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What’s That Smell? It Could Be Dirty Sock Syndrome


The unmistakable aroma caused by a pile of dirty, sweaty socks can make you regret skipping laundry day. Now imagine getting a good whiff of that aroma every time you turn on your air conditioner.

So what’s going on? The problem can be traced back to something known as “dirty sock syndrome,” an actual condition where your air conditioner gives off a musty, moldy aroma every time it’s turned on. Here’s what you should know about dirty sock syndrome.

What is Dirty Sock Syndrome?

If you’ve never seen the inside of your air conditioner, then you’re not alone. The portion of your air conditioner where the evaporator coil resides is rarely seen by anyone aside from your HVAC technician.

Locked away in a dark space with plenty of exposure to moisture, this area is often a prime spot for mold, mildew and bacteria to flourish. Additional debris and mold spores that manage to slip past your air filter can also add to this buildup.

This accumulation of mold, mildew and bacteria can do more than make your air conditioner smell like a gym locker. It can also trigger a variety of allergy and asthma symptoms in many people, like coughing, sneezing, fatigue, headache and light sensitivity-just to name a few. Young children and elderly adults are at the greatest risk of suffering from dirty sock syndrome.

How Do You Tackle This Issue?

When dealing with mold, mildew and bacteria in your air conditioner, it’s usually best to have your HVAC technician lend a helping hand. The following describes some of the steps your technician will take to eliminate dirty sock syndrome from your home.

Replace the Air Filter 

A clogged air filter can be a major source of mold and bacteria, so it’s important for your HVAC technician to change your filters as soon as possible.

Check and Drain the Condensate Tray

Stagnant water inside of the condensate tray can also harbor mold and bacteria. Your HVAC technician will likely empty, clean and disinfect the condensate tray, as well as remove any clogs in the drain line itself.

Clean the Evaporator Coil and Surrounding Area

Tackling mold and bacteria growth on the evaporator coil is an essential step towards dealing with dirty sock syndrome. There are plenty of ways your HVAC technician can clean your evaporator coil, but the most popular method involves the use of a cleaning spray with foaming and self-rinsing action.

Check Other Areas for Mold Growth

Keep in mind that nasty mold and mildew can also migrate to other portions of your air conditioning system, including the ductwork that runs throughout your home. Having your HVAC technician check these and other areas is a good insurance policy against the spread of mold.

Your HVAC technician may take other steps to rid your home of dirty sock syndrome. These steps include the use of portable HEPA filters to capture and remove as much mold and bacteria from indoor spaces as possible.

How Can You Prevent Dirty Sock Syndrome?

Prevention is always the best policy when dealing with dirty sock syndrome. The best way to prevent it from happening again is by having your HVAC technician inspect and service your air conditioner on a regular basis. This way, your technician will be able to spot problems that could potentially lead to dirty sock syndrome and take care of those problems before they get out of hand.

Another step you can take is to install a set of ultraviolet (UV) lamps around your evaporator coil and other areas of your air conditioning system. The light emitted by these lamps feature germicidal properties that deactivate and eventually destroy bacteria and other potentially harmful microorganisms. UV lamps have proven effective at controlling mold, mildew and bacteria growth.

Last but not least, you should also have your air filters changed on a regular basis. It’s a good idea to change them at least once every three months to keep mold and bacteria out of your air conditioner.

Dirty sock syndrome can be frustrating to deal with, but you don’t have to go at it alone. Contact the professionals at HELP Plumbing, Heating, Cooling and Drains whenever you need help with your home’s air conditioning system.

Posted in: Indoor Air Quality

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