 25 years of experience working in repair and detailing shops. I love to share my tips & tricks to all car lovers, so that’s why I’m here at Automotive Gearz publishing my content, sharing my passion. Also, I’ve been giving my recommendations on which products are the best to have on the market. I always thought it was hard to pick the right part, so hopefully I can make that a bit easier for you.
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