4 Reasons Why Your Air Conditioner Smells like Vinegar + Fixes

Turning on your air conditioner and noticing a smell of vinegar is not pleasant

. Not to mention, it clearly means there is an issue.

A vinegar or mildew scent coming from your air conditioner can occur when there is an issue with the electric motor emitting ozone; however, there can be other reasons.

Read on to learn more about the other leading causes of sour vinegar smell in your air conditioner.

Why Your Air Conditioner Smells Like Vinegar

1. Electric Motor

Electric motors on air conditioners have ozone to clean the air and try to reduce biological pathogens.

Over time motors on air conditioners start to break down from consistent use.

When that happens, it can emit ozone, causing a sour smell, similar to vinegar.

This is not one of those problems you can let linger for a while; when you start smelling vinegar and if it’s caused by the electric motor, you will want to replace or repair it as soon as possible.

2. Filter Issues

Keeping your filter cleaned is a critical part of maintaining optimal performance of your air conditioner.

If your filter is dirty, it may cause a vinegar smell. To rule out any other issues, you can start with the filter to see if it solves the problem.

Depending on the type of filter you have, you can clean it out, rinse it well, and place it back on the air conditioner unit.

If you need to purchase new filters, wait until your new filter arrives.

3. Too Much Condensation

Condensation is a normal and expected problem with air conditioners.

Condensation occurs when the air conditioner is working right and maintaining the production of cool air into the home.

The problem is that when too much condensation appears, it can collect in the wrong areas, which causes that vinegar air conditioner smell that may have you pinching your nose.

Another condensation issue is a clogged condensate pan.

4. Mold Buildup in Ductwork

This is a major problem you should rule out right away.

If you have mold in your ductwork, it can make you and your family sick.

While a home ductwork system is supposed to eliminate this possibility, there is still a chance it can happen.

If your air conditioner unit smells like vinegar due to mold buildup, you will want to get it taken care of promptly, but only by a reputable professional to make sure it’s done right.

Other Common Smells that Come From Your AC Unit

Air conditioners can produce all types of smells.

While it’s easy to put off the problem and just cover it up somehow; your air conditioner unit is giving you warning signs.

Thankfully, depending on the type of smell you can pinpoint what’s going on a bit easier. Here are five common smells and what causes them.

1. Chemical or Sweet Smell

If you notice a chemical or sweet smell when your air conditioner is running, you may have a refrigerant leak.

Air conditioners rely on this gas to move heat through copper coils, which are bound to break over time.

If it’s truly a refrigerant leak, you may notice hissing or bubbling noises, frost on the refrigerant lines, high utility costs, and you may notice it’s harder to keep your home cool.

2. Musty Smell

Some people claim this smell is similar to a dirty sock smell. The first thing to do is change the air filter.

A clogged air filter can create a musty smell. However, if you try that with no success, see if your evaporator coil needs to be cleaned or replaced.

Mold can grow on the coil.

3. Gas

The smell of gas can put anyone into a panic, and it’s no different with an air conditioning system.

If your AC unit smells like rotten eggs, there is actually a good chance there is nothing wrong with your actual air conditioning unit.

However, it does mean there is most likely a natural gas leak in your home.

Natural gas emits a sulfur-like smell when there is a leak.

Be sure to get that taken care of right away and leave your home if you notice this smell as it can be life-threatening for you and your family.

4. Cat Pee

If you ever owned a cat, you won’t ever forget the dreaded smell of cat pee.

If you notice your air conditioner smells like this, there’s a good chance you could have mold inside the unit or somewhere in the ductwork.

Be sure to get your air conditioner looked at by a professional right away if you aren’t sure what you are looking for so your family is not breathing in this harmful smell and particles.

5. Burning Plastic

Air conditioners that smell like plastic could have a few different causes:

Electrical issues, broken fan belt, non-lubricated motor, or overheated motor. This is a type of air conditioner smell that you shouldn’t ignore at all.

Electrical problems can lead to fire quickly so you want to make sure and get this one ruled out if you notice a burning smell.

Only professionals should be dealing with electrical work so don’t attempt to fix this type of problem yourself.

It can be dangerous to try and work on air conditioners that may have an electrical issue if you are not experienced.

How to Prevent Your Air Conditioner from Smelling

To prevent your air conditioner from smelling, be sure to take care of it routinely.

Of course, strange smells can not always be prevented from things like use over time; however, you can do a lot on your part to prevent strange smells from emitting from your air conditioning unit.

Be sure to change the air conditioner filter on a routine basis.

Not only will this help prolong the longevity of your air conditioner, but it will also help the air quality in your home.

Check inside your air conditioner every so often to make sure there is no mold slowly building up.

If you’re not sure what to look for, you can hire a professional to look over your air conditioner for maintenance every six months to a year.

They can check for things like mold, excess condensation, and other issues.

Air conditioners can last years and provide efficient cooling of your home if they are properly taken care of.

Preventing smells is necessary as they can signal hazardous conditions; however, longevity is a major benefit of your air conditioner when it’s properly taken care of.

Routine maintenance goes a long way for optimal air quality, efficient temperatures, and reducing the chance of strange smells.

Final Thoughts

If your AC smells like vinegar, it can be a problem that you can fix. If it is due to electric issues or anything that you don’t feel comfortable taking care of yourself, it’s best to call a professional HVAC technician.

If you’ve nailed down the issue, you can start by getting rid of the smell in your air conditioner.

Image Credit: Flickr.com

About Roy Cohen

Roy Cohen has a burning passion for heating, cooling, and ventilation. He aims to help you save money on expensive repairs and bring you the best HVAC products. He has years of experience behind him in HVAC repair and garage maintenance.

You can find Roy at his LinkedIn or his email: [email protected]

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