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Why Does My AC Smell Bad?

Closeup of dirty AC filter

Does your air conditioner emit a foul scent? As temperatures rise in Charlottesville and it’s time to turn your AC on again, you might face an unpleasant surprise.

There are a few common reasons why your AC might smell strange, and the scent can help you identify the issue.

Clogged Air Filter

If you haven’t changed your filter in over three months, then you could have dust, mold, bacteria, or who knows what else accumulated on the filter.

Every time your air conditioner turns on, the cooled air passes through the filter and carries the stench. Check your filters and replace them immediately to resolve this problem.

Dirty Evaporator Coils

The cold air of your AC originates from your evaporator coil. A dirty coil can become host to smelly bacteria and mold, which will, in turn, spread unpleasant smells throughout your home.

Fortunately, cleaning your evaporator coils is easy with soap and water. However, if you prefer to leave it to the professionals, this is included in your annual AC maintenance service.

Drainage Issues

Smell something musty or rotten from your AC? You could have a drainage issue. Clogged drain lines and standing water in drainage pans can accumulate bacteria, encourage mold, and create other problems.

Request AC repair, and your technician can clear the clogged drain line and clean or replace the drip pan.

Clogged Ductwork

Some smells originate a bit further along in your ducts. High humidity or other sources of moisture can let mold and mildew form in your ducts. You could also have pests infiltrating your ducts, leaving droppings and damaging your ductwork.

Professional duct cleaning and repair can easily resolve smelly ductwork and improve HVAC energy efficiency.


Smell something burning? If it’s short-lived and doesn’t smell too caustic, it might just be dust burning off of electrical components in your air conditioner after a period of inactivity.

Electrical Problems

If the burning smell persists after you first turn on your air conditioner, you might have an electrical problem.

This can be dangerous if left unresolved, so we recommend requesting emergency AC repair.

Leaking Refrigerant

If you smell chemicals when your air conditioner turns on, you might have a refrigerant leak. Refrigerant transfers heat energy to let your AC produce cold air.

Even mild leaks will lead to lost energy efficiency and performance. Your HVAC technician will need to replace the line and recharge the refrigerant to restore proper AC function. 

Contact Albemarle Heating & Air for Air Conditioning Repair in Charlottesville

If your AC smells strange when you turn it on, don’t ignore the problem and hope it goes away. If changing filters and cleaning what you can doesn’t resolve your issues, let the team at Albemarle Heating & Air inspect your air conditioner.

Our highly trained technicians will get to the bottom of things in no time.

Call 434-293-4556 or reach out to us online today to schedule AC repairs from Albemarle Heating & Air.

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